Lambchop: OH (ohio)

Lambchop's seemingly effortless combination of smooth grooves, cryptic lyrics, and creeping menace is a perilously difficult mixture to get right; that the band has done it so often is a testament to Kurt Wagner's omnivorous musical intelligence. OH (ohio) gets the sophistication and tone right, but something's slightly off: What was once autumnal is, at this moment, slightly dull. Like a Garrison Keillor monologue, "Close Up" pronounces that "We all have sinned" without losing its poise, but it's hard to tell what Wagner's going on about. As ever, his lyrics remain both literally obscure and sonically buried. That leaves the music, which  increasingly resembles a narcotized version of the chug of bands like Okkervil River and The Decemberists, where keening repetition gains momentum. But the center—Wagner—just isn't strong enough here; there's little tension or progression. A closing cover of "I Believe In You" (made not terribly famous by Bette Midler) couldn't be lovelier, but something fails missing on many other songs, from the opening bossa nova of "Ohio" to the folksy repetition of "National Talk Like A Pirate Day." Whatever the X factor that elevates Lambchop usually, it's not here often enough.

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