Many of us go along each day staying on a positive tip. That’s great, but it has a little side-effect. All those sad things that occur to us we toss in a mental bin for when we get some time to consider them. After a while, that bin starts to get kinda heavy, and then we REALLY start to avoid thinking about the bin. Artists know about your bin and, being artists, they want to tip it over. Somerville’s GEM CLUB knows about your bin. So if you want to keep your bin from being messed with, you’d better not listen to their latest album IN ROSES, put out by Hardly Art. That music is gonna tear your bin to shreds.
Some of us heard them play at NEUMF, taking the stage between noise and DIY-pop acts. The courage necessary to get up and play gentle melancholia for a basement full of rambunctious young noise-addicts might be on a similar order to what it takes to inventory one’s own bin of sadness and use it to inspire some simply beautiful music. On this, their sophmore full-album, the trio of Christopher Barnes, Kristen Drymala and Ieva Berberian worked with arranger Minna Choi, conductor of the Magik*Magik Orchestra at San Francisco’s Tiny Telephone Studio to realise the paced, almost filmscoric atmosphere of In Roses. All the song lyrics can be found at their main website, and uniformly adhere to a spare, poetic minimalism. That minimalism is, indeed, a central trait of the music itself, a choice which adds severity to it’s emotional cutting action.
Album opener ‘[Nowhere]’ is an underwater shimmerscape of synthesized grandeur and realizes its role by going exactly where it claims it will. It’s curtain-raising music for the first scene. The music of track 2, ‘First Weeks’, relates poignantly to the song’s subject matter (possibly, the commencement of a relationship), in part by shifting gears midway through. Christopher’s singing on this, and most of the songs on In Roses is marked by an oddly husky fragility that swallows endings, often running up the falsetto range until the vocal cords peak out. The style suits the music, and has some elements in common with Bryan Ferry’s voice from the Roxy Music days. Midway through the play we are treated to a sort of intermission as supporting voicework by Ieva comes to the fore for ‘QY2’ which truly showcases the power of studio collaboration this album benefits from. In terms of standout tracks, it’s hard to pick one. They’re all good, and mesh well with the albumcraft of In Roses. If a larger scope of tone were employed, it may have ruined the bittersweet savor of this dish. Certainly title track 10 ‘Marathon (In Roses)’ is a prime candidate and, indeed, seems to embody the climax of the story. The following, hypnotic, and final track ‘Polly’ almost seems to continue from ‘Marathon’, though acts mainly as a touching coda for the album.
Being artists, and friends with artists, GC has collaborated with videographers avidly before. Their first music video from In Roses is finale track ‘Polly’ (see below) and, visually, tells a wintery tale of two women’s loneliness, desire for more glamour and enchantment, and an odd collusion that forms between them. Surrealism is kept to a minimum here, though their other videos delve deep into that territory. All are worth checking out.