After a pair of experimental synth-country albums, Lambchop returns to its familiar pared-down alt-country with TRIP, a six-track cover-album that is no less weird than its two most recent predecessors. That is–in classic Lambchop fashion–at first glance, TRIP doesn’t quite make sense.
The EP kicks off with a thirteen-minute cover of Wilco’s “Reservations,” one that takes Tweedy’s original ambient soundscape and stretches it for miles. In the center of the track you’re dropped into what almost resembles a faraway drunk band practice, sleepy players accompanied by wind in the chimes. This moment is swallowed up by an echo and transformed into long, deep pounds on a piano that perfectly mimic the shaky vulnerability of frontman Kurt Wagner’s opening vocals. This song is loneliness embodied. As such, it comes as a surprise that this project was not a result of this year’s call to be alone. Rather, in late 2019 Wagner requested each of his bandmates to join him in Nashville having chosen a song to cover. Their selections range wildly, calling on George Jones, the Proclaimers, Mirrors, Stevie Wonder, and James McNew of Yo La Tengo. By all accounts, these tracks do not belong together, but in the six days of recording TRIP Lambchop achieved a seamless composition of songs.
Each track is a very slight reimagining of its original, turning pop, soul, and classic country into a collection of gruff, droney ballads. Every percussive hit and every guitar strum is precisely the same on TRIP as it was in its first form, at most tuned to fit the Berman-esque surly vocals of Wagner. After the successfully experimental cover of “Reservations,” the rest of the tracks fall flat in their new forms. Lambchop’s versions take nuanced, multidimensional songs and turn them into one-note tracks that bleed ruthlessly into each other. At best, they’re boring; at worst: offensive. Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady” and George Jones’ “Where Grass Won’t Grow” are performed by Lambchop like records that have warped into slow, gurgling memories of what they once were. “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone,” popularized by the Supremes, is an almost-successful homage, maintaining the punchy pop of the original but eliminating the intoxicating narrative voiceover that made the song a hit, replacing it with fuzzed-out mumbles by Wagner.
While the tracks on their own leave much to be desired, as TRIP they create an enduring piece of churning, blurred bass backed by careful steel percussion. It is shockingly and undoubtedly a cohesive EP, and the fascinating, heart-string-tugging rendition of “Reservations” may just make the entire album worth the listen.