Album: A Joyful Noise
Genre: Indie rock/dance/post-punk
Label: Columbia Records
Gossip (formerly The Gossip) describe themselves as ‘soul discharge’ on their Facebook page. I’m keeping that description, because it captures their sound perfectly. They’re a striking mixture of classic status and soul beats with pervasive indie pop mentality. There’s dance and punk and rock, all smelted in a furnace of engrossing brilliance. The band has consistently shown their taste for slick, catchy anthems anchored by smoking bass lines and allied to the astounding vocals of Beth Ditto. A Joyful Noise adds another exquisite record to their collection. It’s a rather understated and restrained album with recurring themes of melancholy, love, and longing, yet these are filtered through something cataclysmic and course with seismic appeal.
The album’s first half is fantastic, with standout after standout. It loses some steam in the latter stages, but it delivers more than enough before this to make it memorable. In “Casualties of War,” the band offers one of the most heartfelt, honest, and real takes on love lost that I’ve heard in some time. For something so eloquent in execution, the record is strikingly organic and never feels less than genuine. Ditto’s vocals are at once grounding and elevating – at her heights, she almost single-handedly blesses the music with a nobler purpose.
“Melody Emergency” sets an album standard for luscious bass lines, cutting a smoky silhouette next to Ditto’s glassy, dulcet vocals. The guitars are restrained yet momentous, building a smooth rhythm that’s almost manipulatively catchy. This stunning opener is testament to the band’s flair for instrumentation and their writing prowess, as they create a seductive mood and enhance it gradually while never compromising the core appeal of drum and bass. “Perfect World” is, at first, a surprising follow-up as its overt tints of sadness and melancholy seem peculiarly placed so early in the album. As the song evolves however, it reveals a melodic charm that’s difficult to resist. The bass line is, once more, tremendous and the verses evoke a potent ambience that hits a natural high in the chorus. Ditto is reaching, classic, and bittersweet – the passion of her vocals contrasting with the wilting elegance of the music. The mood is stirring and emotive without ever becoming overbearing.
“Get A Job” is a potentially hit-and-miss affair. After the naturalistic tones of the first two tracks, it adopts a more synthesized, club approach in what sounds like a curious fusion of CSS and Lady Gaga. The deadpan, numbed beats that peter in are clearly designed with a dance hall in mind, though it needs the injection of life and attitude provided by the chorus to prevent it becoming repetitious. It is glitzy and boisterous however, with a riff and beat so potent as to be pernicious. Further along, “Horns” is really fun, a playful and funky ode to the groove-inflected songs of yesteryear. The warmly enthusiastic lyrics mirror the brooding sound, which harnesses various individual instruments to perfection. The guitars are particularly impressive – a constant and enlivening presence to darken the song’s sunnier overtones. However, the album’s standout is “Casualties of War,” a painfully gorgeous and very intimate track. Ditto is wounded, singing powerfully but with a tangible sensitivity and sadness that’s harrowing to hear. The song is all about emotion and suitably poignant in this regard, with just some gentle backing vocals, grim drumming, and strings to complement the words. It’s a very human and honest track, striking for its open embrace of heartache, and haunting for it too.
As noted above, the latter half of A Joyful Noise doesn’t make quite so vivid an impact as the first few tracks. “Get Lost” for instance seems oddly clichéd and a little contrived, for all its warbling effects and smooth singing. “Involved” channels plenty of anticipation and excitement, but feels underdeveloped. It is particularly underserved by the brief rush of the chorus, which seems ill-matched with the wayward, throbbing effects of the chorus. “I Won’t Play” is also disappointedly standard, though it does throw in a last-minute charge with clashing guitars and sweeping backing vocals.
Gossip bring some much-needed colour and presence to what can be a disappointingly mundane indie scene, and their credentials are further enhanced by A Joyful Noise. It feels slightly more mature, but retains the iridescent sense of fun that characterises their best work. It may catch you off guard with its more harrowed tracks but rest assured that it’ll have you bopping away the memories in no time.
Review written by Grace Duffy