Listening to: Lambchop, OH (Ohio)

Lambchop OH

A review of Lambchop’s OH (Ohio) (2008)

Despite the recording industry’s continuing contraction (not unlike the financial system’s), the world is full of beautiful music that’s worth hearing. One result of the long tail economy has been that there’s so much more music being released independently but not necessarily distributed or marketed. It’s a lot of work reading all the relevant magazines and sites to get ideas and stay on top of things. All of this as a preamble to establish some sort of reasonable way for me to say that I hadn’t ever heard Lambchop before today. I had read about them and they were on my must-check-them-out radar for a while. Now, though, there’s a new album, and New Release Tuesday put it in front of me so that I couldn’t ignore it any longer. In a handy listening post, no less.

This is spectacularly beautiful music. It’s immediately engaging and fits right into the Americana-country-folk-jazz gumbo I’ve been listening to lately. It’s a sort of downtempo alt-country (but alt-country not in a twangy way – more in a “what if Elvis had lived and regressed back to his glam country roots” kind of way), sung by singer-songwriter Kurt Wagner in a dispassionate, minimalist, low voice while an eleven-piece band plays some of the biggest quiet music you can imagine.

Some of it sounds a little like a loungy, countrified, downtempo, ever-so-slightly electronic version of Marvin Gaye’s late period slow burners. Then, there are pieces that somehow marry Neil Diamond and REM (if that makes any sense). Despite being very different vocalists, Kurt Wagner also has something of Bryan Ferry’s theatricality.

This is a very ‘technicolor’ record – incredibly big and very focused and economical at the same time. The quality of the recorded sound is beautiful throughout: a ramarkably sparse ‘widescreen’ experience where power comes from practicing restraint. This is quite a different band from, say, the Arcade Fire – there, more musicians means more sound, more space of the spectrum taken up by noise. Here, it’s the opposite: it’s a fun guessing game to see if you can spot what instrument/musician might have produced the barely audible murmur in the background.

Another good game would be to come up with theories as to why Kurt Wagner needs eleven musicians at all. Not that I’m complaining. I would highly recommend this, and I’ll be exploring more Lambchop.

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