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Kill Rock Stars
Even with your iPod buried in the innermost pocket of your puffiest winter jacket, even with the thing stuck on permanent shuffle, even with the crappiest pair of headphones you own, it’s easy to pick out a track by the Gossip. That’s thanks to the defining voice of Beth Ditto, whose one-woman gospel choir dominates anything on which she chooses to unleash it. Not that there was ever much competition from the rest of this Washington State–by–way–of–Arkansas trio: Gossip songs were simple and short, with guitarist Nathan Howdeshell and drummer Kathy Mendonca not quite sending the band to either Gang of Four dance-punk nirvana or White Stripes blooz-rock hell. Thanks to former Chromatics and current Shoplifting drummer Hannah Blilie, who’s replaced Mendonca, the Gossip can now take on a few more complicated ideas. Songs on the band’s latest, Standing in the Way of Control, have bridges and—gasp—even top two minutes. Though Howdeshell brought more to the studio this time than his usual blues riffs—just check out the groove-building on “Listen Up!”—the change in the back line has made more of an overall impact. Blilie’s willingness to back off and let Howdeshell and Ditto carry a track (see: “Coal to Diamonds”) and her general tendency to syncopate instead of bludgeon (see: “Listen Up!” and “Holy Water”) give the Gossip a dynamism it’s never had before. Three studio albums in, the Gossip has finally made music distinctive enough to match Ditto’s vocals. Best of all, those vocals remain the center of attention. On “Standing in the Way of Control,” she wrings 15 seconds of drama out of nothing but a repeated “whoa-ooo.” On “Mangled Heart,” she goes high and scratchy, like the grittiest Motown diva ever. On “Holy Water,” she goes low and spooky—and it’s not the reverb that gives the song an edge of menace. “Jealousy won’t get you anything that you’ve lost,” she belts out on “Jealous Girls.” Neither will looking back, Standing in the Way of Control seems to be saying, at Andy Gill or Jack White or whomever. That, and that Beth Ditto hasn’t lost shit. —Mike Kanin