This (is what you should listen to)
Lambchop’s latest album This (is what I wanted to tell you), is incredibly calming. It’s a series of stories told over peaceful, serene music, and while no part of it is particularly catchy, its enchantment will have listeners pressing play more than expected. For younger, more pop-oriented listeners, Kurt Wagner (the frontman) might bring to mind Francis and the Lights, given the similarity of the vocal effect they both use. The intentional shakiness, the, at times, quivering robotic sound of Wagner’s voice could easily turn prospective listeners away, but something about the way he sings (talks) and the content of his songs makes it relatively easy to listen to what he has to say and equally easy to sympathize with him; rather, his idiosyncratic voice doesn’t seem to distract.
During a first listen of the album, it’s plain to hear that the eight tracks blend together; not so much through the transitions from one song to the next, but through how similar they sound. Certain lyrical themes (usually closely related to the title) separate them, as well some slight changes in the instrumentation/overall musical texture (keyboard vs. guitar), but it can easily disguise itself as one forty-six-minute song, like a symphony or some experimental track by Prince. On that note, it reaches forty-six minutes with only eight songs, and only two of those eight are under four minutes, and five of them are over six minutes. Frankly, little about this album is typical, but that only adds to its appeal.
Given the similarity of these songs, it’s a challenge to talk about one as if it’s the hero of the album, though surely there are standout moments. One that dares to mind is the opening lines of “Flower,” the closer and the shortest song here: “If I gave you a hundred dollars/ to record just three words/ I could make the perfect song,” atop guitar playing that feels damn near mystical. Interestingly enough, “Flower” is the only song not to include “you” anywhere in the title, but doesn’t seem to involve love any less than the other songs. Perhaps just a throwaway detail, but an entertaining one nonetheless.
In practically every moment of this album, calmness is present; not just present, but at home, snuggled up on the couch, making itself known without being too over-the-top. The mind can wander to hundreds of places while listening to these songs, perhaps an expansion of a world seen on TV, or a scene from a past life frozen in time. Any headspace the listener finds themselves in while This (is what I wanted to tell you) is playing will be glazed in relaxation and rumination. This, more than almost anything that has come out in 2019, deserves several listens. Get a head start as soon as this review is over.