Lambchop: Showtunes review – American songwriting the slow and shimmering way

(City Slang)
Kurt Wagner puts a midi keyboard centre stage on Lambchop’s expansive, laid-back latest

Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner can’t play piano. So for Lambchop’s 15th studio album – the third in this Americana artist’s recent experiments in electronics – he transposed music he had written on the guitar on to a midi keyboard. The result is Showtunes, an album whose title suggests razzmatazz but delivers Wagner’s customary laid-back profundity with well placed digital embellishments.

Others have been this way before – Bon Iver and Low are just two guitar acts who have reinvented their work electronically. Yet Showtunes is indelibly a Lambchop album, a set of songs that references the legacy of American songwriting from inside a vat of shimmering treacle. The pace is slow but spacious, giving rise to a pair of instrumental meditations and a seven-minute track, Fuku, whose percussive pops, blithe piano motif and bittersweet brass accretes into a quasi-standard pondering the imperfect nature of love. Drop C uses cut-up found sound in a more staticky way, and Blue Leo essays some disorienting vocal manipulations that are perhaps too reminiscent of the latterday Bon Iver. Showtunes is much stronger, however, when Wagner layers its disparate elements more subtly – leaning into its limpid jazz horns and electronic atmospheres, with just the distant memory of an opera singer punctuating The Last Benedict.

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