Smile Politely

Almighty Defenders debut takes a stab at “gospel-punk”

Ah, the illustrious “supergroup.” I would be hard pressed to name an unequivocally successful one off the top of my head, although I am trying hard to contain my excitement for Them Crooked Vultures in Columbus next week. The problem with most of them (which is TBD with Vultures) is that they are far too calculated to emerge without any pretense or machismo.

And therein lies the rub with Almighty Defenders, indie rock’s newest gospel supergroup made of equal parts Black Lips, King Khan and Mark Sultan.

Having formed after a botched tour of India exiled the Black Lips to hide out in Berlin with King Khan and Mark Sultan, one would imagine the group came together by accident. At the end of their 8-day seclusion, the Almighty Defenders emerged with an eleven-track, self-titled debut released Sept 22 on Vice Records.

And it sounds, well, about like you would expect from a record haphazardly put together in little more than a week.

With the notable absence of King Khan’s Shrines, the group replaced the familiar STAX era horn sections with a twist of southern gospel, accentuated in their live shows with matching choir robes. Discernable elements of each member can be picked out track by track, but often get muddled under the presence of other members, as is the case with “Cone of Light” where the sloppy recording methods bury Mark Sultan’s intense vocal delivery.

The record’s opener, “All My Loving,” has an immediate pop hook and the familiar gospel call-and-response vocals while retaining the fuzzy film that each of these guys are known for. The low points on the record come from the filler tracks “30 Second Air Blast” and “Death Cult Soup n’ Salad” as well as “Jihad Blues,” an expedition into political territory which is decidedly not the forte of King Khan, Mark Sultan or the Black Lips.

The highest compliment that I can give the Almighty Defenders’ debut record is that it sounds exactly how it should. Their cover of the Mighty Hannibal’s “I’m Coming Home” fits perfectly with the ambience of the record as a whole. The sloppy recording quality (most likely a side effect of the brief recording time) is at times a welcome blessing, but at times an unnecessary curse.

Their debut record is strikingly fun, which is all the more surprising for how little attention it has received. But the true “punk gospel” label is a little iffy. if given the choice between the Berlin-by-way-of-Canada-plus-Atlanta gospel delivery of the Almighty Defenders and the Arkansas-born gospel of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I’ll take the latter.

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