Release Date: Sep 27, 2011
Record label: Hardly Art
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Dream Pop, Experimental Rock, Sadcore
Continuing in the tradition of artists like Sigur Rós and Phil Elverum, Boston area project Gem Club offer soft, intimate ballads built around hushed vocals and expansive, ethereal arrangements featuring orchestral instrumentation. Like their debut EP, Acid & Everything, first-time full-length Breakers takes a "quiet is the new loud" approach, as singer/pianist Christopher Barnes and cello/bells/backing vocals collaborator Kristen Drymala employ silence and space to convey the emotional intensity of Barnes’ simultaneously personal and ambiguous lyrics that toe the line between hope and despair. Together, the two imagine a cavernous, isolated world that invites listeners to stop and let the sounds wash over them.
From the first plaintive keystroke, it’s easy to be swept into Gem Club‘s Breakers. The album marks the Somerville, MA duo’s first attempt at a proper full-length, packaging their drowsy dream pop and excising any upbeat, spirited attitude. Instead, there’s a gradual revealing of heart-wrenching melodies that drowns listeners in earnest sorrow.
Consisting of only nine tracks and running for just under 40 minutes, [a]Gem Club[/a]’s debut is a delicate and brief record, but also one that’s more layered and considered than their initial EP, ‘[b]Acid And Everything[/b]’. There are traces of [a]Sufjan Stevens[/a], for sure, but this Massachusetts duo have more in common with [a]Low[/a] or [b]Sigur Rós[/b] (the former for the drones, the latter for the harmonies). ‘[b]I Heard The Party[/b]’ is the stand-out track, mournful and church-like, Ieva Berberian’s tender harmonies winding around vocalist Christopher Barnes’ tones, as they despondently claim that “I heard that party’s here”.
Gem Club is an exclusive society: two people, a piano, and a cello. Vocalist Christopher Barnes sings in a quivering whisper, and these minimal accompaniments assure that their sound never becomes louder than a hush. But the Massachusetts duo's debut EP, Acid and Everything, showed just how much emotional intensity you could pack into compositions so spare, and how much could be suggested with so little.
Even in the afterglow of chillwave’s crest, nostalgia continues to be pervasive as a theme and aesthetic construct in contemporary indie pop. The warped and faded sound, loosed from its bedrock of vaguely New Wave synthesizers, has proven an effective, applied to chamber instruments. Gem Club’s principal duo, pianist and singer Christopher Barnes and cellist Kristen Drymala, offer none of the ‘80s revivalist tendencies that marked chillwave’s first wave.