Album Reviews

Choir of Young Believers – Grasque


There is a deep chill at the heart of the new Choir of Young Believers record, Grasque. Falling into that same niche as John Grant or Shearwater, the group has opted to set aside their more orchestra and folkier affectations in exchange for a more detached, electronic sound. Every human element, bar the vocals, is toned down to the point of non-existence. Strings are swapped out for synths or modulated and warped into something mechanical. When the emotion finally arrives in the form of Jannis Noya Makrigiannis’s voice it’s muted and confined yet yearning like less falsetto Jonsí.  Atmospherically, it seems so rich and you can almost envision yourself getting lost for hours in these soundscapes. From the outset, it seems to know exactly where it’s going and what it intends to do when it gets there. But then it doesn’t. It lingers about the place, placidly gliding from point to point with no real direction or point and while it times it is quite beautiful, it’s also a deeply frustrating and unsatisfying listen.

A large part of these feelings derive from the song lengths and structures. The group seem to be aiming to disregard conventional song structure in exchange for a more fluid exploration of expansive sound. That’s a perfectly admirable intent, but as half the tracks are comfortably passed the six-minute mark, they seldom offer anything to tantalise you into venturing into this world. Typically too, by the time something to latch onto has been introduced, patience has worn thin and too little too late. One of the more egregious examples of this would be ‘Graeske’, a mid-album piece that flutters about for nearly half its runtime before offering anything to tempt the listener into proceeding any deeper. This dissatisfaction is further tempered by the points where it does work. The two most conventional tracks on the album, ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘Perfect Estocana’, encapsulate what CoYB seemed to be trying to achieve here. Both have these distant foreboding synths that perfectly transition into these R’n’B inflected movements, evoking The Cure while utilising Motown horns and excellent piano work. While they do somewhat outstay their welcome, they’ve got the drive and energy to justify it. They’re exciting numbers that stand above their contemporaries. But whatever excitement they can drum up is immediately quelled by the monotonous album closer ‘Does It Look As If Care’. This lumbering beast fumbles around for the guts of eight minutes and draws out its climax to an almost unbearable degree. Ending on this sours the experience retrospectively too as it highlights a major flaw in the record: the songs don’t conclude in any kind of satisfying manner.

Tracks will either overstay their welcome or worse drop off without any kind of warning or reason. This makes for a jarring and irritating listen as is the case on the transition between ‘Salvatore’ and ‘Gamma Moth’ which transitions with less of a bang and more of a buffering pause. It doesn’t help as well that the track lengths vary wildly and that shorter tracks only highlight how much the larger pieces lack.

There are three slices of the record that are under two minutes apiece and they represent the best of what the band has to offer. They’re these little nuggets of intrigue and mystery that draw the listener in and tease them with something bigger. ‘The Whirlpool Enigma’, a stripped down instrumental track, is the coda to ‘Cloud Nine’, yet manages to blow it’s predecessor away in a fifth of the time. It manages to promise so much with so little and yet is given no time to expand on its ideas. Before you can really wrap your head around what is going on, the song is tossed aside without a second thought. This same annoyance is driven up on ‘Salvatore’, an introduction to the next song on the album that is more concise and exciting than that track. Slight shades are taken and expanded on, but not in any kind of meaningful or interesting way and like ‘Whirlpool’ it’s a half cooked method of trying to diversify the sonic palate.

These attempts to accentuate how varied the album could be, it unfortunately showcases how rudderless the whole experience is. It’s a record that touches at intrigue but is mostly a slog that disappears from memory as soon it’s done. Nothing ever astounds or enraptures; it mostly sits idly by veering into unintentional ambience.  Will Murphy