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Lambchop, ‘AWCMON’, ‘NOYOUCMON’ (Merge)

Wry Nashville twang-pimps Lambchop defy easy definitions the way George “No Show” Jones used to frustrate concert promoters. Indie rockers to the core (sample song title: “I Sucked My Boss’s Dick”), they nonetheless flout the Tao of Lo-Fi. Their sumptuous, string-and-brass-swaddled records feature way more musicians than you can cram into a beat-up Econoline and ooze the countrypolitan polish that Nashville wooed pop fans with 30 years ago. Even if bandleader Kurt Wagner’s trucker hat begs for it, you can’t quite call ’em alt-country. But Shania Twain writes tambourine parts catchier than Wagner’s croakadelic vocal melodies, and his cryptic, elliptical lyrics make less sense than a Tom Clancy book. Which means that Lambchop aren’t after Brooks & Dunn’s spot on CMT.

AWCMON and NOYOUCMON don’t make the Best Buy CD-stocking guy’s job any easier. In 2002 and 2003, Wagner wrote one song per day for weeks at a time; these two albums cherry-pick the best material from that project. The result could’ve been a tossed-off in-joke–Nashville hipsters skewering Music City’s song-factory legacy. As it turns out, Wagner’s tunes actually benefit from the procedural whip crack: Over the course of 24 tracks, we get taut grooves set on Al Green cruise control, lots of havin’-fun-in-the-studio byplay, and the occasional spritz of rude fuzz-box guitar to give all the gold-leaf detailing some shape.

You can also hear Wagner reaching beyond his usual country-soul grasp, dropping in bits of exotica to keep himself amused, like the John Fogerty reverb threaded through the weird doo-wop chorus of “Shang a Dang Dang” and the hasty “Iron Man” riff that electrifies the ending of “The Gusher.” On “Steve McQueen,” he one-ups Sheryl Crow with a bubble-bath love-in about the perils of lung cancer. It’s an emblematic Lambchop moment, perfectly pitched between homage and satire, the basement and the bullpen.