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‘FLOTUS’ review: Lambchop’s new influences reflected in sound

Lambchop's

Lambchop's "FLOTUS" was influenced by the work of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean. Photo Credit: Merge Records

LAMBCHOP

FLOTUS

THE GRADE B+

BOTTOM LINE Another surprising shift from the alt-country pioneers

Lambchop mastermind Kurt Wagner is a master of the head fake. And his band’s 12th studio album “FLOTUS” (Merge) is no different.

No, this isn’t an hourlong ode to Michelle Obama — though someone should totally get on that. “FLOTUS” stands for “For Love Often Turns Us Still,” and Wagner has said it is influenced by the work of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean.

That influence, though, is more in production techniques and mood rather than musical genre, as Wagner’s poignant, lower-register vocals are still front-and-center as he offers poetic details about everyday occurrences.

Bookended by the 12-minute “In Care of 8675309,” a likely nod to the Tommy Tutone classic, and the 18-minute “The Hustle” — both groove-driven epics more interested in conjuring moods than filling dance floors — “FLOTUS” is one of those albums that reveals itself over repeated listenings.

The gorgeous “Howe” is built on a lovely melody that would make Paul Simon proud, but is filtered through the electronic clattering and warm-percussion production that drives Frank Ocean’s music. The ’70s soul of “Old Masters” is updated by the heavy electronic distortion on Wagner’s voice. Don’t fall for the distraction, though, these Lambchop melodies are as memorable as ever.

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