on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2012 14 Feb

May I introduce you to „Mr. M“? Or: Lambchop is a killer!

von: Michael Engelbrecht Filed under: Blog | TB | Tags:  | 3 Comments


“We were going to make the record Marky (Mark Nevers, the producer; Anm. v. M.E.) and I wanted to make, the way we saw fit, taking it long as it took. I was, in essence, `going for broke´, because I was broken and saw this as a last chance to get myself right. This time it was personal.” (Kurt Wagner)

”Wine tastes like sunshine in the basement”. Was haben wir hier: eine psychedelische Sinatra-Variante? Neues aus dem Underground von Nashville? Wie immer man das locker-flockig umschreiben möchte: “Mr. M” brilliert (neben vielen anderen Dingen) auch mit dem aussergewöhnlichen Einsatz von Streichinstrumenten. Das ist kein Nachklapp zum Soul des Albums “Nixon”, keine Wiederholung der Rezepturen von “Is A Woman”: Violinen und Violas führen ein seltsames Eigenleben, das die schattigen Songwelten von Kurt Wagner in ganz spezielle Lichtverhältnisse taucht. Und was ich an den besten Lambchop-Platten bewundere, findet sich auch hier: doppelte Böden, Verstecke und vertrackt-fesselnde Lyrik – garantiert haltbar bis Ende 2099. Das Werk erscheint Ende Februar 2012.

(First Listen)

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  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

  2. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Retreating from music in the shadow of the suicide of his great friend and collaborator Vic Chesnutt, Kurt Wagner effectively disbanded Lambchopin favour of visual art in 2009 and the world had a fair idea we’d hear no more from the band that issued three consecutive near-classic albums in the years that bridged the ’90s and the new millennium. Those baroque, anti-country records were quite a run for any band; the messy, vast and sometimes glorious Thriller in ’97; the deliciously soulful faux concept album Nixon in 2000; the sparse, bleak Is A Woman two years later. These were albums that moved Wagner out of the limiting “” bracket, onto the bigger stages (they once headlined the Royal Albert Hall at a show where they were sadly overshadowed by their astounding support bill – Vic Chesnutt and Kings Of Convenience), and while they never found success in the US, they nestled in the loving embrace of Euro indie-kids looking for a little more scope to their Nashville skylines.

    Mr M then, is the carefully considered culmination of Wagner’s talents – touching on the light, jazzy prettiness he’s so readily capable of on ‘If Not I’ll Just Die’, a sweet little opener about, maybe, the beauty of the everyday and Wagner’s love of musical instruments; his trademark sly-grinned swinging humour shining on ‘The Good Life’ – it’s wasted on him apparently ; the intimate, late-night club singer-isms of ‘Buttons’, steeped in Lambchoppy reminiscence.

    As with every Lambchop record you must brave the throwaway, the tongue-in-cheek musical japes that form another facet entirely of Wagner’s songwriting. This time we have the flute-led, wordless TV-theme chamber music of ‘Gar’, the ’70s adult drama instrumental soundtrack of ‘Betty’s Overture’ – a decent exercise in atmospherics but filler nonetheless – and lastly the closer ‘Never MY Love’ which is a Very Good Song Indeed – but just happens to be utter crooner pastiche, Sinatra arrangements and all.

    The rest of the album is, fortunately, made up of some of the best songs Wagner has ever put his name to.

    ‘Gone Tomorrow’ twists an old Sun Kil Moon riff into a cyclical, string-soaked wave of a song filled with allusions to old friend Chesnutt’s obsessions with carnivals and shows  – “It was their last night on the continent, the production was shutting down” stutters Wagner before dropping the wonderful line “Wine tastes like sunshine in the basement”. Shouldn’t medals be awarded on the strength of that lyric alone?

    ‘Nice Without Mercy’ references Chesnutt again, this time in its acoustic strum; a refelective, almost impossibly mournful tune that mirrors the even weightier ‘Kind Of’, which opens with the line “It’s the kind of day you never wake up from” and stumbles, tumbles and falls from there, Wagner’s cracked delivery held together by the lush instrumentation. They are both stunning.

    What the album will hopefully be remembered for, however, is the lachrymose twin pairing of ‘2B2’ and the sort-of-title-track ‘Mr Met’: a pair of songs with their heads in one another’s hands, weeping gently against rich string runs, sparse  guitar lines and, in the case of the former, a minimalist bass part that cuts straight to the soul, on the latter a guitar/piano line that sounds like dew weighing down a leaf. Seriously. ‘2B2’ is sometimes reminiscent of John Cale’s masterful ‘Dying On The Vine’ but of course never deals directly with its subject – Wagner is still one for surrealism and disconnection – but the delivery of lines like “It was good to talk to you while we were cooking/Sounds like we’re making the same thing” allows us to read emotional meaning into even the strangest of lines.

    ‘Mr Met’ then, who, on an album entirely dedicated to Vic Chesnutt, we can only guess is meant to represent Mr Chesnutt himself, offers us the ultimate summation of a strange and stunning record, a strange, sudden life:

    ‘Friends made you sensitive/Loss made us idiots/Fear makes us critical/Knowledge is difficult… Life made you beautiful”.

    (Source: line of best fit)

  3. Michael Engelbrecht:

    It’s more likely, he says, that people find consolation in the music of others, often in the most unexpected way. „Vic’s got a funny story about how actually music did help him through once,“ he says, lapsing absently into the present tense. „We were gonna do a US tour with him and the day before we were gonna leave he had taken off in the van and just disappeared. He turned up in Florida in some crappy hotel. He’d filled his pockets full of rocks and all these heavy things and was sitting there by the pool trying to decide whether to throw himself in and sink to the bottom. Then this Cyndi Lauper song came on the radio and there was something in the song that made him stop and not do what he was planning on doing. It was True Colors or something like that. And I was like: ‚You’re kidding?‘ And he goes: ‚Really, it was something as dumb as that.‘ But it gave him enough pause that it actually made him stop. And next thing you know he’s surfaced. He’s called, he’s gonna be all right.“

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