Certain elements of the difficult-to-pigeonhole sound of Nashville’s Lambchop – in particular ‘Chop chief Kurt Wagner’s cigarette-ash vocals and penchant for ambient George Jones songwriting – should coalesce seamlessly with the oceanic drift of electronic minimalism or the wandering surprise of sound collage. Wagner collaborated with Morcheeba to great effect on the Raymond Carver-esque track “What New York Couples Fight About” from the 2002 release Charengo. In that instance, the amalgamation of Wagner’s vocals and subtle electronics held for a fruitful six minutes, and the result was one of the album’s gratifying highlights. But by ’02 Morcheeba had turned away in large part from the trip-hop of its first three albums to a more organic sound, leaving the members of Lambchop to immerse themselves in full cut-and-paste splendor at some later date.
Enter little-known Nashville-based noisenik duo Hands off Cuba and the CoLAB EP, a four-song release featuring one Lambchop interpretation of a Hands off Cuba track and three “Cuban” variations on ‘Chop originals. The disc opens with “Prepared,” the languid and spare Lambchop contribution. The collective’s catalogue is lush with golden low-heart-rate moments, but “Prepared,” layered with just a dusting of electronics and isolated on this EP, sits dejectedly as a middling addition. The three glitchy instrumentals that remain offer only faintly discernable nods to the work of Wagner and company – the ELO-goes-Music Row string arrangements weaving through “Gus” are an exception. There is a genuine intelligence being poured into the three tracks, but it’s more felt than heard because the tracks lack a streamlined clarity in both sound and vision. As a whole, the CoLAB EP is much less a meeting of the minds than the title suggests – and it’s much less successful than anyone would hope.
On paper, the sparse side of Lambchop (notably displayed on 2002’s Is a Woman, dripping with Wagner’s spoken-word poetry and Tony Crow’s “Music City Satie” piano) should gracefully fuse with thoughtful electronic elements to create a striking exercise in dust-bowl glitch. The thought of a “David Sylvian Does Nashville” release from Kurt Wagner and his Nashville crowd is an intriguing concept, but the CoLAB EP hints with only the softest mannerisms at that un-mined potential.
Lambchop Web Site: http://www.lambchop.net/
Merge Web site: www.mergerecords.com/index.php
Hands off Cuba on MySpace: www.myspace.com/handsoffcuba