Lambchop: Is A Woman

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Lambchop

Album: Is A Woman
Label: Merge

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"Pathetic Hindsight," the name of Lambchop frontman Kurt Wagner's publishing company, almost gets it right. The band's greatest gift is the unique mood it summons: not quite pathetic hindsight, but a nebulous mix of wistfulness, longing, and regret. Spare by the standards of its masterful predecessor Nixon, the new Is A Woman emphasizes mood over melody to an even greater degree than Lambchop's past efforts. A gray afternoon in album form, Woman pairs Wagner's cryptic lyrics with instrumentation so suggestive it almost qualifies as subliminal. In the past, the expansive Nashville band has erupted into soul choruses, repeatedly covered Curtis Mayfield, and paid homage to the lushest impulses of country music. All those tendencies remain on hand here, but they're corked tightly within the band's new spirit of well-considered reserve. Languorous rhythms drive Is A Woman, and the dreamy elusiveness spills over into every aspect of the album. "My Blue Wave," for example, first sounds like the story of a man falling in love with his dog, and only grows a little clearer with repeated listens. As an experiment in consistency, Woman is an unqualified success, but it's hard not to occasionally miss the unpredictability of the past. When the final track veers briefly into joyful reggae before drifting off, it elucidates the sacrifices the band has made in stripping down its sound, even though the overall effect remains unsettlingly pleasing in a way that only Lambchop can achieve.

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