There’s always a “moment” when you know a band has touched a fibre in your being. Whether it’s a well placed solo, an interesting atmosphere or a touching lyric, there’s always something that galvanises your status as a fan.
With Retribution Gospel Choir, that moment was ‘Poor Man’s Daughter’, from 2010’s 2. The insane solo, the lyrics and the utterly blinding live renditions (including a teeth solo!) made me a hardcore fan. Last year’s The Revolution EP (review) seemed a swift change of pace and mood; it seemed quite cheery and optimistic, while still retaining a fair amount of grit (see ‘I’m a man’). The physical copy included a 4 track cd called RGC Dub and it offered instrumental pieces that were jam in nature, sort of a natural companion to the short and sweet EP.
Was the band changing towards a breezier sound? When you listen to 3, their newest release, you know the answer is a resounding “no.” 3 is made up of two tracks, both clocking around 20 minutes, so what could be seen as a single in theory has just ran pass the EP category and sat comfily in the album category.
Each track was recorded live and in one take (if I understood their tweet correctly) and the stream-of-consciousness playing they seemed to have previewed a few times is full blown here. Sure, the songs have a Frank Lloyd Wright-approved structure, with the insides clearly designed by Gaudí and M.C. Escher.
‘Can’t walk out’ starts with a simple, distorted guitar lick, having a jaunty walk with a slow drum beat. Not a minute has passed when the guitar starts to grow wings and shoot to the stratosphere. A bass line slides, Kramer-style and continues the notes while the guitar is dogfighting. It gradually builds up in energy and pace, with a sonically fulfilling guitar solo that trips the light fantastic and a drummer who shot the first salvo in the Great Drum Solo War of 2013 (TM). Only Steve Garrington‘s bass remains in a steady pace, like a drummerboy keeping the pace while the attack forces duke it out in the skirmish.
‘Seven’, the other side of this release is the complete opposite. Whereas ‘Can’t walk out’ is raucous rock jam, ‘Seven’ is a steadfast piece of introspection, with a very healthy guitar work carried out by Nels Cline, who adds an extra layer of cool to this song. If you’ve ever listened to Wilco’s A Ghost is Born or Kicking Television, you know the signature sound of Nels Cline. It’s a perfect match, adding those jazzy riffs to the spiritual sounds of Retribution Gospel Choir. Beautiful and awe-inspiring, this is a softer side for Retribution Gospel Choir, with magnificent crescendo subtly building up. You will recognise it when Cline and Sparhawk‘s guitars try to out-dream each other with solos, feedbacks and sustains. Eric Pollard and Steve Garrington solemnly keep us grounded to Earth. You might feel like you’ve been doing yoga stretches after this: spent, tired and relaxed.
I saw the band at The Harley that in 2012 and managed to ask both Alan Sparhawk and Steve Garrington the same question: “Is your music becoming happier?” Strangely, they both gave me the same answer, separatedly, “uh, not really.” I remember their wry smiles as well as I’ll remember this release.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López.