The members of Low have long been praised (however reluctantly) as the grand architects of the slowcore movement. Starting in the early ‘90s, Low put snowy little Duluth, Minnesota on the map with its glacially paced and artfully restrained songs. But with his side project Retribution Gospel Choir’s newest album, 2, singer/guitarist Alan Sparhawk once again shatters (literally, by the looks of the cover art) any assumptions about his songwriting. Like he’s done with Black Eyed Snakes and Los Besos, Sparhawk has again proven he is more than just the king of minimalism – he can get a little wild and crazy, too.
2 has a rawness and a heaviness only hinted at on the band’s self-titled 2008 album and on Low’s 2005 release, The Great Destroyer. Starting with the anthemic “Hide it Away,” the record keeps the harmonies, drama and moodiness of Low. But where Low is measured and deliberate, the songs on 2 don’t hold anything back. Retribution Gospel Choir (which also includes Low bassist Steve Garrington) crams even the 45-second interlude “68 Comeback” with riffs similar to Sparhawk’s blues-rock group Black Eyed Snakes before giving way to the earnest and catchy “Workin’ Hard.” “Poor Man’s Daughter” is perhaps the most reminiscent of Low, yet quickly dissolves into chaotic, epic swells that recall psych-rockers Black Mountain.
With Retribution Gospel Choir, Sparhawk has found yet another outlet for his superbly theatrical songwriting. His credibility may already be established, but it’s still nice to see artists challenge themselves and their fans by venturing into new territory. We Minnesotans love it when a home-state hero succeeds, and with the band’s move to Sub Pop (also home to Low), hopefully Sparhawk’s wild side can now be shared with, and appreciated by, a wider audience.