An incredibly polished sounding album isn’t automatically impressive on it’s own. But knowing that the polished sound came from a shed in rural Alabama certainly adds some starting luster — as is the case with Colossal Gospel‘s debut LP, Circles. The duo, individually known as Stephen Weibelt and Chris Johnson, have crafted a gorgeous country folk album rich with picked guitar melodies and purposeful repetition. The vocals are distinct — definitely not what you’d hear on popular radio — but the warbly crooning meshes perfectly with the measured rhythms and swelling harmonies. Once Circles gets its roots into you, you won’t want to tear away.
The album opens with “Leaving,” a deceptively up-tempoed track that is topically more pensive. “Must we move in these circles/ misconstrue/ can we slow down?” it asks, as light “ooos” harmonize in the background. “Leaving” is a good introduction to the sound of Colossal Gospel; the guitar strums are bouncy, southern, beautiful. It leads nicely into “Observer and Creature,” a slower number than brings in elements of magical realism and fantasy that permeate the lyrics on Circles. The songs are full of story and character — Circles has both “Bitter Man,” and “Bitter Woman,” vastly different songs with different narrators and stories behind them.
Even in a slower tempo, Colossal Gospel maintain a smart and solid sense of movement. This is perhaps most notable on “I Have Heart, I Have a Heart,” a nine-minute meander through soft electric strumming, walking bass line and tinkling piano. The track ends with an accelerando to flamenco-style guitar that shows just how good these guys are at transitions. Track-to-track, Circles moves effortlessly between tempos without ever jarring the listener; it has incredible cohesion.
The penultimate track, “Coming Home,” has good ole’ southern flavor. It starts with a lilting Dixieland piano, builds with light cymbol crashes and an effortless vocal melody. It slides nicely into closer “Afterwood (All I Am),” a stripped-down track that brings the album full circle through the repetition the verse from “Observer and Creature.” This is a daring move: it could come off sounding redundant or lazy, but it doesn’t. It’s a variation on a theme and functions as a gentle release from the album.
If you’re looking for an album that gets richer with each listen, look no further than Circles.