Album: Choir Boy – Gathering Swans review

by Chris Hatch

Choir Boy’s latest record is a study in how to stand out from the crowd. Their pastel-coloured, 80s influenced synth pop is a genre that has bustled with releases over the last five or so years – some amazing, and some not so good – so for Gathering Swans to offer something so fresh is a wonderful thing to discover.

The record is drenched in washed out violets, see-through pinks, and gauzy, subdued baby blues – synths shimmer in and out, guitars catch just a glint of sunlight, and drums don’t quite propel the album along, but rather gently tug at your sleeve and pull you into its sweet, bubblegum world. It ticks a lot of the boxes you’d expect – airy, soft-shelled, poppy; like the blurry sound of Hatchie or Cocteau Twins floating in from a few streets away.

But where Gathering Swans differs from its contemporaries is where it really succeeds. In amongst the production of opening track, It’s Over, are nooks and crannies filled with snippets of softly pulsing arpeggiators, jangly guitars, and breathy keys – it’s a record that offers up these saccharine-coated jewels over its ten melody-filled tracks. But these sugary moments don’t tell the whole story – instead they act as a palatable tonic with which to take vocalist Adam Klopp’s bitter pills.

Klopp’s voice is the perfect foil for Choir Boy’s sound – his vocal-style glides somewhere between the arty, earnestness of Kate Bush and the perfectly enunciated gloom of Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe or The Drums’ Jonny Pierce. And it’s that hint of morosity that saves single, Toxic Eye, from becoming too sickly sweet – in between swirling, caramel nuggets of danceable pop, Klopp plunges the depths of his self to contemplate what he finds down in those recesses. Like Mike Hadreas’ best work as Perfume Genius, self-doubt, negativity, and loss weave a thorny, slightly sinister path around the band’s beautifully put together vapour wave pop.

Gathering Swans explores the bittersweet with great aplomb. Like Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house, or Adam’s poisoned fruit, Choir Boy entice you in with catchy, more some pop moments before leaving that cloying, nagging aftertaste that lingers in the ridges at the roof of your mouth. Klopp has spoken about the album exploring a mix of ‘nihilism’ and ‘love’ and ‘songs where both themes intersect’ – a point made most acutely on midway highlight, Sweet Candy, where Klopp dolefully sings of liking ‘films with morbid endings’ before launching into the most immediate, confident track on the album.

Gathering Swans is an exploration of where happy meets sad, where hope meets despair, and where bitter meets sweet – it’s the spoonful of sugar that, at times, we all need.

Secret Meeting score: 79

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