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Lambchop - Aw C'mon / No You C'mon

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Artist: Lambchop

Album: Aw C'mon / No You C'mon

Label: Merge

Review date: Mar. 15, 2004

If I were Kurt Wagner, with his drawling murmur so wise the producer might’ve piped it in from the afterlife, I’d be one smug bastard. Only his occasional colleague Vic Chesnutt digs as far into awkward frustration and nebulous regret and comes out sounding so sublime. While Chesnutt occasionally chokes on his contempt, Wagner never wavers in his aw-shucks humility. And while (for example) Tim Rutili and (when he’s good) Jay Farrar sound beaten half to death by their destructive romances with duende, Wagner sounds like he could accept the apocalypse with a shrug and a cryptic one-liner.

Lambchop’s 2000 dispatch Nixon solidified the band’s pulpy mesh of melancholy C&W, breezy Philly soul and elegant orch-pop. It’s an amazing piece of work: Profoundly sad but never any less elegant, even on the chaotic (chaotic for Lambchop) rendition of the suicidal standard “The Butcher Boy” that wraps it up. If you haven’t heard Nixon, go scare up a copy right now. I’ll wait.

All right then. You’ll thank me.

The news about the C'mons is both bad and good. The bad news is that nothing here seems to even remember the frigid dips and glorious soars of Nixon. Compared to that album, both of these seem… not numb, but afflicted with imperfect circulation. At this point, I don’t think Wagner and company are going to put out anything as chilling as Nixon. I’ll be pleased if they do, but I don’t see it happening.

The good news is that both these discs are more immediate, more substantial, and better than 2002’s threadbare …Is a Woman, which pays off only in exchange for a massive time investment, which I’m still not sure it deserves. So if Lambchop’s masterpiece is already done with, at least the band is coughing up a little outreach here.

Aw C'mon is the less direct of the two – the only cuts that stand out on first brush are the incandescent opening-credits instrumentals “Being Tyler,” “The Lone Official” and “Timothy B. Schmidt.” For a band so damn literate, their instrumentals have gotten really, really tasty. But it doesn’t take long for the characters to come alive the way …Is a Woman’s seemed too exhausted to. …Is a Woman evoked laconic loners in permanent mouring. But Aw Cmon’s long-suffering companions (“Each Time I Bring It Up It Seems to Bring You Down”), the frightened neurotics (“Four Pounds In Two Days”) and embittered idealists (“Steve McQueen”) all seem to be in some sort of communication. And when the aforementioned instrumentals pass through, I get the feeling that, off camera, things are temporarily A-OK with all of them.

No You C'mon connects more quickly, but it’s the lightweight one. “Low Ambition” is more explicitly dark than anything on Aw Cmon, but less haunting, less prickly and beautiful. “About My Lighter” is more a good-natured riddle than Wagner’s usual craggy character study, and it’s the most breezily countrified thing the Chop has done since it discovered Al Green. “Under a Dream of a Lie,” on the other hand, goes full-tilt quiet storm on that ass, its acidic lyric obscured in strings. The raucous (raucous for Lambchop) driver “Nothing Adventurous Please” and the pleasant shuffle “Shang a Dang Dang” set the bookends. No You Cmon has no sharp objects in its pockets.

It’s still a grand li’l pop disc. After the pastoral nightmare that was Nixon, this might be the only place left for Lambchop to go, and the band arrives in style. At this rate, Wagner may yet have a hit single on his hands.

By Emerson Dameron

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