Lambchop
Aw C’Mon / No You C’Mon
2004
B+



kurt Wagner set himself the task of writing a new song every day at some point after Is A Woman was released in 2002, fully transplanting the work ethic that kept him gainfully employed as a carpenter up until Nixon’s success. It’s an approach that’s to be praised and that has proved fruitful, because the new record from Lambchop is not one but two albums, packaged together and sold for the price of a single record. The band are keen to point out that this linkage is one of convenience and not concept however; Aw C’Mon and No You C’Mon are not a double album. Indeed Wagner has mentioned in interviews that the former record is a cohesive whole with a cogent mood and aesthetic, while the second disc is “just a collection of songs”.

Nevertheless there is a degree of symbiosis, if not synergy, between the two. If Nixon could be seen as being ‘about’ Lloyd Barry’s luscious, soul-referencing string arrangements and the newly-discovered falsetto reaches of Kurt’s voice, and if Is A Woman could be seen as being ‘about’ Tony Crow’s mellifluous and melancholy piano lines, then Lambchop’s seventh and eighth albums could equally be seen as being ‘about’ both William Tyler’s energised and effervescent guitar and Allen Lowrey’s constant percussive guidance. Aw C’Mon’s instrumental opening number (“Being Tyler”) is even named after the group’s guitarist, and across both albums he is given plenty of space to explore every facet of his playing, from the flair for understated noise he first hinted at on Nixon’s “You Masculine You” to the kind of gentle, reverbed riffs that paint emotional clarity alongside Wagner’s subjectively observed lyrical obfuscation. Allen Lowrey’s drums meanwhile, especially on No You C’Mon, add a sense of pace and purpose that pushes the album(s) along at a rate of knots which makes many of the 24 songs the poppiest and most accessible that Lambchop have ever recorded.

The relationship between the two records is perhaps best illustrated by the way the titles work together; Aw C’Mon pleading, a fatigued exhortation that threatens an underlying melancholy, while No You C’Mon is the mischievous, good-natured riposte. Neither title nor record is as easily defined as that though; they both bleed from light into dark and vice versa, often in the space of a single song. The former album largely sits contentedly in melancholy, “I Haven’t Heard A Word I’ve Said” echoing the title and mood of Is A Woman’s “I Can Hardly Spell My Name” if not quite the sound, “Steve McQueen” gently lamenting an ordinary man’s inability to be a hero, and “Four Pounds In Two Days” upping the mood by beginning with an ostentatious Isaac Hayes-like string flourish.

As ever Wagner’s voice is rich and warm, the instrument of a faltering singer that just gets better with age, cracked and croaked and delivering lyrics with a strange phrasing that makes the most indecipherable and idiosyncratic observation take on a wealth of meanings for the listener depending how they first, or last, hear it. His indecision over where to place the pause and emphasis in the words “where’s my little trouble girl” during “I Hate Candy” pushes the song in two different directions at once. “Action Figure”, Aw C’Mon’s denouement, perhaps demonstrates the character of Kurt’s voice and lyrics best, starting with the faltering lines “I heard a rumour that I’m sad / Or at least that I feel bad / Whoever said that doesn’t know / I’m pretty sure that I don’t know” before slowly finding the surreal sadness of “I’ve swallowed bugs all afternoon / I’ve swallowed beer like a cartoon”, all delivered with a slowness of pace and a faltering emphasis that forms bonds between the strange and the profound.

Whilst the songs on No You C’Mon don’t flow together as smoothly as those on Aw C’Mon (tellingly the inlay for Aw C’Mon folds out to reveal a big picture, whereas No You C’Mon’s is the same image stapled into a booklet), a number of them are of a similar ilk; lush, concise modern country that only Lambchop can do, the sound of a band from Nashville rather than a Nashville band. “About My Lighter” is an easy stroll in the park (“please don’t worry… lets not worry / We’re not worried / About my lighter”) and “There’s Still Time” swoons in slow, damp dramatics. The most exceptional moments are when Lambchop push themselves in new directions though; with no little irony “Nothing Adventurous Please” is the most adventurous thing they’ve done, a driving, guitar-laden number that actually sees the band rock out for the first ever time, some new-found energy and love of noise coming through loud and clear. “The Gusher” shows that this isn’t an isolated incident, as it steals the “Paranoid” riff and subverts it through a piece of jazzy samba, before turning back to the riff in order to tear the song apart again. Possibly the strangest moment though is “Shang A Dang Dang”, a nonsensical slice of sing-a-long pop that sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before, and which is perfectly lovely.

If anything really binds these two wonderful records together it’s the instrumental tracks peppered across them both; from newly commissioned soundtracks to 20s Hollywood silent films that swoop in cinematic widescreen sound, to upbeat diversions driven by modest drums and unabashedly positivist melodies, their use definitely adds a sense of stylistic unity across the two records. Of these instrumentals “Sunrise” (the aforementioned film score, for a new print of the Murnau classic of the same name), the buoyant “The Lone Official” and the kinetically ringing “The Producer” are probably the standouts, realising heretofore-unseen areas of Lambchop’s sound just as much as the cover of Curtis’ “Give Me Your Love (Love Song)” did six years ago. Country music, which is still ostensibly what Lambchop do, may find its stock in trade in lavish melancholy, but at times during Aw C’Mon and No You C’Mon Lambchop sound lighter than air and glad to be alive in a way they’ve never quite managed before. Maybe the generosity of releasing two albums together is a symptom of this new positivism?
Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2004-02-17
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