When you think of gospel music, nobody would be surprised if you thought of religious people howling songs toward the sky, complete with bored kids sleeping in the pews and old folks bothering those kids or either sleeping too. Maybe an old Elvis song, or something along those lines. Forget all that; we’re talking about Gospel Music now. The band.
More after the drop.
Opening with “This Town Doesn’t Have Enough Bars For the Both of Us,” Gospel Music will immediately appeal to fans of guitar-based indie pop acts (think The Shins, The Decemberists, and maybe even The New Pornographers). The title, a pastiche of the Western saying “There ain’t enough room in this town for the both of us,” introduces the listener to Gospel Music’s sense of humor. Male and female vocals play off of each other, never quite harmonizing, but more often creating a kind of call-and-response.
The ukulele-laden “Shared Too Much” tells the bizarre tale of a couple mistakes in courtship. Just a couple phrases into the song, singer Owen Holmes relates that he’s shared too much with the Puerto Rican woman whom he’s attempting to romance. Complete with a fully Middle American pronunciation of “dios mios” (sounds like “dee-ohs mee-ose”), the song screams “Florida.” It’s quaint and charming. The song dances around pleasantly for under two minutes and concludes without dragging on. Taken as a whole, the song is something like a Dr. Seuss book about awkward romantic failures.
Humorously self-pitying with relaxed guitar and ghostly harmonies, “I Can’t Be A Man If I Don’t Have A Woman,” keeps the album paced moderately, not breaking the pattern of songs under three minutes. The song would sound at home in something like a Kindle commercial, and touches of acoustic guitar and light percussion change the tone of the album to something a little more adult.
“Bedroom Farce” explores a new side of Gospel Music’s capabilities. The song, still including Holmes’s playful insights on the human condition, is a conversation between a man and a woman, each wondering why the other is interested in any number of partners. Banjo and tambourine complementing the mournful singing make the song sound sincere. A brilliant sidebar for the album’s style, Bedroom Farce shows that Holmes doesn’t need to rely on the same kind of indie-pop sound for each track.
The song returns to a happier sounding mood with “We Think the World of You.” The ukulele of previous tracks returns, this time with toy piano reminiscent of the Rugrats theme song. Vocals float skyward and different guitar sounds mesh well. A solid addition to the album, We Think the World of You brings the album back on track after the dark Bedroom Farce.
With a bass line heavy like a sack of rocks, “Let’s Run” disrupts the poppy mood the album cultivated to this point. Similar to the other songs structurally, the track sounds more like a B-side. It opens the second half of the album well enough with synthetic church organ, but is nothing close to a key track.
Redeeming the album from its first lackluster track, “Apartment” is a standout that lets female vocals from Madeline Long shine. Possibly the poppiest song on the album, it’s exactly what the piece needed to stay interesting. Apartment borders on power pop and brings to mind the New Pornographers.
“Death of the Newspaper” is immediately catchy. It exemplifies Gospel Music’s style with a combination of banjo and bass with a little acoustic guitar thrown in the background. The toy piano plays a neat part in the song, keeping the piece light, which works in contrast to the layered percussion. Vocals are relaxed and unstrained, demonstrating Holmes’s voice at its finest.
“No Sharks” has some charming elements. It’s brings to mind earlier Beatles songs with its speed and rhythm. Overdriven guitar is not out of place, but it is new; when it would have been overbearing, it’s removed, a refined touch. With its loving homage to Jimmy Buffet and short length, the song is a worthwhile contribution.
“You Don’t Have to Be Alone (But You Can’t Be With Me)” is essentially the closing track on the album. It’s a funny take on “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” again showing Holmes’s talent for taking clichés and old sayings and turning them into something attractive and new. It’s slow, and sounds instrumentally similar to the album’s opening tracks, but diverges rhythmically enough to sound unique. In this track is a shining bit of writing: “You don’t have to be alone/ try polygamy.” I literally had to pause the track to laugh, and it made me appreciate how sublime the album’s writing is. Repeated listens will yield more chuckles.
In just fifty-four seconds, “Bird, Fish” will surely cause more confusion to listeners than any other song on the album. The track sounds like it was sung into an answering machine or through an intercom. Odd. Lyrics asking where a bird and fish would live if they fell in love beg to be considered, and that consideration might lead to a headache, as those lyrics are just a few of the eccentric moments in a song full of more. It does complete the album, and may leave the listener thinking “Did that album really just happen?” How to Get to Heaven is definitely worth listening to again to find out.
— Josh Rice
Listen to Gospel Music and not gospel music on WVUM 90.5 FM.