February 6, 2003

From the Horse's

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That’s right Wagner, Kurt Wagner. Songwriter and singer of Nashville’s 14 piece collective Lambchop, often described as the world’s “most fucked-up country band.” Hearing those words, most picture a domineering, dictating, jarring sound, laden with yelps, and twisted melodies. A band that pushes to the extreme every confine a genre attempts to have. Lambchop is different. Live and recorded they’re the quietest group of 14 musicians to ever come together. To the inattentive, Lambchop sound like lounge music sprinkled with country instrumentation. Melodious piano lines, gently strummed guitars, hushed plaintive vocals — the sound is very subtle. Nothing seems terribly innovative, yet I and countless other Wagner disciples will claim that they are one of the most exciting and unique bands working in music. Their records are fantastic to fall asleep to, yet doing so weakens the ‘chop. Then what is so special about Wagner & Co.? Well, it’s the content of the songs. Yet this is not simply music meant to accompany poetry. Wagner discovered something in the sound, the physical sound, of the instruments used in country music. Traditionally, country music uses pedal steel guitars, fiddles, pianos, mandolins, and mild brass sections as ornamentation for any song regardless of mood. Yet the sound of these instruments creates a poignant atmosphere and a precise mood. The slow gentle moan of a pedal steel vividly brings to life a man sitting in the oppressive warmth of the South, avoiding movement to escape the heat. He contemplates the world around him — from humanity’s destiny to the micro details of everyday existence — the eyes of a trusty dog stretched out in the corner. Wagner writes from this perspective. His songs are poetic, often-existential meditations on daily life expressed through a distinctly Southern prism. The soul/country instrumentation musically creates that prism, allowing us a stroll through Wagner’s mind. A very private world where a “petrified florist” declares “Come on, progeny” to a fat robin with a brain the size of an eraser. It is difficult to pin a particular meaning to any Lambchop song. Yet it is utterly satisfying to contact such elegant and strange meditations. It is a world that disobeys all logic but erects its own version of coherence. Lambchop is, in some sense, the most perfect ensemble. Their perfection is the relation between physical sound and lyrical temperament. Rarely has the free flow of thought been so perfectly and delicately matched.

Peace, “the dark horse”

Archived article by Maxim Pozdorovkin