Most Europeans have not been to America. Yet the cultural sway that the country holds in this continent is ubiquitous. Whether it be through internet, music, film or TV – different forms of media have created a strange mirage of a land in Europe’s mind. It is a land that is both frighteningly barren and teeming with life; where dreams come true and liberties are crushed; where cool oozes from the pavements and conservatives pull the reins on the country’s galloping progressivism. These images lack the substance of experience – but through their lack they are all the more enthralling.
America has become something like an absent father to Europe’s nascent understanding of the world – a shadowy figure that still exerts an all-encompassing grip on our imagination and development.
Lambchop are a band that have undoubtedly benefitted from this strange relationship. To Europeans, the country Lambchop paints is dusty and open, where isolated figures happen upon emotional encounters they deal with in a plain and blunt fashion. This is the America of Paris, Texas or No Country For Old Men, however stilted that may be.
Kurt Wagner, Lambchop’s founder and lead singer, certainly fits the lead role. On Mr M., he lilts candid verses on the loss of a close friend as though it were the most natural thing in the world. His picked guitar is accompanied by uncomplicated strings. Superficially, everything is straightforward , yet in truth it is all underscored by a profound melancholy arising from the pain of memory.
‘If Not I’ll Just Die’, for example, features the strangely wistful, intriguing line “we were born to rule” – painful in its falsity, redeeming in its evocation of possibility – on a par, on these terms, with The National’s “We’re the heirs to the glimmering world”. ‘2B2’ and ‘Nice Without Mercy’ are haunted by anonymous voices and noises from a hushed phonecall, as is heartbreakingly used in The Eels’ ‘Manchild’. The whole album picks up on this strange evocation of the melancholy of America, its isolation, and pain lurking beneath the surface.
This is done better perhaps than Lambchop has ever before achieved. Where previously darkness was tempered with humour, here it is purer.
Wagner is now in his mid-50s. Some will be fed up with his stubborn refusal to divert from what he knows, and some irritated that they will never experience his style anew, as they did when Nixon first drew attention to his languid alternative country-rock. But for those seeking the evocation of place and a representation of how places can make you feel – whether phantasmagorical or not – Mr M. can become an irrepressible jewel in their collection.
Mr M. is released on 20/02/2012