Secret Meeting score: 79
by Philip Moss
2016’s FLOTUS saw Lambchop guv’nor, Kurt Wagner, embracing technology – and in particular autotune. With its sprawling arrangements and quirky tricks, it was a breathtaking tour de force that demanded your attention. Three years on, This (Is What I Wanted To Tell You) proves that FLOTUS was not a one off, and is less wonky than its predecessor.
Like so much of the Nashville based group’s 13th (but officially 14th) record, opener, The New Isn’t so You Anymore, is drenched in autotune, and it would be remiss not to mention the similarities to Bon Iver. But despite the involvement of Matt McCaughan (co-writing and production) who’s contributed to Justin Vernon’s more recent works, the musical landscapes are more spacious – ‘I’m not livin’ in slow motion,’ Wagner croons – ‘I’m breathing actual air!’
The gentle feel continues through the hazy lounge drifts of Crosswords, or What This Says About You, which trips along on a bed of skittish drum machines. Everything for You is perhaps most similar to the works that appeared on FLOTUS – its beats bringing a deft groove – but it is more melodic. And, dare I say it, it’s also less experimental in the sense that Wagner now seems to understand the technology he’s using, therefore, the outcome feels more consciously constructed.
With shades of Talk Talk, the middle section of the record does requires more careful attention – four tracks in a row clock in over the six minute mark – where, at times, a little editing and a tempo shift wouldn’t have gone a miss. But there are enough immediate moments elsewhere across the collection, and by the time we reach the LPs finale, Flower, Wagner has dropped the computer-trickery – here evoking Cat Stevens and Jim O’Rourke’s Simple Songs in equal measures, as a plucked acoustic and a harmonica fanfare see out the the record with its most simple and beautiful moment.
This (Is What I Wanted To Tell You) is by no means a perfect album. But it is definitely one that you can get lost in.