It's only been a year since the Gossip's last album, but the landscape has clearly changed to accommodate them. Where once the band was lumped in with the Riot Grrls, there's now a whole new set of more relevant reference points -- The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the White Stripes, and the still evolving punk/blues explosion. Today, the band is not so much defining the scope of the genre they play as taking it to another level. Primal and raw and powerful, the Gossip's third full-length is straight-from-the-gut punk desperation tinged with the hope of gospel salvation. Like a black and white movie shot in stop motion, Movement
is jagged and disorienting, illuminated as much by sudden silences as by the blinding intervals of rock noise.
The Gossip draws, as before, on the combined talents of singer Beth Ditto, drummer Kathy Mendonca and guitarist Nathan Howdeshell. It's an unusually well-balanced threesome, with each member contributing a key piece of the group's signature sound. Beth Ditto may get most of the attention for her punk/soul wail -- she is one of the few female vocalists who could stand up to the BellRays' Lisa Kekaula and come away unbloodied. This time out she sounds like a gutsier, less hetero Karen O., ditching the girly coo for a womanly roar. She is not flirting with you. She is pinning you up against the wall. And, like the Jack White of "Little Room", she shows you that a cappella has nothing to do with acoustic. She can be loud all by herself, backed only by handclaps, as on the excellent "All My Days", or she can stand right up to the shudderingly heavy drums and guitars of album opener "Last Night".
Then there's the guitar. Like many bass-less bands, The Gossip gets a good deal of low-end out of its guitar. Howdeshell plays a four-string with, I'm guessing, the top two strings excised. The result is a dark, sludgy, primitively sexual sound that serves as both bass and guitar. For instance, the guitar line on the driving "Jason's Basement" is sparse and propulsive and, in another band -- say, Gang of Four -- it might well be coming out of the bass. Similarly, "No, No, No" is pushed forward by a dark and powerful rhythm line that uses guitar much as other bands use bass.
The drums, too, are a critical element, and like the guitar they reinforce a very deep-toned, gut-shocking sound. Mendonca makes big use of the kick drum, knocking a funereal boom out of it for the opening to "Nite", and underlining every beat with it in "Don't (Make Waves)". Indeed, much of the drumming is a dialog between bass and snare; Mendonca very rarely hits the cymbals. This creates a low-end, jungle-y vibe, a throbbing rhythmic depth that contrasts very well with Ditto's more freeform voice.
You can take all these elements apart, conceptually, but it's their combination that makes Movement so great. It's when they come together -- the bluesy howl, the boxy drum rhythms, the jaggedly powerful guitars -- that the Gossip becomes the news you have to hear.