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C'mon C'mon

  Lambchop: Aw C'mon

 

Merge, 2004

Rating: 3.6

 

    Lambchop: No, You C'mon

 

Merge, 2004

Rating: 4.0

 

 

Posted: February 19, 2004

By Kevin Forest Moreau

If Lambchop's new pair of albums, released simultaneously a la Use Your Illusion, sound a bit scattershot, it's instructive to keep in mind their origins. Lambchop brain trust Kurt Wagner resolved to write one song per day for a set period of time, and the best of those results are what populate these two discs. Generally, when you sit down to force the act of creation, consistency of sound and theme isn't a likely result. Given that these two standalone albums suffer from a lack of coherence, it's easy to say that Wagner would have been better off paring the results down to one disc, or at least releasing both as a double album, where sprawl -- of the thematic and aural varieties, as well as physical -- is expected. One could pass a lot of time speculating as to why an artist as relatively unknown (and distinctive) as Wagner chose to release the two separately at the same time: Is he testing just how devoted his fan base is? Whatever the motivation, though, it's clear that while both albums share similarities in sound and variety, they remain separate entities.

In fact, the more one listens to both, the clearer it becomes that each album helps put the other in perspective. On the first few spins, Aw C'mon sounds like a rather pointless jumble of sprightly instrumentals and twilight ballads delivered in Wagner's idiosyncratic voice -- half world-weary croak, half deep-throated, feathery murmur you're not quite sure you heard correctly. But No, You C'mon provides balance, its more substantive numbers throwing the first disc's overall sound into relief and even bringing out its recalcitrant charms. No, You C'mon, then, trains the listener to spot the precursor's more engaging moments, giving life to the push-and-pull of the two titles.

That's perhaps because the charms of No, You C'mon are much more readily apparent: the songs themselves are more concrete, more dynamic, from the stately abandon of the guitar-rocking "Nothing Adventurous Please" to the loopy nonsense shuffle of "Shang A Dang Dang." Those highlights are buttressed by spirited instrumentals ("Jan 24"), as well amorphous, fairly standard piano-driven pseudo-ballads like "Low Ambition" (enhanced by quietly chiming guitar) and "Under a Dream of a Lie," and whimsical non-sequiturs like the affable, loping "About My Lighter." The overall effect is in line with much of Lambchop's catalog: a confident, devil-may-care mish-mash of country-informed progressions, gentlemanly piano and understated-yet-rollicking guitar excursions.

If Aw C'mon pales in comparison, it's due to a pronounced downbeat atmosphere and an over-reliance on cutesy, clunky titles "Women Help to Create the Kind of Men They Despise," a bit of late-night lounge fluffery that lags under some pedestrian lyricism -- long a staple of Wagner criticism -- before rallying late with a brief, staccato vocal bridge that breaks up the monotony just long enough to remind you of just how monotonous the song really is. Songs like "Each Time I Bring It Up It Seems to Bring You Down" and the workmanlike instrumental "Timothy B. Schmidt" meander along, only infrequently offering a discernable hook or chorus. That aimlessness creeps into the stronger numbers, as well, but these at least benefit from sturdier dynamics that become more recognizable after spending time with No, You C'mon: the melancholic strings of "Nothing But A Blur From A Bullet Train," the insinuating melodicism of "Something's Going On."

Throughout both discs, instruments nudge hesitantly into and out of the mix, just as Wagner's crater-deep croon sometimes backpedals into just-decipherable wisps of word and thought. This translates into the feeling that the proceedings are, as a whole, uncertain, not entirely fleshed out (especially Aw C'mon), a feeling that knowledge of Wagner's song-a-day experiment can't help but reinforce. There are moments on both records that will only further Lambchop's status as an acquired taste not everyone can appreciate. But especially on No, You C'mon, they're supported by glimpses, however fleeting, of the peculiar magic that Wagner and his assured band of musicians can sometimes conjure, when the conditions are right and no one's trying to force it along.

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