There are two key aspects of Godsticks's jazz-rock fusion that make a comparison to the famous Steely Dan tempting, but ultimately flawed. The first is the preference for staccato, often syncopated, short phrasing on the piano and keyboards (which is also the predominant guitar style, as well as, clearly, of the rhythm section); and the second is Darren Charles's vocal timbre, somewhat nasal but very pleasant (to these ears at any rate). Godsticks's music may recall Steely Dan, but the comparison is ultimately flawed because as soon as you pull out your Steely Dan CDs to attempt a fuller comparison, you realise that Godsticks are a very different beast; less commercial, more progressive, more jazzy. I am tempted to also say "better", but that would be a step too far, as this is a different era to the seventies. Nevertheless, Steely Dan are probably the nearest reference call, unless one were to look in the jazz world: other bands that I've seen name-checked against them such as King Crimson and Spock's Beard are even further away. Yes, Godsticks are doing something different. It's very good, but it does require you to concentrate and listen – this is not background music; not background prog even.
It's the jazzy flavour of the instrumental rhythm that dominates the soundscape of their debut album, Spiral Vendetta; over which Charles's melodic, legato phrased vocal adds an interesting and enjoyable contrast. Generally, the composition is reasonably complex in terms of tempo, time signature and sections; quite tricky to play live I would guess. There are breaks from the staccato and syncopation: the occasional guitar or keyboard solo with legato phrasing brings variety and musical colour. These sorts of clever musical contrasts bring the album's finest moments. In particular there is a masterly stroke of album dynamics just after half-way: the rich legato guitar solo in "Put Seven in Bold" meshes in a tad more melody than we've had and this is followed by a beautiful, atmospheric piano solo that ends "Withdrawn Was the Giveaway". In fact, this acts like a bridging piece that segues into "Traverse", which opens with the continuation of the piano and develops the catchiest melody on the album, without ever losing all of the syncopation. It's the most "popular" or "commercial" piece of the album. The musical weighting of this album section, against the predominant jazzy syncopation of the opening, and then closing sections, works very effectively.
Another good demonstration of album dynamics is leaving the only instrumental - "The Continuation of Livid" – to the penultimate track, and closing with an acoustic guitar accompaniment number, leaving the listener with a fresh, light feel.
If you're prepared to listen, there are rewards aplenty on this well-crafted album, including some head-banging sections for the rockers. The fact that these are all relatively short songs aids the enjoyment, which increases with repeated plays. Godsticks are presenting something new in today's musical soundscape – for that reason alone it's worth giving them a careful listen, and making up your own mind. This, of course, costs nothing, other than time, in today's MySpace age.
1) The Offer Still Stands (2:53)
2) Unnerving Allure (6:00)
3) Timshell (5:21)
4) Norman (6:08)
5) Put Seven in Bold (5:22)
6) Withdrawn Was the Giveaway
7) Traverse (3:56)
8) R.R.R. (5:06)
9) The Continuation of Livid (4:15)
10) Unravel (4:37)