The initial plan was to make a record that maybe my wife would like. The music she listens to on her phone is often commercial pop, commercial hip-hop – she’s a big Beyoncé fan. I thought, ‘I would love to be in her playlist,’ to pop up on her phone. That was a big motivation.”
Kurt Wagner the singer, principal songwriter and leader of the Nashville alt-country band Lambchop is talking about the motivation behind the bands new release Flotus which represents a notable change in style and approach that some listeners may find initially startling in its boldness and vitality.
Never a band with a constant lineup, Lambchop has consisted of a large and fluid collective of musicians from their inception focused around its creative centre, Wagner. Initially indebted to traditional country, their music has subsequently moved through a range of influences.
Whatever the style, the characteristic mood of Lambchop's music is evoked by Wagner's distinctive songwriting: lyrically subtle and ambiguous, the deep baritone vocals melodic but understated.
So Lambchop have long been the favourites of a certain type of music fan, one who wishes to submerge themselves in a vividly drawn self contained world pulling in influences from places as divergent as reggae (Is a Woman), soul (Up with People) lounge (Mr M)and rock (Thriller). Now with their 12th album of a near two decade long career, hip hop and electronica have joined the party and the results are if initially surprising then also unsurprisingly wonderful.
Those who’ve grown accustomed to Lambchop as a subtle and soulful alt-country outfit might have wondered if this was even the same band when they first heard Flotus’s lead single, The Hustle, back in August; electronic rhythms, hypnotic drones and painterly instrumental touches are all incorporated over its 18 minutes, largely vocal-free, running time. As late-stage career reinventions go, this new sound is pretty out there.
Wagner and Lambchop are no strangers to experimentation and have always tried to push forward, finding new ways to develop and reassess. Coming after last year's HeCTA, The Diet, solo release from
Wagner which fully embraced the electronics which are to the fore here, Flotus still represents a ballsy move for a band so long established but like all true artists, Wagner is a restless innovator and similar to this year's Bon Ivor release it is always exciting to hear an artist push themselves into new unknown territory.
The records title Flotus has obvious connotations to the US presidential race, as it stands usually for First Lady of the United States, though here the title means For Love Often Turns Us Still, and the themes explored here sit closer to the personal than the political.
The Lp's cover is a painting by Wagner of his wife and US President Barack Obama, who is the head of the Democratic Party in Tennessee and if anything this record stands as a testimony to enduring love, companionship and hope.
On the records aforementioned stand out track ( arguably one of the most impressive songs released this year) Wagners warm cigarette baritone croons: I will love you forever, and that's a long long time. Such is the innovation, warmth, freshness and creative vitality on display here, any listener will surely fall in love with Lambchop all over again.