GOSH! – Odyssey (Nicey Music)
“‘Life is good/love is good/everything cannot be understood/oh yeah” – “Whipping Winds”
The new GOSH! album, Odyssey, starts with the simple repeated phrase “I can feel it coming/I can feel it coming soon” resolving into “so do you want to come with me.” This cycles around a second time before dissolving as quickly as it began. As an introduction to Odyssey, this establishes one of its main lyrical narratives, the “nation of two” that is a romantic relationship. Partners in music and life, Claire Lambach and Padraig Steadman explore the ups and downs of life together and as a whole.
Split between soft, aching acoustic ballads and drum machine-driven feedback exercises, GOSH! splits the difference in a way not dissimilar to Yo La Tengo. Odyssey’s pacing, with these two styles of song alternating track to track, prevents the prevailing somber mood from dragging. As Steadman & Lambach sing in “Whipping Winds,” “life is good/we need to celebrate,” and for all the pain and sadness explored throughout the album, it is clear catharsis is the ultimate goal.
After the intro track, “The Dishwasher” announces itself with a bouncy drum machine beat. A narrative about the drudgery of the workaday bullshit musicians maintain to be able to live their dreams when not on the clock, the narrator dreams about something bigger and better – “and I would trade it all for something new.” GOSH! return to this theme often, singing in real time about what it is to be in a rock ’n’ roll band in this modern age.
“Cool Down Man” slows things down with heavily chorused guitars and soft crooning, with Steadman’s verses answered by Lambach’s counsel to “cool down now/chill out for a little while/it’s fine, it’s fine.” A fine example of the hidden complexities in their songwriting, the phrases and chord progressions often stretch slightly longer than expected in their cyclical motion.
“Crater” is a claustrophobic burst of blistering feedback with a hypnotic, repetitive bass line. Sounding a bit like no wave Krautrock, the song drones on – in this reviewer’s world that’s a good thing – for nearly 10 minutes before suddenly cutting off. It’s easy to imagine the bass carrying on the eternal song.
Side two starts with strangled feedback before going into a single note hook doubled by the guitar and bass. The spareness in most of Odyssey’s songs owes in part to their decision to carry forth as a duo following the departure of their drummer. The open space adds to the heaviness of the proceedings, and gives me visions of K Records in its hey day, with its deceptively simple and teenbeat-sounding music masking a mature melancholy.
In some ways, I find “I’ll Remember You” the most devastating song on the album. I’ll refrain from speculating about the song’s inspiration, but given the losses and hardships the group has described publicly, Steadman intoning, “I won’t forget you” hits hard. Analog synth strings doubling the melody further amplify the sweet sorrow.
“Lake Shore Drive” follows “I’ll Remember You” as the defiant celebration of life suggested in “Whipping Winds.” Describing all the fun things that make one feel alive in the windy city, the song is a peppy reminder that sometimes the greatest act of defiance we can muster is to carry on and appreciate the moment – or as Chavez sang, “there is nothing to not be amazed at.”
This rebellious joy is quickly supplanted by the wrenching doubt expressed in “Will It Come Back.” Lambach’s voice, drenched in reverb, glides softly above the restrained yet dynamic acoustic guitar backing. Resigned instead of keening, the repeated line “will you come back to me someday?” mournfully answers its own question, no matter how many times it is asked.
The closing song and title track, “Odyssey,” expresses self-doubt from Steadman’s perspective over the sparsest instrumentation on an already spartan album. A travelogue of sorts, the sights – the ocean and the desert and everything in between – serve as a metaphor for how one sees the self, and how that perception affects how one thinks they deserve to be regarded by those they love, ending with the repeated line, “hey, come on let me know/what you’d like to see/what you’d like to see in me.”
Overcoming tremendous adversity as a band and in their personal lives, Odyssey is a triumph. Despite the odds against them, Lambach and Steadman have created a tremendous album that transmutes pain into catharsis. Much as the title implies, GOSH! are traveling the hero’s journey. Having prevailed against myriad obstacles, one can only hope they continue to traverse the open road.
Odyssey comes out this Friday, May 11, via Nicey Music.
– R. Bucko