Retribution Gospel Choir - 2

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2010-02-22

Side projects are a strange one. For every Kim Deal (Pixies, Breeders) or Karin Andersson (The Knife, Fever Ray), making thrilling music under two guises, there's a Jack White, spreading himself thinly over hoary old blues-rock and Bond themes when he should be trying to make another great White Stripes record. Alan Sparhawk, of slow-core geniuses Low, moonlights, along with Low bassist Steve Garrington, as Retribution Gospel Choir. But whereas Sparhawk's day job is all about careful restraint, which makes Low's music bubble with repressed passion and despair, 2, predictably the second RGC record, sees him letting it all out. The remarkable thing about this record, though, is the quality of the tunes: Sparhawk, perhaps unexpectedly, perhaps not, has a real talent for writing extremely catchy, upbeat pop songs. And whereas the first RGC record had a dour fuzziness about it, 2 is highly polished, having been mixed by producer Matt Beckley, whose previous clients include Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne. The pairing might seem incongruous at first, but it works, as Beckley adds a sharp, poppy sheen to Sparhawk's classic rock tunes.

First released on Caldo Verde records, the label of another slow-core superstar, Mark Kozelek (of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon), 2 piles on the hooks from the start and barely stops for breath. Opener 'Hide It Away' starts with chiming guitars and then unwraps a glorious melody and sweet harmonies on the chorus. 'Workin' Hard' boasts a blistering riff that could have come straight from a Lynyrd Skynyrd track, and a muscular, air-punching sing-along chorus. It's tremendous and over in little more than two minutes: the very definition of short and sweet. 'White Wolf' features similarly thrilling riffery and some absurd, entertaining lyrics ("You be the motorcycle/I'll be the big black truck"). 'Electric Guitar', meanwhile, is a mighty eight-minute epic, brash, rousing and resonant.

There are moments when the band sound less high and more Low, though that is emphatically not a bad thing. 'Poor Man's Daughter', with its pitch-black lyrics and moodily crunching guitars, could have come straight from The Great Destroyer. Closer 'Bless Us All', meanwhile, is beautifully dark and atmospheric, all mournful cello and lovely harmonies. There are a few minor tracks too - 'Your Bird' and 'Last of the Blue Dream' don't make much of an impact - but on the whole, 2's ballsy rock stylings, counterweighted with Sparhawk's trademark melancholy, make for a well balanced, immensely enjoyable record.

Pete Sykes

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