Can creativity help mend a tortuous and fragmented soul? When everything crumbles, surely it only makes sense to begin rebuilding. After the death of his friend and musical peer Vic Chesnutt, Lambchop’s talismanic Kurt Wagner decided to pick up his paint brushes in an attempt to haul himself out of an existential fog which lay heavy on his delicate mindset. Mr. M will never ease Wagner’s pains of grievance, but Vic Chesnutt’s memory can be heard within this elegantly moving work of art.

Lambchop have always been a difficult band to pin down. Unsurprising really for a group whose history spans several members, as many genres and over 20 years of making music, but Kurt Wagner’s idiosyncratic eloquence and unnerving introspection has always acted as a centre-piece for the often varied sounds which encompass and encase his musical persona. Despite often being labelled as a country band, Mr. M once again finds Lambchop playing with orchestral compositions and elements of lounge and nostalgic pop. Producer Mark Nevers (Andrew Bird, Will Oldham) had expressed an interest in creating a kind of “psycha-Sinatra” sound on this album and the complex, yet moving string arrangements on show mean that Mr. M occupies a similar mood to Mr. S’ brooding masterpiece In The Wee Small Hours or even Mr. H’s romanticised pop in Coles Corner.

Ignoring the pretext of this record for a moment, fans of Lambchop will find much to cherish in this record. ‘Gone Tomorrow’ is a Lambchop song through and through; descriptive, rambling lyricism detailing everyday life, bittersweet melodies and an ambitiously composed, multi-faceted instrumental outro. Wagner’s trademark self-deprecating witticisms are present, "I used to know your girlfriend, back when you used to have a girlfriend/She was nice and you were not, but I was the big prick back then too" (‘Buttons’), so is his fondness for playful vocal melody, seen in his staccato delivery during ‘Mr. Met’.

However, at times it is hard to escape the ghost of Chesnutt haunting Wagner’s lyricism. The ennui weighs heavy on the 55 year olds voice as he portrays a dark shadow hanging over his day to day existence, "Took the Christmas lights off the front porch / February 31st" begins second track ‘2B2’, an image which reveals the deep depression of Wagner in the aftermath of Chesnutt’s death, which occurred on Christmas Day 2009. "I don’t want to go to sleep when I’m hungry / I don’t want to wake up when I’m stoned" he states, voice trembling ever so slightly, later on in the same song. Wagner has poured every drop of his emotion into this record and, as a result, it can be quite difficult to listen to at times as his voice wobbles, falters and chokes back more tears on ‘Nice Without Mercy’ and on the crushing ‘Kind Of’, which opens with the line, "It’s the kind of day you never wake up from / A summer’s day has come to mud and rotten."

Mr. M may at times appear bleak and, with Wagner’s claim that he is unsure of how many more albums he has in him, it could be misconstrued that this is Lambchop’s final swansong. However, with this release, Wagner has proven that he can still write songs which both move and inspire. It’s a quiet treasure which is as subtle as it is devastating, a fitting testament to a friend and represents another creative peak for Lambchop as a recording project. It would be a shock and a downright shame if Kurt Wagner left it here, but, beginning with death and ending with love, Mr. M signals that Lambchop has so much more to give.