Since the release of Lambchop’s seminal fifth record, the universally acclaimed Nixon, the anticipation of a follow-up album has been slowly increasing. Well, the news is that the new album has been scheduled for release by the end of the first quarter of 2002.
In the meantime, Tools in the Dryer — an anthology of A-sides, B-sides, live tracks and remixes spanning 1987 to 2000 — has been assembled by band member Jonathan Marx to tide eager fans over. Considering the prolific non-album recording action of this distinctive group, such a collection is a treasure trove of previously rare and obscure gems.
This alternative-pop favourite may hail from Nashville but it sounds like a group fired up by the classic Philly sound. Hence, the coining of the term “Nashphilly”, which really says nothing. This compilation is thus instructional to chart Lambchop’s evolution and development in the last 13 years or so.
Tracks like the oddball “All Over the World”, the REM-evoking “Flowers of Memory”, the stomping “Style Monkeys” and the murmuring “Scared Out of My Shoes”, outline Lambchop’s alternative rock roots, meaning that the recording is decidedly lo-fi, the instrumentation is spare (and usually distorted) and the approach is D-I-Y slacker punk. Or Pavement with a twang, if you will. Many of these come across like home-studio recordings and give very little warning of the sound of Lambchop circa 2001. Nonetheless, these tracks, when taken in isolation, make for solid, well-intentioned alt. rock.
But obviously, where Lambchop happen to be right now is evident from the first four tracks of this compilation. Injecting a greater sophistication into their arrangements and production values, these songs give more than an inkling of the collective’s high standing amongst music critics. Take, for example, tracks like “Nine”, with its helium-pop backing vocal machinations and overall jubilant tone; “Whitey”, with its pleasantly atmospheric pedal steel; “Cigaretiquette”, a witty reminiscence about THE filthy habit done in the resplendent plastic soul format; “Miss Prissy”, a poignant Vic Chestnut cover; and the simply gorgeous ballad “Or Thousands of Prizes”.
Less accessible but equally critical to the Lambchop aesthetic are the “artistic” moments that are conjured up by the dramatic “The Petrified Forest”, the darkly orchestral remix of “The Militant”, the morose jazz-folky “Each with a Bag of Fries” and the truly strange “Moody Fucker”, which employs a child’s music box as quaint complement. But fret not, for the other side of this eclectic coin will rear its head with the three-punch knockout of “Up with People (Zero 7 Reprise remix)”, “Give Me Your Love (Doppelganger remix)” and “Love TKO” as Lambchop trip the light fantastic with smooth soul.
A mixed bag? Surely that was the intention all along. You’ve got to love a band that defies easy categorization, if any at all. Now for that eagerly anticipated sixth album!