Lambchop, Somerset House, London<br></br>Tahiti, The Spitz, London

Never, in the history of country music, has so little noise been made by so many
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The Independent Culture

The open-air Georgian quadrant of Somerset House may be an unusually elegant setting for a gig, but it has its drawbacks when the main attraction are a band as hushed as Lambchop. "You can all sit down if you want," invites Kurt Wagner, and it's the last we hear from him for some time, as the intro to Lambchop's opening number is drowned out by a passing plane. Not that it takes a thousand gallons of jet fuel to overwhelm Lambchop's fragile and tranquil sound: minutes later, one lone seagull achieves the same feat.

Lambchop are a nine-piece band. But if that's how many people it takes to sound the way they do, that's fine. Frets just fingered, strings just stroked, drums just brushed: this is the power of nine people playing softly, rather than three people playing loud. Wagner is wary of the term "alt-country", preferring to describe Lambchop simply as "American music", and his Nashville nonet are, indeed, inseparable from the place they come from. Paul Niehaus's pedal steel mimics the ghostly screech of distant train wheels, and it doesn't take much to set the imagination rolling across the Mississippi delta.

There's a little more to Lambchop than country licks. Last year's Nixon album displayed a strong Southern soul influence, and Wagner has spoken of his love for Curtis Mayfield, whose falsetto he imitates to undistinguished effect. The spectacle of Kurt Wagner, a man with a name so macho it makes you want to giggle (this, presumably, is why he counterbalanced it by naming his band after a Seventies TV glove puppet), straining to reach an unmanly high note is enough to cause a few titters. Lambchop's lyrics are inventories of quotidian minutiae – his son sporting a black eye, an owl killing a mouse, the sun rising over sleepy Barcelona – delivered with the dispassion of a news report. Suddenly the venue makes sense: a registry of births, marriages and deaths. There, in a nutshell, is Lambchop.

Just as the contemporary sporting scene is jointly dominated by the French (World Cup, European Championship) and the Australians (everything else, berserk Croatians notwithstanding), so it is with pop, with the two outstanding albums of 2001 so far coming from France's Daft Punk and Australia's Avalanches. Is there anything the French can't do right?

Well, oui et non. Tahiti 80, a quartet from Rouen with uniform King Charles spaniel hair, are indubitably an indie band, but one with a Gallic twist, via Scandinavia. Debut album Puzzle is produced by Tore Johansson, who has previously worked with Saint Etienne and the Cardigans, and that's a useful pointer. Those bands took their inspiration from Francopop of the 1960s, and Xavier Boyer, hunched over a big Sixties f-hole guitar, is simply bringing it all back home.

There's a bit of Boo Radleys, a whiff of Wannadies and a lick of Lilys about Tahiti 80, but they're more inclined to go back to root sources: Tamla, film-score exotica, and psychedelic beat-pop. Recent single, "Love From Outer Space", a superb funked-up version of a song byAR Kane, is a highlight, but it's followed by an instrumental, "Antonelli", which is the bastard son of Limp Bizkit and the Charlatans. And no one, not even the French, can make that sound cool.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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