Seventeen years ago, I was living in the UK and every week I’d head down to the trendy record store that was a few blocks away from London’s Angel tube station. While the vestiges of time have made me forget the name of the shop, I loved it there. Small but well curated; half of the store was devoted to records, the other half to CDs and every time I was there I stared at the album Nixon by Lambchop that was always on sale 2 for £20. I never bought even though the press was raving about it and only picked it up second hand in the last few years… but have yet to actually listen to it.
Such is the background I came to FLOTUS (For Love Often Turns Us Still) that Kurt Wagner released late in 2016. I’ve heard of the group for almost 20 years obviously but this is the first time I’ve ever really listened and on their 12th album, it certainly wasn’t what I expecting. Washes of electronics give the album a flow and water like quality, Wagner’s voice heard mostly through a vocoder. Like a lot of the album, the nearly 12 minute “In Care of 8675309” has a smooth, laidback late night style. “JFK” features a twitchy beat and “I talk too much” lyrics> “Old Masters” has a soulful 70s vibe followed by the relatively upbeat “Relatives #2”.
FLOTUS is bookended on one end with the 12-minute opener and the 18 minute “The Hustle”. Neither outstay their length and “The Hustle” in particular permeates the room and often changes as it goes. Wagner’s clear voice rings out through the beats that come and go to reveal jazzy horn sections then the beat reappears in a different form, like a brand new song before synthesizers once again wash everything away. “Do the hustle” Wagner tells us. Indeed. At 70 minutes long, this is a beautiful album that can float along in the background then suddenly pull you in to luxuriate in once again.