11 May 2020 (released)
11 May 2020
Neatly turning an intended insult into a show of strength, Utah (fallen) Saint Choir Boy deliver a very British sounding sermon.
Choir Boy’s Adam Klopp’s aching and breaking, mooning and swooning vocals are a dead spit for 1980s synth-pop behemoth Alison Moyet. Throw in sonic allusions to the now defunct Wild Beasts and a plethora of early 1980s Liverpool bands (The Wild Swans, China Crisis, O.M.D., This Final Frame) and the end result is this glorious technicoloured monochrome (or vice versa) album. It has echoes from that decade’s ‘New Pop’ frontier-breaking, but, it is resolutely ‘Now Pop’ in its themes and outlooks and resolutely perky sounds. Then, as now, bright surfaces tend to mask darker undercurrents.
If Choir Boy’s first release, the one-man-unravelling show of ‘Passive with Desire’ was an irreligious downbeat, introspective affair triggered by the fleeing of religion’s confines, then follow-up ‘Gathering Swans’ still concerns itself with the issues of faith, devotion and belief.
Like organised religion, the altar of love has its own edicts, rules and codes that must be adhered to in order for it (and its flock) to thrive and ultimately survive. When those tenets are questioned, contested and grudgingly tested either are reinforced or collapsed. Therefore, heresy can be emancipating, free your mind and well, you know the rest. It follows.
This ecumenical and existential quandary sees Klopp bring in his own reinforcements in the shape of bassist Chaz Costello, keyboardist and saxophonist Jeff Kleinman and guitarist Michael Paulsen. Community is unity after all.
Basically, the album is a love letter to himself, with the desire to do better, be stronger, banish the ugly duckling and exhibit the splendour of the inner Cygnus like a rebirth of the sacred spirit and shedding of the baptism of ire that is bestowed by the church of poisoned minds.
The optimism of the new dawn, the new day, a new beginning is set on opener ‘It’s Over’ as Klopp admits that ‘it wouldn’t be easy’, but, if you don’t try then there’s no one to blame but thineself. Looking backwards is only paved with ifs and buts.
This air of philosopho-positivity is countered on the tracks ‘Happy To Be Bad’ where Klopp symbolically sings about being “nailed to the cross of your affection” and on the self-lacerating ‘Complainer’ which showcases Klopp’s angelic harmonics augmented by breezy synthesised sounds.
The instrumental ‘St Angela Merici’ is an interluding clanging bells of time, rhyme and a sombre nod to the holy (w)hole at the heart of the matter.
The titular and climactic ‘Gathering Swans’ highlights Klopp’s distance between the past and what lies ahead. Originally written as a nod to the Noah’s Ark story, where the amassing of creatures two-by-two would help result in the creation of a new world, the metaphor fell away and became a more self-realising script(ire) to open his heart and willingly embrace this re-emergence.
Overall it also has tonal traces of Madonna's own inner-struggles with religion on 1989's 'Like a Prayer'.
If this is Choir Boy’s purgatory album (on the way down), the next stop/step must be a return to an earthly Eden. Amen.