Lambchop – OH (ohio) (Merge)

lambchop.jpgLambchop, a large rotating orchestra of uber-talented musicians, has always been the richly woven backdrop for the gorgeous warbling of Kurt Wagner. Lambchop songs have always meandered warmly towards some ambiguous genre that would be easy to call country, and at times probably is, but often isn’t even close. And now on their 10th proper album the Nashville band have neared perfection in a loose and unhurried way.

To call ‘OH (ohio)’ a pop record would be to imperfectly set expectations for those new to the band, but for zealots in the grand continuum of their work it would probably not be an inaccurate statement. For example on songs like ‘National Talk Like A Pirate Day’ is a downright upbeat ramble that grooves with a beautiful soul, piano thumping and guitar jangling, but of course the pace changes course as the band pulls back as Wagner uses the metaphor of a pencil to describe the fragility of a relationship.

Of the many Lambchop records I have loved and then lost track of, this one just feels like a real keeper, to be saved for those contemplative times where you are looking for something thoughtful but not sad. I guess I’ll also always be a sucker for an album named after my home state. This record does it proud.

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Silver Jews – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City)

silver-jews.jpgPerhaps my affection for this record and this band reflects both my age and my undying worship for head Silver Jew, David Berman, and his former college buddy Steve (Pavement) Malkmus. Like all of his prior records and, for that matter, those of Malkmus, in addition to the catchy alt-country melodies, it is the quirky literate lyricism that tend to leave the deepest impression.  For example on ‘San Francisco B.C.’ Berman tells the story of a couple who are changing with the times. And so Berman in his familiar brand of talk-singing begins: “Since her Dad the local barber was beaten to death/she had become a vocal martyr for the vegan press.” On ‘Candy Jail’ he begins “Pain works on a sliding scale/so does pleasure in a candy jail.” And so on, this is the essence of the Silver Jews.

On almost every song on “Lookout Mountain” the formula is less about repeated choruses or drawn out grooves, but more about stories- all weird, clever and short succinct meditations through his kaleidoscope world. ‘Lookout Mountain’ is easily the Silver Jews poppiest, most accessible effort yet. And even though this isn’t their best record, that would more likely be “The Natural Bridge” or “American Water,” this time around Berman and Co. are just having more fun, playing largely upbeat songs on lighthearted topics. To me this is like listening to an old friend who is in a really good mood.

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Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes / Sun Giant EP (SubPop)

fleet-foxes.jpgThese days I know almost instantly when I am hearing what will become my favorite record of the year. I have been intermittently grinding the five songs on the Foxes debut EP ‘Sun Giant’ (especially the epic ‘Mykonos’ and ‘English House’) and the 11 songs on the self-titled masterpiece ‘Fleet Foxes’ for the eight months since I accidently stumbled in on the band at one of their earliest NYC shows.

The Foxes play a deliciously derivitive fusion of 70’s Americana rock, imagine a bit of CSN&Y or America, mixed with Brian Wilson’s exquisite SoCal choral moments as well as dash of Appalachian gospel. Seattle’s Fleet Foxes are the much anticipated next branch to fall after My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Devendra Banhart. Flannel shirts and beards are back, but with a kind of modern authenticy, led by the exquisite vocals of Robin Pecknold.

But what sets the band apart is more their range. On a handful of tunes the band is able to create multiple songs within a single structure by pivoting off of dead-stop transitions from accoustic harmony to electric rock anthem. It will be hard to unseed a record like for a long time. It will sit comfortably atop that evergreen go-to shelf which includes Buckley’s “Grace”, Midlake’s “Van Occupather,” Galaxie 500’s “On Fire” and another twenty or so records that will never fall from their high perch. This a classic.

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