Lambchop and Hands Off Cuba

    The Decline of Country and Western Civilization Part II: The Woodwind Years


    If America has a close equivalent to Belle and Sebastian, it’s got to be Lambchop.


    Both bands have shown a penchant for horns over their careers. “My Cliché” starts The Woodwind Years off with a smoky, sax-honking, late-night vibe. “Loretta Lung” follows with more ‘phones. And a highlight of the album is “Burly and Johnson,” featuring Mac McCaughan from Superchunk on muted trumpet wanting to steer the whole thing into a full-on cover of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.”


    Both bands’ sounds are affected by the local musical milieu they arose from. Belle and Sebastian has Scotland and forebears such as Orange Juice. Lambchop takes any preconceived notion of a “Nashville sound” and fucks it right up, as the members would be the first to proudly admit. “Ovary Eyes” could be a pleasant AM radio country ditty, if it weren’t for that sex-baiting title.


    Both bands revolve around an enigmatic leader. In Lambchop, this is Kurt Wagner. A man who likes to give himself abstract challenges such as writing a song a day. A man who once created something that he told everyone was a concept album about Richard Nixon, complete with liner notes and reading suggestions, but then put nothing in the lyrics that remotely referenced Tricky Dick. A man whose growl bears comparison to Lou Reed’s and Vic Chesnutt’s but really just reminds me of a redneck relative of mine the family affectionately refers to as “Uncle B.”


    Wagner, like Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, can bring wordplay Oscar Wilde would admire. It’s not hard to guess what dirty word Wagner rhymes the title of “Smuckers” with; later in that same tune he couples “biscotti” with “Port-a-potty.” “Mr. Crabby” sounds like an outtake from that Spongebob Squarepants record. And “Gettysburg Address” take’s Honest Abe’s eloquent speech off into more debased territory: “We hold these truths to be self-evident/ We drink beer in bars.”


    Finally, both groups are certainly prolific. Like B&S’s 2005 compilation, Push Barman to Open Old Wounds, The Woodwind Years is a collection of B-sides and rarities. Sadly, though, The Woodwind Years isn’t as great a grab-bag as Push Barman to Open Old Wounds was. Too many tracks — “The Scary Caroler,” “Alumni Lawn,” “Playboy, The Shit,” “Gloria Leonard” — slip into a lazy, lounge-y, drone-y jog.  And many of these tracks have shown up on previous Lambchop comps, a fact that reeks of laziness and the retreading of old ground rather than forging forward to discover new creativity.


    Discuss this review at The Prefix Message Board   

    Lambchop Web site

    Merge Records Web site