Retribution Gospel Choir, 2 (Sub Pop)
Low singer/guitarist Alan Sparhawk continues to leave behind the indie-minimalist trappings of his earlier band with the follow-up to Retribution Gospel Choir’s 2008 self-titled debut. Equal parts noisy post-rock and KISS-crazed commercial metal, 2 pushes this adventurous three-piece (comprising bassist Steve Garrington and drummer Eric Pollard) into places other indie acts would rather die than visit. For instance, the pounding two-chord workout of “Working Hard” sounds like Paul Stanley (yikes!) covering David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel,” while the slithering blues riff of “Somebody’s Someone” is perhaps compelling enough to knock Ace Frehley off the wagon. For every flirtation with the AOR aesthetic, though, there’s an epic swath of crushing, swirling Neil Young-ish guitars such as “Poor Man’s Daughter,” which goes suddenly quiet to reveal an underlying bed of acoustic instrumentation and forlornly cascading vocal harmonies. When Sparhawk laments that “we sing of salvation/we sing what we must,” he’s not dabbling in a side project. Instead, RTG perversely seeks spiritual release in a format long associated with devilish torment. – Jarret Keene
Eels, End Times (Vagrant)
Mark Oliver Everett, better known as E and leader of cult-rockers Eels, suffered much trauma in the last 15 years. Loss of family to cancer, suicide and 9/11 would break a normal person. Thankfully, Everett isn’t normal. Mourning a dead marriage, he brings us the brilliantly downbeat End Times, a harrowing if self-indulgent confession by a creative person who treats instruments better than flesh-and-blood people. Recorded mostly on four-track machine, the breakup songs on this album have the best opening lines: “In my younger days this wouldn’t have been so hard/I would’ve just shrugged it off.” Or: “She locked herself in the bathroom again/so I am pissing in the yard.” The title of “I Need a Mother,” meanwhile, is self-explanatory. While his music has rarely strayed from a formula of cynical lyrics and buoyant melodies—his grunge-era hit “Novocaine for the Soul,” for example—Everett finally lets his angst off the leash, pushing his band to the background for the sake of melancholy guitar and piano chords. Still, End Times is good heartache tonic. – J.K.