Such a promising debut as Gem Club’s Breakers provided lovers of chamber-pop meditations a new altar at which to worship. That the band’s malleable sonic interplay was tailor-made for TV-show scoring and non-specific aural/visual pairing made it even more appealing. While there are moments of trance-inducing beauty on Gem Club’s new LP In Roses, it’s a little too much of a good thing done again.
In Roses sounds warm, inviting, like a low-lit cabin with a big fire roaring. This connection is due in no small part to the homey tones of analog recording, specifically at John Vanderslice’s renowned Tiny Telephone Studios. The duo shacked up with arranger/conductor Minna Choi and The Magik*Magik Orchestra to flesh out the project’s haunting quilts of sound. The pseudo-ambient construction of such blatantly melodramatic compositions as “First Weeks”―a spiraling string/piano/woodwind mishmash, broken only intermittently by Barnes’ pensive tenor―sets the tone for the rest of In Roses, which is essentially one long (long) soundtrack to some cathartic emotional torture each of us will endure or have endured many times over. As such, it’s effective, but the album’s relentless melancholia goes over like a moody sigh.
“Hypericum” resonates like the muted swish of floating in soapy bathwater, Barnes’ gorgeously deliberate piano flanking a wall of sound that’s difficult to ascertain but enjoyable nonetheless. Likewise, “QY2” is an ambitious, sprawling undertaking that allows you to soar freely within its borderless swells, but suffers by being a little too reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Falling”―ironically, the theme song from Twin Peaks―for its own good.
There are elements of yearning found on In Roses that, while well-intentioned and often spellbindingly beautiful, are lost in the grand scheme of the broad, willful instrumental experimentation between Barnes, cellist Kristen Drymala and vocalist Ieva Berberian. It’s an album to get lost in, certainly, but at the same time your risk of losing patience with the grandiosity of it is pretty high.