Feeling Radical, Punk?
(MUSIC) Gossip vs. Erase Errata
Gossip and Erase Errata represent two takes on post riot-grrrl radical punk. Both bands have endured lineup changes, shaken off dismissive pigeonholing ("dance punk" for Erase Errata, "garage revivalists" for Gossip), and recently recorded the most brilliant, defining albums of their respective careers. This is a tough match.
Gossip take popular elements (blues riffs, soul vocals, even an Aaliyah song) and recast them as raucous feminist hymns. Beth Ditto’s tremendous voice evokes the soul power of Aretha Franklin with lyrics that demand respect in their own right. Ditto belts out disco burners, garage stomps, and spirited ballads with equal mastery. Brace Pain’s guitar work splices rock and blues riffs with the shredding elements of Gang of Four and PiL’s angular attack. Hannah Blilie—one of the most charismatic drummers around—keeps a minimal, but still body-moving, beat. These three musicians are each at the top of their game, and together they perform with both graceful fluidity and a dangerous electric charge.
Their most recent release for Olympia’s hallowed Kill Rock Stars, Standing in the Way of Control, contains a wealth of absolutely explosive songs. The title track struts forth on an elastic bass line and skittering hi-hats, before Pain’s fried guitar and Ditto’s triumphant wail kick the song into full on anthem mode. “Listen Up!” casts actual gossiping as childish playground chatter over a double-dutch chorus (“1, 2, 3, take it from me/3, 4, so much trouble in store”) and some tastefully restrained cowbell. “Your Mangled Heart” rides a roller coaster of slow, crooning lows and dizzying disco highs, building up and letting down with each chorus and verse. Ballads like “Coal to Diamonds,” “Holy Water,” and “Dark Lines” mute the instrumental energy of Blilie and Pain and cast a spotlight on Ditto’s commanding voice, but the band are talented enough that even the slower songs burn with tension and possibility.
Live, Gossip own every stage they touch, and they clearly know it. Expect their anthems and ballads to induce riotous dancing and sweat-drenched swooning among their many devoted fans and to surprise and convert the masses awaiting Blondie’s rapture.
Erase Errata borrow from less popular sources (electro, dub, no wave) to produce a sound that breaks musical rules while still moving bodies. After the departure of guitarist Sara Jaffe, Erase Errata has pulled a Q & Not U, using their new stripped-down lineup to explore an even greater sonic landscape than before. Singer Jenny Hoyston (who also plays solo as Paradise Island) mines dark psychic veins and deeply personal politics in her lyrics. Songs like “Rider” and “Tax Dollar” expose the fearful psychology of America in the Age of Terror. If that sounds a little heavy, don’t sweat, because drummer Bianca Sparta’s lively disco-punk drumming and Ellie Erickson’s agile bass playing keep things pleasantly kinetic. Hoyston also plays some evil guitar, alternating giant, jagged riffs with brittle, atonal ticks.
Their latest album, Nightlife, (also out on Kill Rock Stars) is their most complex, their most overtly political, and by far their best work yet. “Rider” (“we got a law in the desert/where everybody has a gun/everybody has a knife”), conjures our administration’s cowboy justice as well as the pervasive orange-alert paranoia that casts both neighbors and strangers as potential enemies. “Tax Dollar” (“I got away with murder/manslaughter/all funded by my tax dollar”) addresses the powerless complicity shared by citizens of empire, while “Another Genius Idea from Our Government” scrambles lyrical fragments about $20,000 listening devices and downed satellites.
If that all sounds a little heavy, don’t sweat, because drummer Bianca Sparta’s propulsive disco-punk drumming and Ellie Erickson’s agile, rubbery bass keep things pleasantly moving, while Hoyston plays some evil guitar, alternating jagged riffs with brittle, atonal ticks and washes of noise. Live, the band plays with song structures, allowing their tightly coiled compositions to relax into extended jams or erupt into discursive noise.
Both these bands make the personal political and vice versa, but while Gossip concentrate on relationships and broad ideals, Erase Errata’s disjointed lyrics offer only terrifying, unprocessed details. Both bands take punk and riot-grrrl as starting points, but Gossip stir in soul and pop while Erase Errata go further underground. Both bands have killer charisma, but Gossip seem more extroverted and engaging while Erase Errata are more confrontational. Really, though, there’s no conflict and no reason not to see both.