Nashville's Lambchop do what many indie artists wish they could do transcend genre limitations, changing their sound from album to album, from post-punk to soul to lounge to jazz, sometimes mixing them up and sometimes not.
Like the group itself, Lambchop's Is a Woman defies genre and sounds different from past efforts. Critics have noted that it does not sound alt.country whatsoever. And, while the album may sound idiosyncratic (but good!) within an unpredictable group's overall oeuvre, all 11 cuts are cohesive and belong together on one LP.
Straight up, Lambchop's sixth album is lounge-rock for world-weary sophisticates. Jazzy chamber rock with a gentle tempo forms the backdrop for half-spoken vocals. Reflective piano-driven melodies utilize gently strummed guitars, cerebral vibraphone, brushed drums, found sound and effects (e.g. cicadas buzzing and a little girl's music box atmospheric, and evoking memory).
A subtle, moody album, it's an unrushed sonic experience for those who've seen some blacktop. With humor, a sharp acumen for the texture of life outside Eden, and tenderness that stops just short of "poignant," Is a Woman has no heavy breathing; puerile earnestness has been edited out.
You could say Is a Woman is emotional fortification for those who observe (and, perhaps, comment upon) the quotidian mysteries of the existential rift. For instance, there's this writerly meditation: "I can flick a cigarette butt/ Further and with more accuracy/ Lots of practice, I guess/ Someday we will all be editors" ("Flick").
If you wanted to be pretentious, you could say Is a Woman is post-structuralist "Music Noir," apt accompaniment to, perhaps, Celine: "The last thing I remember/ About waking up in Kristiansand/ Was gagging on my toothbrush/ As it brushed across my tongue/ And removed a drunken sailor/ Paid his bar and porno bill/ Gonna have to fuckin' hose him down" ("The Old Matchbook Trick").
But that's if you wanted to be pretentious. And while Lambchop do please a literary indie palate, that wouldn't be fair to Kurt Wagner, Lambchop's creative savant, because he is not pretentious.
Not that you'd want it to, because the music sounds so good, but his poetry can stand alone, sans song. Often catching the listener off guard with revelations intimate and unexpected, the scope of the unlabored lyrics veers from wry to effortlessly romantic and even sexual: "You have lost your socks and panties/ Out by the caterpillar/ That grades the road I walk on/ While I'm dreading English" ("Caterpillar").
This is not the soundtrack for a suicide, but for narrow escape from self-immolation. It's an acoustic sigh, mature and frank. "And William called and tried/ To tell me that his sister's boyfriend has just died/ He's not sure what to do/ And I'm not sure what to tell him he should do/ Sometimes William we're just screwed" ("My Blue Wave").
It may even leave listeners with a resilient buoyancy. Subtextually, it says music gets you past the rough spots: "It's here you make your peace/ The cut the fold the crease/ Maybe you can cure your own disease" ("D. Scott Parsley").
So many more delights are within. References to Bob Dylan and Vic Chesnutt. The sprinkling of words from popular cultural vernacular casual "groovies" and "dudes" and lines like "that trips me out" modernize Wagner's finely crafted words and add context, locating the place of his poetry in our daily lives. And there are the melancholy bars that ever so slightly recall Tindersticks.
And that music box. Visions of a ballerina spinning, and the thickness of summer air disturbed only by the droning of the cicadas.