Salt Lake City’s Choir Boy is a one-of-a-kind band with a one-of-a-kind sound. Instrumentally, you could try to lump them in with synth-heavy darkwave groups like Cold Cave and Soft Kill, but you’ll have difficulty making a direct comparison thanks to Choir Boy’s ethereality. You could even try to throw it back to new wave and compare them, at least vocally, to Tears for Fears’ Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal, but you’d still fall short. Choir Boy’s sound, somehow both heavy and airy, is a juxtaposition that’s hard to pin down and even harder to replicate. It shines brighter than ever on their new record, Gathering Swans.
Gathering Swans is Choir Boy’s sophomore album (out May 8 via Dais Records), following 2016’s Passive with Desire, where we were introduced to singer Adam Klopp’s alarmingly sincere vocals, which are legitimately difficult to describe without the overused adage “voice of an angel.” Klopp impressed on the debut, but on Gathering Swans he is absolutely hypnotizing. Tracks like opener “It’s Over” and single “Nites Like This” prove his worth as one of the best vocalists working. His voice is on full display, keeping the record afloat through even the most experimental tracks.
Musically, this record is full of surprises. Chaz Costello’s bass work alone is worth applause, especially on “Eat The Frog,” where it provides enough underlying groove to offset a few classic pop flourishes that could have easily been written off as cheesy rather than charming. On “It’s Over,” the drum machine and castanet pay homage to new wave greats, while Michael Paulsen’s guitar on both “Sweet Candy” and “Shatter” is akin to the twangy picking that drove Hoops’ masterful 2017 record Routines. Jeff Kleinman rounds out an already lush record with layered synths and sax embellishments.
The highlight of Gathering Swans is the buoyant, sparkling single “Complainer.” Klopp sings, “But it’s not that bad, I never really had it worse, I’m just a complainer,” a feeling many of us understand when we stop to realize we’re actually doing just fine. Relatable lyrics paired with bright synths and a post-punk bassline make this song joyous and dance-worthy, bringing to mind other unexpected beacons of positivity— the IDLES effect, if you will.
The story goes that, while growing up in Ohio, Klopp was called “choir boy” as a dig, for what could be read as intense jealousy for his inimitable vocals, while also poking fun at his religious upbringing. But Klopp reclaimed the epithet, and rightfully so. If Gathering Swans shows us anything, it’s that Choir Boy deserve praise, not mockery.
Annie Black is a writer currently residing in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter for tweets mostly about vegetables, sometimes about music.