Lambchop - Flotus
Writers are told to grab their audience in the opening paragraph but less pushy musicians usually let things rest a little. Not this musician. With supreme confidence, Kurt Wagner's new album Flotus opens with, not only one of the year’s most beautiful tracks, but one of the most beautiful tracks in his country-soul band Lambchop’s 30 years, wrapping its already snug Auto-Tuned vocals and Laurel Canyon guitars in a tight warm blanket. ‘In Care of 8675309’ may, seriously, deliberate the Creation itself but as soon as its almost 12 minutes are up we involuntarily tap ‘rewind’, like tapping ‘snooze’ on a cold British winter morning when we’re incapable of getting out of bed. We’ll try to decipher the words and meaning this time.
Wagner’s kindly spoken well lived Nashville voice doesn’t mean a man set in his ways, his album’s cited influences include Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean and Kanye West, which together with his latter day love but full understanding of electronica (not a wasted synth or effect) describes a man with a sharp observational awareness. And like every good story, it’s not about what it’s about, the album title’s acronymic form (literally, it expands to ‘For Love Often Turns Us Still’) an affectionate reference to his successful politician wife Mary Mancini, his – and therefore the one and only – First Lady of the United States. Unsurprisingly the title track’s a love song, the non-electronic voice upgrading from just another instrument to sing “We used to be like children.” First love is lovely but Wagner speaks as only a person with a full life in love can: he looks back from his porch rocking chair in the also gorgeous ‘The Hustle’, and ‘JFK’ gives a clearer disclosure of the – sometimes dispassionate – journalistic structure he’s applied while telling something more meaningful than recreating specific events, but this title track’s contentedness with the present and future is the story he’s, really, bursting to tell.
It’s not realist and it’s not meant to be realistic, but a very powerful evocation of nostalgia, doing a very powerful job of longing for a more innocent time and that idea of what some writers have called America’s wilful innocence. Frank Ocean, sure, but also Robert Frost in his poem ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ evoking the golden seaming moment when everything seemed possible in his nation’s culture. We refuse to lose our innocence but this innocence gets more and more beaten up and bedraggled all the time and less and less convincing, something Wagner tangentially, arguably explicitly, confronts. A fascination with beauty, mortality and permanence, Lambchop’s album Flotus is a masterpiece.