It’s been an unusual year so far, for reasons I don’t need to bore you with, and one of the upshots is that I’ve more or less stopped buying records. Whilst I’ve listened to lots and lots of new and new-old music via Spotify I’ve only actually bought two new albums released this year. The more the year progresses the more I’m starting to think that perhaps I only actually needed one. I’ve been listening to ‘Mr M’ almost compulsively since it came out. It’s at the forefront of my mins whenever I reach for music and, more times than not, I can’t come up with good reasons to skip past it.
I could have chosen any of Lambchop’s 11 albums to play for DRC. I like some more than others, but none are less than great. Allmusic.com describes them as “arguably the most consistently brilliant and unique American group to emerge during the 1990s” and that’s pretty tough to gainsay.
I’ve noticed that when explaining my DRC choices I have a tendency to tie myself in knots attempting to dispel what I imagine to be some fallacious public perception of a band or record I love. After two or three attempts on a given evening my fellow players get a glazed look, start ignoring me and begin talking about CAN instead. I suppose that this reflects a lack of self-confidence: I imagine that everyone else must be down on the music I choose to elevate and end up constructing tortuous ripostes to non-existent dismissals. I need to get over this pernicious mental hurdle.
This is important only in that this evening I found myself defending Lambchop against non-apparent charges of repetition and sameyness. These are easy to dismiss. Since ‘I Hope You’re Sitting Down’ in 1994 Kurt Wagner’s band may have retained the same essential method, but their music has stretched and flowed right across the landscape of modern American music.
It’s hard to be objective when I’ve been listening to this album at least half a dozen times a week for the last four months, but I think ‘Mr M’ may be their best record yet. This is intimate music, music with enough space and room for the listener to step inside it and have it feel like home and with such warmth that it’s almost impossible to resist doing so. The group play with such restraint, such gentle mastery that just being ion the same space as them is an enormous pleasure.
Still, despite line-ups which have chopped and changed and expanded to incorporate more than a dozen players at once at time, at the centre of Lambchop is always Kurt Wagner, his cracked and glowing voice and his words, the poetry of everyday scenes and scenery. He’s wonderful on ‘Mr M’. His singing balanced perfectly between hesitancy and insistence, his words tiptoeing a line from funny to bleak, from everyday to profound. “And the sky opens up like candy / and we do the best we can…” catches all the beauty and sadness of life in just two lines.
Apparently these songs were written partly to try to deal with Kurt’s grief at the suicide of his close friend Vic Chesnutt. They ache with loss but are so beautiful as to almost transcend it. “Took the Christmas lights off the front porch / What felt like February 31st”.
I can’t define beauty for you, and despite having heard Nick tack the word ‘phenomenological’ to it on more occasions than I care to remember, I’m none the wiser as to what it comprises. Still, if you pressed me for an answer right now, in mid 2012, I’d politely direct you to this record by this wonderful band. And then I’d be off, dreaming through these songs again, of that beautiful sound, wanting to live forever where that voice emerges, from that slight smile, from that face, beneath that cap, ideally sat on a chair on a stoop somewhere in Tennessee.
I didn’t have time for a track this evening, but we did talk about how great Lambchop’s performance of ‘Give It’ was at the Merge XX event a couple of years ago. This isn’t the best take around perhaps, Kurt’s voice is almost shot, but it’s a fantastic moment and it makes the feet skip and the hairs on the back of the neck twitch.
Nick listened: Nixon and Is A Woman were my introduction to Lambchop a decade ago, and I’ve subsequently investigated much of their previous work and kept pace with everything they’ve released since. Those two records still stand proud above the others in my esteem – Nixon with its drama, its soul, its occasional touches of dischord, and Is A Woman with its unique, laconic quietude. I’ve enjoyed everything else I’ve heard by them, and loved parts of it, but nothing else has really grabbed me. Oh C’Mon / No You C’Mon seemed like a strange concept (not a double album, despite apparent cohesion; too much to consume at once), Damaged was an uncomfortable listen given the context of illness, and OH (Ohio) just came out at the wrong time for me to give it time, and so has gatehred dust on the shelf. Mr M is the only subsequent release I’ve not bought yet, with emphasis on the yet; it sounded absolutely lovely, and I’ll keep an eye out for it over the coming months.
Tom Listened: A long time ago now I had an Uncut magazine sampler CD called Sounds of the New West and one of my favourite tracks on it was Saturday Option by Lambchop. After I became hooked on this song, I eagerly purchased its album, What Another Man Spills and there my relationship with Lambchop ended…..until, that is, Rob played Mr M to us.
On an initial listen I much preferred Mr M. WAMS never really grabbed me and I found it a bit of a mess of disparate styles and mumbled lyrics. Whilst I agree with Rob that Kurt Wagner has a unique singing voice, it’s not one I necessarily find easy to listen to. However, it sounded much better to my ears on Mr M, the context of the songs fitting his voice perfectly and there was a stately confidence throughout that perhaps reflects the self-belief that doing one thing well for a long time brings. So, just to put Rob’s mind at ease, I liked this record (as I do most of his offerings)!
Graham listened: Dangerous territory here. I’ve been aware of the band for many years and really liked what I had heard to date. Listening to a complete album for the first time has cemented my belief that this is a band I could really get in to. Could be expensive, 11 albums, where to start?