Gem Club – In Roses

by Jack Reid

I’ll admit that I didn’t pick up on Gem Club upon the release of their debut album Breakers, but ever since I’ve been aware of them - this strange little trio have dominated my listening habits. To a cursory listener, this group sound profoundly melancholic, perhaps as a symptom of the heavy use of strings and minor piano chords. However Christopher Barnes, the driving force behind the name and the man with the incredibly unique voice, refutes claims that his music is intrinsically sad. Instead, he says that Gem Club strive for intimacy above all else, and intimacy is what we get on this album.

The arrangement of First Weeks struck me as suiting the end credits following an intensely bittersweet ending to a movie. There’s something about that track which exhibits the most overtly sweet melodies on the album; it just screams sunshine and rainstorms all at once. The euphoric element of this song is only reflected once elsewhere on this release: in the second movement of Idea For Strings. Like many of the songs on In Roses, Idea For Strings comes extremely close to a finish before rising in another form. In this instance, an extremely simple looped vocal accompanies the eponymous strings that raise the track up for a soft crescendo. The effect is one of a beautiful auditory spectacle.

However, sifting through these delicate ballads I did find some darkness. Speech Of Foxes, towards its finish, grows into something relatively electronic for this group. Feedback begins to screech around as a juddering bass rumble rises in an enormous space. The track fizzles out into an idiosyncratic swooshing sound and serves as a welcome variation in texture for this album.

Braid is a far more standard example of what Gem Club excel at. It’s a touching ballad that allows a vulnerable piano melody to serve as its chorus - in amongst expertly executed harmonies from Barnes And Berberian. However, it serves as a foreshadowing of the best track on this album by far. Polly closes the release, and comes in at over seven minutes. It is a perfect end to In Roses. The simple synth arpeggio is softly underlined by the ever-present string textures throughout the verses - Christopher Barnes’ voice at its heartbreaking best. The chorus is at once one of the most catchy, yet the most full of pathos, that I’ve ever heard.

This album, like Breakers before it, does not have huge peaks or troughs of energy or mode, and so many will label it same-y or indistinguishable, I predict. However, to unwrap these very delicate and emotional songs you have to have a little bit of patience. It’s worth it. Gem Club are the fantastic outcome of a very unique vocalist, a superb cellist, a harmonic backing vocalist, and some very intense feeling.