Were I Lambchop’s publicist for Mr. M, I’d allow a long lead-time between promo copies and the record’s release date to give critics the longest possible time to let this one marinate. Like furled seedlings, all Lambchop records need time and attention to bloom. All are eventually growers. Especially Mr. M.
The story goes as such. When Kurt Wagner’s friend Vic Chestnutt died, Kurt (also an artist) began painting his way out of the pain. He was approached by Mark Nevers (producer for Will Oldham and Andrew Bird) who told Kurt he “had a concept of a sound and a method that worked with the tone of [Kurt’s] writing”. Mr. M was a chance for Kurt to “do things as directly and true to [his] desires as possible”. What an offer. It’s the kind of creative honesty we all crave in the aftermath of grief.
A red flag is waved in the first 15 seconds and that flag is strings. Lots of them. Swooping, film-score-worthy strings. They recede into the undergrowth as opener ‘If Not I’ll Just Die’ progresses but, along with horns and piano, remain a constant theme throughout, coating instrumental tracks like ‘Betty’s Overture’ in the yellowed showbiz smoke-haze of a Reno casino circa ‘64. Grief isn’t an overly apparent theme. Grief’s attendant state of introspection, however, is, and when ‘Gone Tomorrow’ ambles off into a long, mesmeric jam it seems to mirror the far-sighted meditations we succumb to when someone we love dies.
While Wagner’s hushed, reedy voice and finger-picked guitar is still the heart of Mr. M, Nevers’ orchestral touch has birthed a record that’s more complex and elusive than its forerunners.