often times, when an indie rock band is given the sub-genre label of chamber pop, it’s a marker to distinguish smart vocal harmonies and sometimes songwriting that evokes the style of baroque-period classical music. boston trio gem club is a bit different. i’ve always thought of them as a chamber ensemble that plays pop music; comprised of cello, piano, and a pair of voices, gem club’s music is hauntingly intimate to a degree on par with many classical chamber groups. the trio’s first two recordings, 2010’s acid and everything ep and their debut full-length album breakers, reflected that intimacy, with sparse arrangements recorded in isolated bedrooms. gem club’s sophomore album, in roses, finds the ensemble expanding their sonic palate ever so slightly while retaining the emotions that so easily tug at heartstrings.
songs like “michael” are immediate and prevalent examples of this expansion; a truly aching track, the piano’s harmony and the mournful cello line are augmented by melancholy horns and brief instances of chimes. synthesizers also run rampant across in roses, whether hiding underneath other textures on “hypericum” or completely setting the scene on the closing number, “polly.” some of this admirable exploration can be attributed to having a proper recording studio and a well-respected musical director at their disposal, but gem club should be held in esteem for the deft nature of these orchestrations and the subtle nuances they provide.
in roses still captures gem club at the core of their essence; even with supplements, it’s clear that their overall aesthetic remains the same. “soft season” and “speech of foxes” largely lean on the minimalism of the band’s early career, stripping back down to cello and piano along with sparse amounts of white noise to cushion the composition. and while frontman christopher barnes seems pretty adamant that gem club’s music isn’t necessarily sad, it’s hard not to feel a bit somber and introspective when he harmonizes with ieva berberian; their voices line up perfectly with the accompaniment.
i’m not sure how the songs on in roses will translate to the stage; many would work very well stripped down to the original instrumentation of the trio, but i don’t know if gem club has any plans to bring additional musicians on tour. what i do know is that in roses is a fine record, one that’s already proven useful throughout this frigid month and one that will help to set gem club apart from all of those other woeful sad bastards in the world.