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Wednesday, December 13

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Concert Wed Oct 24 2007

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir: A Review

SYGCAlbum.jpg

I can offer very little insight into the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir as a band or as people. I’ve never seen them in concert, or shared omelets and tea with them at the Pick Me Up Café (but thankfully Tom Lynch has, and you can check out his great New City expose here). Truthfully, and I realize I’m venturing into uncharted waters here, I’ve never actually heard their music. I’m unfamiliar with the first record, I Bet You Say That To All the Boys, the self-released one before Matthew Kerstein left to form Brighton, MA. So as a result, I can only offer a newborn’s look at the SYGC world and their second album, the aptly title Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, out now on Bloodshot Records, and which I just picked up yesterday from my local record shop. What follows is my reaction.

Things get off to fast start with “Aspidistra”, a buoyant pop tune that concerns old days spent buying drugs, in which the narrator refuses to regret his past indulgences while focusing on current and future abstinence. A brilliant and fast opener, “Aspidistra” reaches its point of climax, its point of potential musical explosion, only to end abruptly. Immediately, the listener is left wanting more. It’s a neat device used throughout most of the album, where the songs feel like they’re going to erupt or deconstruct only to race to an early conclusion. The tracks of principal songwriter, Elia Einhorn, aren’t ditties despite their consistently short length; they’re fully formed stories breathed full of life and heart and emotion, traits increasingly unseen in today’s indie pop (in fact, I daresay that of all recent Chicago pop releases, this one has the most mettle). Soon-to-be crowd favorite, “I Never Thought I Could Feel This Way For a Boy”, bounces a schoolyard yarn about a young boy falling for another young boy, and the fear of chastisement from his other classmates. There is tenderness and joy here, balanced by terror and loneliness and the desire “to be loved by everyone at the end of the day”. It's this careful balance that helps provide the core of this record. But although Elia could easily lapse into misplaced melancholy, the album is not a downer but an uplifting look at fighting for comfort and love and a place to call home. “Broken Front Teeth” is a stunner that showcases the vocal and emotional range of cellist Ellen O’Hayer. A traditional-sounding folk ballad, it layers a simple acoustic guitar with a mournful accordion, while she peruses old photos that collect memories and fuel nostalgia. If there's a criticism to be made, it's with the closing gospel free-for-all, "Everything You Paid For", which doesn't quite go where I feel it needs to in order to unleash all of the sounds reigned in on the previous eight tracks. But that's an inconsequential quibble that more reflects my personal taste than the band's short-comings.


Atmospherically, I kept thinking of those cold winter days, the ones in mid-January where the sun peaks through with fleeting warmth for an hour before disappearing behind a wall of clouds. Sonically, and despite utilizing a kitchen sink approach of 19 different musicians, the blissful chamber pop never feels over-stuffed or too crowded with instruments and sounds. Everything and everyone has its place in the world of the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, and the textures created add up to a supremely satisfying (and unnerving and beautiful) finished product.

My guess and my hope is that the themes contained here will resonate far beyond Chicago’s city walls and that as the band grows, the fan base will grow too. This release carries with it inherent expectations of a long and fruitful and challenging career but fear not, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. You can always call Chicago home.

This sophomore effort is out now on Bloodshot Records and can be purchased at your local record store. Check out Scotland Yard Gospel Choir at their record release party this Friday, Oct. 26 at the Empty Bottle. Kelly Hogan and DJ Stinky Pinky open.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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