Like the cluttered, abandoned church in their video for “Creatures”, The Damn Choir’s third studio album, Creatures of Habit, is both rugged and refined. Lead vocalist Gordon Robertson admits it’s a partial rebellion against the fundamentalist household he grew up in. And in exchange for “insincere” church songs, the Chicago-based outfit discovers impartiality through brawny vocals and instrumental elegance.
With the Scottish/Irish twang of Damien Rice and Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, Robertson moans each word like an elder storyteller and poet, saturating the album with colorful images and addressing hefty themes of life, death, and everything in between. His desperation offers empathy for those who want to relish their sadness instead of trying to overcome it.
Robertson’s young poetic inclinations permeate standout track “Radiator”, in which he compares a fractured relationship to a broken radiator. He’s self-aware of his hyper-literacy, however, alluding to Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago” in his talk of the “City of Big Shoulders”. While the sextet — which includes a cellist, a keyboardist, and multiple guitarists — could easily bury the vocals, instead, they frame Robertson’s voice with melancholic strings and brooding guitars.
It’s a sad and angry record. Clearly troubled by a lost love, Robertson wails, “I hear you calling out his name/ You couldn’t wait for the leaves to change/ Before you walked away” in one of the more angstier tracks, “Devil’s Frown”. The depression persists on “Built for Two”, which captures the longing and ice in his heart by rather explicitly referring to his death: “Count the days I wait for you/ So now you know this grave was built for two.”
Soggy lyricism notwithstanding, The Damn Choir should be lauded for their delivery and solid technique. The gruff vocals pitted against delicate musicianship creates friction, and in turn, vulnerability. Although Robertson has a ways to go until he reaches his bookish idols, the band’s doctrine of sincerity and desperation in Creatures of Habit will not only reach you by ear, but also by soul.
Essential Tracks: “Creatures”, “Radiator”