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Lambchop - OH (ohio)

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Artist: Lambchop

Album: OH (ohio)

Label: Merge

Review date: Oct. 1, 2008

Lambchop, bless them, have always found ways to sound grand while undermining their own grandest gestures. Hence, a rotating orchestra of 20 players, but few moments when feet stray from damper pedals or mouths blow fully into reeds. Hence, record sleeves that erect Hollywood-sign tributes to banality (Aw C’mon) and ignominy (Nixon). Hence, naming their band after a sock-puppet.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Nashville ensemble’s 10th full-length OH (ohio) is not, as the title suggests, some kind of Sufjan-esque ode to the Buckeye State. Nor is the “OH” a soaring, Whitman-esque declaration. It’s merely the first sound you hear on the record – delivered by frontman Kurt Wagner in his lethargic, syncopated style, over a stubbornly prolonged piano chord. You can hear the spit sticking in the corners of his mouth as the brushed percussion, piano and guitar unfurl a kind of backyard bossa nova, elapsing at half-speed. It’s an almost masochistic way to open a record in the era of the click wheel, but Lambchop are nothing if not defiantly relaxed. The pleasure of their music has always come in its subtleties – wry turns-of-phrase and moments when disparate musical styles bubble up from underneath.

In striving to give OH some sort of unnecessary hook, the press surrounding the record has made mention of the band’s more streamlined lineup. They’re apparently at eight, down from the aforementioned 20, allowing Wagner to more easily take his show on the road. Without doubting that this is true, I’m not sure how much it matters – ever since 2002’s Is A Woman, we’ve been taking it on faith that the kitchen’s really crowded with cooks. The woodwind flourishes, brass accents, and sturdy countrypolitan song structures have long toed a line between sounding enormously full and impossibly gossamer. Many of this record’s highlights – from the lilting, melodic “Slipped Dissolved and Loosed” (“Marched in a torchlight parade / Hairstyled into Tony Cur-tis”) to the smoky, last dance of “I’m Thinking of a Number” – tiptoe a similar line. Others, like the taut and earnest “Sharing a Gibson with Martin Luther King, Jr.” trade the band’s all-enveloping and gloriously unlikely martinis-on-the-back porch vibe for one that more clearly breaks down into constituent parts – melancholy guitar riffs, impatient drumming and a rich, autumnal bottom of grand piano.

If there’s a notable change this time out, it’s the presence of producer Roger Moutenot, who splits time at the knobs with the band’s longtime collaborator Mark Nevers. Trying to isolate these guys’ respective contributions is probably impossible, but it’s worth mentioning that there’s a dusky, well-ironed Electr-O-Pura aura to so many of these tracks – “I’m Thinking of a Number” and the reverberating naptime blues of “A Hold of You” among them. There are also missteps here and there: “Close Up and Personal” tries to make due with a muddled melody, while “National Talk Like A Pirate Day” feels sort of gimmicky, its symphonic swells dwarfing whatever lyrical joke is buried in there. Taken as a whole, however, OH consists of more stellar stuff from a band that’s always taken the tortoise’s view of the race.

By Nathan Hogan

Other Reviews of Lambchop

Is a Woman

Aw C'mon / No You C'mon

Mr. M

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