Alt-country collective turns to electronica and a new name for an exciting debut release
Nashville’s amorphous Lambchop collective started life as a country outfit but since then have veered stylistically from post-rock to lounge music and many things in between. So it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that three of its key members eventually hit upon the idea of making some electronic music together.
Perhaps a bigger mystery is why frontman Kurt Wagner and bandmates Scott Martin and Ryan Norris have chosen to release ‘The Diet’ under the banner of HeCTA rather than their usual name. There are definitely some quality electronic manoeuvres here, but what ultimately shines through is the same distinctive songwriting and dark, understated vocals that make Lambchop such an enthralling prospect.
We start with the brutal thud of kick drums, and opening track ‘Till Someone Gets Hurt’ draws inevitable comparisons with classic Underworld, Wagner’s vocals on monotone mode and stuck through a close echo a la Karl Hyde. It’s not until ‘Sympathy For The Auto Industry’ that it really begins to breathe synthpop simplicity and Wagner delivers a heart-tugging, sugarsweet chorus.
‘Prettyghetto’ introduces more organic, live elements into the mix, incorporating clipped guitar licks, swirling organ and an ingenious use of handclaps. It’s still hyper-edited and contained, but there’s a funkier feel to it, one that slowly but surely develops and opens up as the album continues across its nine tracks. ‘Like You’re Worth It’ has a subtle, soulful edge, as well as Wagner’s most intimate, confessional vocal delivery, swaddled in synths and snippets of woodwind. It’s a breather, if a melancholy one, and good preparation for‘The Concept’. Built around American comedian Buddy Hackett’s self-depreciating Brooklyn rasping, this was apparently the starting point for the album. Set to some samples of gorgeously clattering live drums, an Orbital-esque chord sequence and simple strings, it’s another unexpected twist that keeps you listening on for the next development.
‘Change Is In Our Pocket’ evokes Tortoise at their loosest with a lightly employed, but nevertheless driving groove, lounge lizard keyboard luxury and a cunning vocal hook that creeps up on you and refuses to let go. ‘We Are Glistening’ pushes Wagner’s voice to the fore once more, sounding here like the emotion-heavy cross between Ian Curtis and Johnny Cash, and is definitely one of the LP’s high points. From this fluidity we head back into the frantic machinations of ‘Give Us Your Names’, which is more like Prince and Squarepusher combining disparate forces.
Fortunately, it transpires that the last track, ‘We Bitched, We Bovvered And We Buildered’, is as delightfully direct as its title is convoluted. It proves a truly satisfying close, less of a climax than a resolution of the veering moods we’ve travelled through. A simple electro backbone, some serenely oozing layers of backing vocals and an uplifting, optimistic vibe, it’s the final proof that – as if we needed it – this is not the sound of a band “trying their hand” at electronica, this is a formidable songwriting unit finding yet another form through which to express their unique talent. ‘The Diet’? A feast for the ears more like.