Last Friday, alternative country artist Lambchop released its newest studio album, entitled FLOTUS (an abbreviation of For Love Often Turns Us Still). By no means is it the next big hit in pop culture, nor is it the strongest work ever released by the band. But in some strange, sneaky way, FLOTUS quietly grows on listeners until it has its roots dug into their minds. Though it may toe some questionable lines as far as composition and structure go, FLOTUS is an altogether solid album. And if nothing else, it certainly does not lack in creativity.
For readers who are not aware, Lambchop is not a band with a set structure, genre, or lineup. Beyond frontman Kurt Wagner, the band has cycled through over 15 different members since 1990 (the release year of his first cassette, Secret Secret Sourpuss). As artists become tired of the project, they exit the scene, leaving room for more to enter into the ever-morphing band.
The impact of this model is striking. Comparing 1996’s How I Quit Smoking to this year’s FLOTUS reveals not only a major progression of thought and style, but a slow shift in genre as well. The album does have a consistent style throughout—something like a blend of post-rock and soul with a slight techno-alternative-country twang (yes, seriously)—but the effect of an ever-changing end goal is certainly felt. This, perhaps, is the price to pay for a band that encompasses so many sources of talent—pieces of each album feel as though they run in separate directions, incoherent to one another. In the case of FLOTUS specifically, the album lacks smooth transitions between tracks. The jump between the first two songs, “In Care of 8675309” and “Directions to the Can,” is jarring. Unfortunately, this is a problem that never really is alleviated as FLOTUS plays out.
Another frustrating detail of FLOTUS (perhaps a consequence of Lambchop’s structure) is the differential between each song. It is not out of the ordinary for an album to contain some weaker songs and some stronger songs, of course, but the disparity between FLOTUS’s weakest and strongest songs is massive. “In Care of 8675309” is the first song off of the album, and even standing at nearly 12 minutes, the work is a joy to listen to. On the other end of the spectrum, “Howe” feels like a bit of a slog, even at only four minutes. FLOTUS closes with “The Hustle,” which is purely upbeat, high-focus fun. But getting to this point requires trawling through “NIV” and “Harbor Country,” both of which feel incredibly dull in comparison. The highs of FLOTUS are extremely high, but the lows are enough to turn off anyone who is not an uber-fan of Lambchop, sadly.
Even with all of the back-and-forth of FLOTUS, though, there is a quiet charm that pervades the majority of the album. The genre that Lambchop has explored (and continues to explore, hopefully) is not an easy one. Post-rock is not the core of the music industry, and thus not the core of fandom or profit. FLOTUS feels as though it was done for the sake of art and self-exploration, and there is an undeniable respect in such a pursuit. The added benefit of that pursuit is that it carries into one’s music. Even if FLOTUS is not perfect, it is clear to every listener that an immense amount of love and effort has been poured into the work. Putting it as plainly as possible, FLOTUS is objectively better because of it.
Lambchop’s track organization is an exercise in boldness, too. Bookending the album with two 10-plus minute songs has such a high potential to, again, turn off casual fans that are not familiar with post-rock. As it stands, over one third of FLOTUS’s one hour and eight-minute runtime consists of “In Care of 8675309” and “The Hustle.” Leaving these tracks as they are may not make FLOTUS particularly accessible, but it does become a far more beautiful work of art when it exists in its truest form.
FLOTUS is not the next big thing in the music industry. Even if post-rock was widely-loved, the album is in no way without its flaws. It is extremely apparent, however, that FLOTUS is a labor of the band’s love and creativity. Though it may not be topping the charts anytime soon, already-existent fans of Lambchop would be doing themselves a favor by listening in. In fact, most non-fans would as well.
Featured Image By Merge Records