In his full-time outfit Low, Alan Sparhawk spent the last 15 years disassembling rock music to its basest elements and reconstructing it in the slowest manner possible. With his new side project, Retribution Gospel Choir, he reimagines his career as if he'd opted for joining the '90s alt-rock crowd instead of doing everything in his power to undermine it.
As much as Low's most recent releases have experimented with the group's trademark sound, it's still bizarre to hear the intro to "Somebody's Someone" with a detuned guitar, bass and drums locking into a riff that instantly recalls Soundgarden's "My Wave." This song shows how this band operates under a solid rhythmic drive to project their sound rather attempting to coax songs out with ethereal dynamics. Tracks like "Destroyer" have a bluesy, improvisational feel to them akin to Black-Eyed Snakes — Sparhawk's Delta blues-punk outlet — that might start small but eventually lead up to the same thunderous mountains where Led Zeppelin and Cream fired their best salvos.
Perhaps the best thing to rise from this project is hearing Sparhawk finally cut loose on his six-string. Whether multi-tracked, backward looped or straight-up chaotic, his solos texture the album with a heavy psychedelic feel. The noisy expressionism he and his bandmates work up at their most arch moments here could be classified as the antithesis to Low, but after toeing such sober and somber lines it's hard to imagine anyone blowing off steam like this.
Aaron Shaul writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.