There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
It would probably come as no surprise if Lambchop released an album of George Jones covers done reggaeton-style. The Nashville, Tenn., band’s 1994 debut, I Hope You’re Sitting Down, fell a little to the left of the then-burgeoning alt-country movement, but ringleader Kurt Wagner soon steered his large group away from easy classification, following his exploratory instincts into Muscle Shoals and Philly soul, Billy Sherrill’s widescreen countrypolitan productions of the late ’60s and early ’70s, and the orchestrated anti-hippie pop of Scott Walker. It wasn’t uncommon to hear all of those influences rub shoulders within a single album, such as on 2004’s simultaneously released Aw C’mon and No, You C’mon, which Wagner claimed were the cream of a self-directed challenge to write a song per day for a year. Moreover, 2000’s Nixon was about the former president, and the liner notes featured a bibliography of Wagner’s favorite reads on the subject. All of which makes Damaged even more of a surprise since it doesn’t hop from genre to genre, from quirk to quirk: It’s essentially the same album from start to finish. Well, it has an even feel anyway, which seems to rest in the lower registers of Wagner’s mood. Nick Cave, the Tindersticks, and Scott Walker at his most brooding are proper points of reference, all Wagner-ized with his baritone sing-speak. On “Paperback Bible,” Wagner sings, “I have always thought/That handguns were made for shooting people/Rather than for sport/Why not use a rifle in most other applications.” There’s a slight underlying menace that’s impossible to place on songs such as that one and “Prepared ”; two dense ballads that account for the album’s first 14 minutes and are fused together with negatively charged ambient drone. While the lyrics to “Beers Before the Barbican” are especially poignant (“In a life that’s wrong and hung around/I’d probably wet myself with all the talk”), Wagner is a master of the vague metaphor, and one could safely wager that no more than four or five of his closest friends know what they mean. Only on “The Decline of Country and Western Civilization” (sharing its title with the Lambchop odds ’n’ ends compilation that came out earlier this year) do his concerns approach the obvious: “You see your Pitchfork I-rock saviors/And I’m sorry I still prefer Jim Nabors.”—Andrew Earles