often times, when an indie rock band is given the sub-genre label of chamber pop, it’s a marker to distinguish smart vocal harmonies and sometimes songwriting that evokes the style of baroque-period classical music. boston trio gem club is a bit different. i’ve always thought of them as a chamber ensemble that plays pop music; comprised of cello, piano, and a pair of voices, gem club’s music is hauntingly intimate to a degree on par with many classical chamber groups. the trio’s first two recordings, 2010’s acid and everything ep and their debut full-length album breakers, reflected that intimacy, with sparse arrangements recorded in isolated bedrooms. gem club’s sophomore album, in roses, finds the ensemble expanding their sonic palate ever so slightly while retaining the emotions that so easily tug at heartstrings.
songs like “michael” are immediate and prevalent examples of this expansion; a truly aching track, the piano’s harmony and the mournful cello line are augmented by melancholy horns and brief instances of chimes. synthesizers also run rampant across in roses, whether hiding underneath other textures on “hypericum” or completely setting the scene on the closing number, “polly.” some of this admirable exploration can be attributed to having a proper recording studio and a well-respected musical director at their disposal, but gem club should be held in esteem for the deft nature of these orchestrations and the subtle nuances they provide.
in roses still captures gem club at the core of their essence; even with supplements, it’s clear that their overall aesthetic remains the same. “soft season” and “speech of foxes” largely lean on the minimalism of the band’s early career, stripping back down to cello and piano along with sparse amounts of white noise to cushion the composition. and while frontman christopher barnes seems pretty adamant that gem club’s music isn’t necessarily sad, it’s hard not to feel a bit somber and introspective when he harmonizes with ieva berberian; their voices line up perfectly with the accompaniment.
i’m not sure how the songs on in roses will translate to the stage; many would work very well stripped down to the original instrumentation of the trio, but i don’t know if gem club has any plans to bring additional musicians on tour. what i do know is that in roses is a fine record, one that’s already proven useful throughout this frigid month and one that will help to set gem club apart from all of those other woeful sad bastards in the world.
gem club’s intimate breed of chamber pop should be receiving more well-deserved recognition soon. the boston trio are set to release their sophomore album in roses on january 28th via sub pop imprint hardly art records; we’ve already been treated to “polly,” a gorgeous seven-minute synth sprawl, and now gem club has shared “braid,” another exquisite track that favors light percussion and subtle harmonies. take a listen below.
chillwave is like the betamax of indie genres: it was cool for a couple of years, and my uncle sometimes jokes that he wishes it was still around. just three summers after its apex, chillwave’s largest proponents have started to distance themselves from that identity. toro y moi underscored with this year’s anything in return that he no longer would stand to be pigeonholed, so it makes sense that his south carolina counterpart would follow suit.
it should be noted that, for all the transparency chillwave is/was purported to have, its two godfathers each retained their own individual tendencies, which have now been pushed to the extreme. chaz bundick steered toro y moi slowly towards the r&b side of chillwave, crossing over elements of pop and working on collaborations with tyler, the creator in the process. ernest greene’s trajectory was a bit different and initially mysterious; the man behind washed out remained largely silent between 2011’s within and without and the announcement of his follow-up effort, paracosm.
with the lead-off single “it all feels right,” greene effectively patented something he referred to as “daytime psychedelia.” the trademark washed out vocal manipulations are still present and the overall ambience is similar, but what reigns supreme are the new textures that supplement that ambience. synth sounds are more jarring and angular in comparison to greene’s previous output, which aids in keeping his songs from becoming derivative.
this psychedelic nature reigns supreme throughout paracosm, turning songs like “all i know” and the album’s title track into trippy experiences that slightly recall youth lagoon’s sophomore album from earlier this year. but with all the conscious rejection of chillwave and its surrounding terminology, greene is at his best on songs like “don’t give up” and “all over now,” songs that recall salient traits of the genre.
the end result of paracosm paints a picture of an artist who’s trying to move in a new direction, but is taking his time getting there. this overzealousness in musical reinvention may yield a product slightly inconsistent from what was hinted at, but it’s still a pretty gorgeous spectacle nonetheless.