The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir
Ten Thousand Holly Hernandez , August 21st, 2008 19:00

Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir

Much has been made already of the fact that Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir are not only untrue to their roots (they hail from Calgary), but strangers to their own moniker - one that apparently came to singer Judd as he was walking in the mountains. They are not from the mountains however; neither are they a choir: they do not preach gospel, and maybe they do believe blindly in God. Musically, their appropriation of the sound of the Mississippi Delta and Appalachian mountains has been as well documented as their apparent similarity to both Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart - and valid points all.

The sleeve of Ten Thousand is a customised Hell Note, a play on the Chinese tradition of burying their dead or honouring their ancestors with homemade bank notes redeemable to the carrier/recipient in the afterlife to spend on lavish riches as they see fit. This particular one features a picture of legendary bluesman Son House and perhaps the Agnostics meant for it to be some kind of very post-mortem royalty cheque, the whole of which Son probably won't want to spend all at once. Eternity's a bitch for the finances.

But for all this talk of commandeering, what makes AMGC so interesting is their ability to fuse all the magpiery together and present something so weirdly, so satisfyingly accessible. The foot-stomping neckerchiefed thuggery of opener 'Go Back Home', is saved from angular impenetrability by something as gloriously simple as a handclap motif: a light, clever touch that elevates the gruff tone of the song and affords it a positively barn dance-esque atmosphere.

Likewise with the chunky 'The Boig', which lumbers cheerfully along like a square wheel, alongside singer Judd's wonderfully chewy vocal, field-holler backing and a noise that could only be – once you've seen them live – the sound of drumstick on Twentieth Century Belgian army helmet.

Subsequent tracks range from the dark 'Sippi blues of 'Dumb It Down' and 'Rainstorms In My Knees' to the unabashed dueling banjos of 'You Got It Wrong', while stopping by the porch of 'Nehemiah's Misfortune' for some good-time rockabillying. You just know they've got a stack of moonshine round at theirs - probably in a jar and everything - and who cares if it's not bona fide Appalachian? All goes down the same shoot.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.