Gospel Gossip record release at 7th Street Entry, 3/21/13

Gospel Gossip record release at 7th Street Entry, 3/21/13
Photo by Elena Haynes

Gospel Gossip record release
with Ex Nuns, Hollow Boys and Flavor Crystals
7th St. Entry, Minneapolis
Thursday, March 21, 2013

We've missed you, Gospel Gossip. It's hard to believe it, but right around three years ago you seemed poised to break out of the local shoegaze scene you helped spearhead, riding high from several stellar releases and even a Picked to Click win from this very magazine. Recording troubles and an array of accomplished side-projects kept us waiting with bated breath for the follow-up to your Drift EP, and when you finally broke the radio silence with 2012's Atlantic Blue single, our worst fears turned out to be unfounded. Instead of being one of those local favorites that fades away before their time, you were merely operating at a slow burn like so many of your greatest songs. It's good to have you back, even if your triumphant return carried a hint of anticlimax.

See Also:
Gospel Gossip rise above the buzz: Three years after their last record, the trio get past conflicts to record their second full-length album
Gospel Gossip's Sarah Nienaber on side projects, growing pains, and "Atlantic Blue"

Openers Flavor Crystals have earned their reputation from their sprawling studio works: suites of psychedelic musings paired with classic pop sounds that recall Pink Floyd or early progressive rock. Something like the venerable journeymen of all things reverb-soaked in the TC, the band has received cosigns from their younger contemporaries as well as national names like Brian Jonestown Massacre, with whom they toured in 2009. Normally content to embrace the technical wizardry of the recording studio to craft their soundscapes, the Flavor Crystals rely on a bank of roughly 30 effects pedals between their two lead players and baritone guitarist in concert.

However, effects and gizmos are only as strong as the musical ideas that they're modulating, and few novel uses of all that gear emerged during their glacial set. Terminally mellow, the band stuck to a mid-tempo pace over songs that just refused to end. Their's nothing whatsoever wrong with subtlety and restraint, but one could hardly laud a band so direly in need of a strong editing eye with these qualities. Notably, singer/guitarist Josh Richardson had a few moments of wide-eyed, Westerbergian melodicism that broke through.

In stark contrast, Hollow Boys' stripped down, raw, barely-over-20 minutes set left the crowd wanting more, rather than checking their watches. Ignoring such popular conventions as "stopping occasionally between songs" or "talking to the crowd," and "facing the audience" -- in bassist Liz Elton's case -- Hollow Boys tore through a short but sweet batch of gloomy but fierce garage rock. Guitarist/singer/band mastermind Ali Jaafar is dark but magnetic, with black bangs hanging over his eyes like a like a young Danzig. The similarities go beyond hairstyle as well, as both singers share a powerful and clear melodic tenor with a depth of expression not initially belied by their crunching guitars. Vintage pop hooks intertwine with squalls of noise in a satisfyingly immediate fashion, with nary a trace of self-indulgent noodling. If there's a complaint to be made, it's that Hollow Boys recordings are often far more lush and complex than their three members and two-piece drum kit can reproduce live. The resulting sound isn't without a pulverizing charm of its own, though and it's no surprise that the group recently inked an arrangement with local powerhouse label Modern Radio.

As soon as Ex Nuns loaded their massive guitar cabinets onstage, it became clear that things were about to get quite a bit louder. Bringing such an excess of wattage and speaker-inches to a venue the size of the entry is akin to bring an AR-15 to a fistfight, and the resulting aural carnage was definitely a treat to witness. Theirs is a cataclysmic post-hardcore sound similar to the Bronx or Metz played with a ferocity that leaves an impact on minds and eardrums alike. Their resolute desire to punish the audience with blistering waves of feedback and battering drum and bass might make "bootgaze" or "blood-spattered-cleatgaze" an apt description. Ex Nuns rapid-fire tempo shifts and piercing riffs are certainly exciting to watch, and the four young mens' physical intensity was palpable. Singer-guitarist Ian Littleson seemed to recognize the futility of attempting to sing over the monolithic wall of sound and delivered his unintelligible vocals with a casual sneer that complimented the antagonistic volume. Still, it wasn't hard to wish for more raw-throated passion from the singer to match the utter madness surrounding him.

Like salve on a burn, the soothingly dreamy tones of Gospel Gossip washed over the caustic vibe left by Ex Nuns soon after. Leaning heavily on tunes from their new self-titled release on sale that evening, the ban worked their way through a short, but haunting set that showcased the members' individual musical growth since their not-quite-haitus began. Sarah Nienaber's voice was still as mysterious and achingly beautiful as ever, suffused with a drama that never felt forced, and her ability to intertwine hazy sing-song verses with mesmerizing guitar playing is always a treat to behold. This is a band that truly knows the meaning of restraint, building songs from whisper-soft interludes to full-blown shredding climaxes with an impeccable sense of timing and dynamics. Drummer M. Oliver "Ollie" Moltaji deserves particular credit for this, as his soft touch with cymbals and toms during the quiet portions made the explosiveness of the choruses all the more impressive.

Weaving around the steady, hypnotic baselines from Justin Plank, Nienaber's guitar may have been thoroughly saturated by a smear of delay and reverb but remained present and vital throughout the shoegaze textures. Watching her lean back from an impassioned wail into clanging, full-blown guitar heroics created some of the night's most memorable moments. Still, the singer, for all her vocal charms, barely said a word to the audience and seemed disappointingly detached when the music stopped.

Granted, this sort of aloof attitude is part of the band's aesthetic, but Gospel Gossip seemed to run out of confidence near the end of their performance. After an extended instrumental portion, Nienaber dropped her guitar unceremoniously and walked off the stage without so much as a word, leaving Plank to seemingly improvise a bass solo. Eventually returning along with Moltaji, the band returned to build another mesmerizing and epic instrumental before closing with a fan favorite and once again leaving the stage without a goodbye. Perhaps it's simply not within their personality for Gospel Gossip to return in a blaze of glory, but as a longtime fan, I would have loved for the band to treat the show as slightly more of an event. Still, distance has made the heart grow fonder, and all of Gospel Gossip's esoteric charms are still intact.

Set List:
Simpler Times
Sad Machines

Critic's Bias: Sing into My Mouth was a big hit on my personal college radio playlist. Also, I am mistrustful of guitar effects.

The Crowd: Started filtering out before Gospel Gossip was finished playing, probably a product of the late start time. Shame on y'all!

Random Notebook Dump: I wonder what kind of vehicle Ex Nuns own that can fit all of their amps. Maybe they have a band eighteen-wheeler...

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