We all know the drill about rarities compilations: they're esoteric, obscure, often tough listening, little more than grab bags for serious listeners who fancy themselves as musical archivists. "For fans only," right? And most of the time, frankly, it's the truth.
But what critics like us rarely acknowledge is that there's something thrilling about a good odds 'n' sods disc, too, even if it's from a band whose logo we wouldn't feel comfortable getting tattooed on our asses; it's the feeling of discovery, of adventure, like happening upon a box of dusty old 78s in somebody's attic and poring over them one by one.
Lambchop's Decline of Country & Western Civilization, Pt. 2 — second in a series of B-Sides collections but the only one available Stateside — is one of those "box of 78s" records...not only because of the aforementioned "finders keepers" qualities, but because the low fidelity makes many of these songs sound like they were recorded circa 1938. Rather than working against the music, however, this sense of ancientness actually makes the venerable Nashville alt-country band's castoffs feel more personal.
The muffled Southwestern garage rumble of "The Scary Caroler" sounds like it was recorded with a Dictaphone from three rooms away, calling to mind teenage band practices in the family basement. And from the opiated Neil Young noodling which opens sublime ballad "It's Impossible" on, there's a sense that one is hearing something intended for the performer's ears only, like an impenetrable diary entry set to music.
Maybe this is voyeur's music; certainly there's a kind of privacy-invading novelty in hearing goofy experiments like the junker soundscape "Two Kittens Don't Make a Puppy," or "Burly and Johnson," effectively three and a half minutes of halting trumpet bleats which reminds one of nothing more than hearing your little brother try to get through his seventh grade band scales. Or maybe I just feel that way because Lambchop is one of those bands I've always meant to check out but never got around to, and so listening to this particular record back to front is something like leaping head-first into a bucket of cold water...in a good way.