First thing’s first — Lambchop’s first album since 2012 is, sadly, not a concept album about the life and work of Michelle Obama, as timely as that may have been. In actuality it’s an acronym (For Love Often Turns Us Still), and frontman Kurt Wagner has said that the follow up to Mr. M is inspired by modern soul, R&B and hip-hop.
There’s always been a hint of soul in Lambchop’s take on Americana, but any evidence of those other genres is hidden well enough to be invisible. Opening track, ‘In Care Of 8675309’, is the best Lambchop have sounded in years; twelve minutes of yearning melodies, gentle guitars and beautifully judged instrumentation. In reality, it’s about as far away from hip-hop as it’s possible to be.
As the album progresses, it becomes apparent Lambchop are keen to evolve and take risks, 30 years into their career. The delicate alt-country never fully rescinds, but Wagner’s vocals take on another dimension entirely. They’re electronic-sounding, auto-tuned, subject to interference — palpably not in keeping with the Lambchop USP whatsoever. While often subtle, their influence dominates the record and they make you question everything you thought you knew about the band.
Careful consideration leads you to the conclusion that all this makes perfect sense. Music is arguably more disposable than ever, and it’s often used as a distraction, as background, as a constant soundtrack to our everyday life. It’s an everyday life that’s largely lived online, connecting to people around the world, subject to the whims of WiFi signals and 4G reception. Wagner has stated he wanted to make songs that would fit on his wife’s phone alongside Beyoncé and, while that seems an ambitious reading of ‘FLOTUS’, it’s certainly an up-to-date interpretation of the Lambchop archetype.
An obvious comparison is Bon Iver’s recent ’22, A Million’, but while Justin Vernon is using his treated vocals as the primary instrument, Wagner’s vocals on ‘FLOTUS’ tell more of a story about the direction we’re heading whilst the album as a whole develops. It all comes together on album closer, ‘The Hustle’, an 18-minute behemoth that incorporates electronics and large instrumental passages. It’s a fitting end for ‘FLOTUS’ and a welcome reminder that Lambchop are just as vital as they’ve ever been.
Words: Joe Rivers
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