In Review: Choir Boy - Gathering Swans
Choir Boy have an interesting backstory – frontman Adam Klopp grew up Mormon, and was an actual choir boy in his youth, but listened to punk music. His upbringing and time in school as a punk to his Mormon friends and Mormon to his punk friends may be what has brought us to Gathering Swans, which feels like a true and cohesive amalgamation of two differing ideologies.
Klopp’s sincere and ethereal vocals take centre stage throughout the record as they have on their previous release, but what stands out is the instrumentation; Chaz Costello’s bass guitar is delightfully present throughout the album, with tracks like ‘Eat the Frog’, ‘Sweet Candy’ and opener ‘It’s Over’ being driven by his competent plucking and understated groove, whilst synth-and-sax man Jeff Kleinman brings the goods with expert flourishes on ‘Shatter’ and ‘Toxic Eye’. Rounding out the gamut is guitarist Michael Paulsen, whose fingerpicking provides the various twangs and snippets of melody needed for the songs to be as uplifting as they are.
The proverbial main event, however, is Klopp’s unique vocal delivery and lyricism. Shimmering lead single ‘Complainer’ combines the catchiest and most energetic musicianship on the record with soaring, versatile vocals, imbued with sincerity and positivity-laced gloominess. Title track ‘Gathering Swans’ closes out the album, with a choir accompanying Klopp for an orchestral crescendo that provides the perfect ellipsis to the group’s oxymoronic presentation of dreamy greyness and melancholic hopefulness.
The album is not without its caveats. Some songs fail to burst through the dim setting they find themselves in and don't make the same lasting impression their counterparts do. Latest single ‘Shatter’ is perhaps the most obvious example of this. It’s a fine song but struggles to justify its selection as a single amidst other more suitable and interesting choices. Experimentation tends more towards miss than hit, with interlude ‘St Angele Merici’ feeling like it should have been left on the cutting room floor rather than used as a bridge between the album’s two halves.
It is easy when playing in genres like dream-pop to lose momentum during an album. Whilst another ‘Complainer’ or ‘Happy to be Bad’-style injection of energy would’ve been welcomed around the halfway mark, Choir Boy stay consistent, tonally poignant and stylistically interesting throughout Gathering Swans, crafting their own unique identity anchored by a strong vocal performance and sensible approach to pop music.
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