Ret. Gospel Choir: Ret. Gospel Choir

By: Dennis Cook

Retribution Gospel Choir's debut (released March 18 on Caldo Verde) surges and shakes in a hypnotically troubled way. The new project from Alan Sparhawk is worlds away from Low, who tended to simmer where this goes right into the flames, leaving lots of char clinging to the skin.

The easy comparison is Crazy Horse but that's a surface resemblance. RGC has the primacy of Nirvana interwoven with something more refined akin to Built To Spill or even Motorhead at their more brutally eloquent. Yet, none of these bands would likely sing, "Put your head on the birdhouse/ Keep on talkin' like Jesus/ Take out all of the good lines/ Leave the people with nothing." And there's a second half surprise like the Moby Grape-esque beachfront brightness of "What She Turned Into," where a psychedelic lady turns into rain blown by lush power chords and a tight, pulsing rhythm drive. The leanness of the trio – Sparhawk (guitars, vocals), Matt Livingston (bass) and Eric Pollard (drums, vocals) – keeps their clamor focused, each guy throwing in hard on every cut. Sparhawk's voice slices with extra hardness and bite with RGC, a fitting top edge to their thoroughly heavy sound.

Even when they drop back a bit, as on "Kids," they still sound weighty, letting the lyrics do the heavy lifting while lightening the instrumental mix:

Those damn kids
Don't they understand
You can't do shit like that
One day soon they'll be just like us
And stare down at their feet.

Producer Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters) keeps things intimate, putting us in the room with this music as it churns and explodes with undisguised power. You practically expect Sparhawk to spit on you as he gnaws away at these bones stuck in his craw. Closer "Easy Prey" is a candidate for foot-tappin' air guitar anthem of the year, mixing the crunch with breathy pauses, where Sparhawk whispers, "Everyone loves power/ And everyone loves cake/ But every time those words come out/ You laugh like they're too late." All in all, a goddamn great slab of gut level trio rock.

JamBase | Duluth
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