Thursday, June 19th, 2008
Photo via Austin Chronicle
If it were still the ’90s and Low were still kings (and queen) of slowcore, then the need for a Retribution Gospel Choir would be completely understandable. There is a time and place for extended rock guitar jams, and that incarnation of Low was not it. But since 2000’s Things We Lost In The Fire, the band’s aesthetic has become far more malleable and if they were willing to release 2005’s hard rocking The Great Destroyer under the Low marque, why would Alan Sparhawk need to assemble a side project to house his more garage-y inclinations?
It’s really a moot point – the band does exist and so does their self-titled debut. Produced by Mark Kozelek and released on his Caldo Verde label, the 30-minute album finds Sparhawk once again fronting a trio, but one with no time for doing things slowly. Sparhawk has always wielded a mean guitar and didn’t necessarily get to showcase those skills in Low – here, he cuts loose, and not just with the six strings but in the songwriting as well. The anger and angst that coloured the last couple Low records show up here as well, articulated not only by Sparhawk’s keening vocals but his fierce guitarwork as well and the band’s thundering rhythm section. Retribution doesn’t have the needle-in-red, modern white noise sonics that Dave Fridmann gave Destroyer, instead favouring a more classic rock-sounding, Neil Young & Crazy Horse approach.
Any one of these songs could fit easily into a recent Low record – indeed, “Breaker” appeared on last year’s Drums And Guns in a skeletal form, but was originally written as a Gospel Choir song – but as a collective it stands rather apart from Sparhawk’s day job. He’s hinted at this more aggressive side of himself on past Low records and demonstrated it more fully in live settings, but as the central theme of the Retribution Gospel Choir, it’s an impressive display. Going so far as to create a new band to exercise these muscles might not have been absolutely necessary, but it’s certainly welcome.
MySpace: Retribution Gospel Choir
A few years ago I put together a Velocity Girl post wondering what happened to their brief but shining reunion, and actually got a response back from guitarist Kelly Riles with an update as to the members’ whereabouts. He mentioned that drummer Jim Spellman was now working for CNN, but didn’t mention that part of his job description appeared to be getting tasered on camera (via Pitchfork). On the non-self abuse side of things, he’s fronting a new outfit called Julie Ocean who just released their debut Long Gone And Nearly There, a short and sprightly collection of fuzzy power pop the likes of which you’ve probably got loads of in your collection but always seem to find room for one more.
Bradley’s Almanac has got the audio from R.E.M.’s recent Boston show, again with a set list chock full of old stuff and a Johnny Marr-powered encore. New York Magazine has an interview with Mike Mills and Metromix with Michael Stipe.
Unfortunate news from Hot Press in that Irish shoegazer outfit Butterfly Explosion, who impressed when they visited last April, have called it quits. Unfortunate because though their recorded stuff only demonstrated potential, their live show demonstrated that it was being fully realized. Ah well.
The Montreal Gazette has a feature on Shearwater, as well as the compete interview transcript with Jonathan Meiburg. He also chatted with The Torture Garden last month and talks to eye about touring and making the almost-universally praised Rook, which brings them to the Horseshoe on Monday night. And they’ve just been picked to open up a number of west coast dates for Coldplay. Seriously.
The Los Angeles Times talks to Bryan Lee-O’Malley about all things Scott Pilgrim. Things I didn’t know before – Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been cast as Ramona Flowers against Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim – this, I can get behind – and the film has the official title of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World… but still nothing about whether the Toronto setting will be maintained.