Coming up with a decent band name seems like one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. You can go cheeky, intellectual, dumb ass, overly literal or, just to be different, plain inscrutable. Arguably, this last choice is where the dudes of Gospel Claws went. What the hell does Gospel Claws mean? The press release makes a hint or two, but anytime you want to take a press release seriously, you should lie down until the urge passes.
The five-piece from Tempe, Ariz., plays straightforward rock with the occasional soul flavoring--somebody's been listening to a whole lotta Motown--and damn, they're good. Their initial release, an eponymous EP, only has five songs on it, but each one is choice, channeling a new-retro vibe like the Strokes without falling down the fuzzy production rabbit hole. On tracks like "You Got It Bad," lead singer/songwriter Joel Marquard lets loose the part of him that wishes he'd worked in the Brill Building, hitting each note with a bluesy swagger that draws equally on heartache and hubris. The rest of the band studied at the same school that Marquard did, reaching back to rock's early days on "Lost at Sea," with lead guitarist Wesley Hilsabeck's mellow playing, which consciously evokes both rockabilly and surf rock, anchoring the melody in cool.
It's not a perfect set; I could have done without the vocal histrionics of disc closer "Don't Let It Die," which flirts with a call-and-response rhythm without actually getting there, and the first track, "God Keeps Me Alive," goes on a little too long. Still, even their weak stuff is stronger than a lot of bands can manage, so I feel no pain calling Gospel Claws good on the percentages. Here's a quintet well worth your currency, no matter how inscrutable their name.