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Aw, Cmon (Merge)

From the first surges of "Being Tyler," a cinematic instrumental with the dramatic piano and orchestral vibe of an early 1980s prime-time soap opera, Nashville chamber-poppers Lambchop revel in velvet-swathed swankiness. The reformed alt-country collective stretches this urbanity over its seventh and eighth discs, Aw, Cmon and No, You Cmon, a matching set that perpetuates the lushness of 2002's Is a Woman with hints of soul, jazz, and baroque elegance.

Aw finds its beauty through subtle sonic movement: "Each Time I Bring It Up It Seems to Bring You Down" features nimble flutters of strings befitting a Disney cartoon, "Timothy B. Schmidt" cranks up the fiery jangle, and the slo-core brood of "Action Figure" stars singer Kurt Wagner, his languid croon conjuring smoking jackets and broken hearts. No emerges as the more rocking and cohesive of the two records, highlighted by the wall of bar-band guitars on "Nothing Adventurous Please." But even its nods to Lambchop's rootsy origins (the shivers of pedal steel on "Listen" and trembling twang of "The Producer") show spit-'n'-polished sophistication.

Still, levity often softens the mood: Wagner's pretentious beat-poet delivery on Aw's "Women Help to Create the Kind of Men They Despise" suggests Leonard Nimoy fronting a piano-jazz lounge act, and there's also a lyrical reference to Black Sabbath. With Lambchop sounding more comfortable in its ornate orchestrations, the tunes on Aw and No are as enjoyable as they are high-class.


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