Gem Club, In Roses (out January 28, Hardly Art, iamgemclub.com)
Judging by its component parts, In Roses seems pretty simple, but the final product is much more complex. Utilizing just piano, cello, and vocals, Gem Club weaves together one delicate story after another. Singer/pianist Christopher Barnes’ falsetto is reminiscent of those of Tom Krell (How to Dress Well) and Justin Ringle (Horse Feathers), while singer Ieva Berberian’s airy lilt adds a bit of elegance to each song and cellist Kristen Drymala contrasts the album’s ambient lightness with a sonorous heft. There’s a somber beauty in the Massachusetts-based trio’s music, a sound also heard on its 2011 debut album Breakers. The two albums share a tone that’s somehow both melancholic and hopeful; and yet In Roses, Gem Club’s first with Berberian, is more sonically expansive. Whereas the songs on Breakers don’t stray too far from a single tempo, those on In Roses do, while also playing with subtle crescendos and sweeping melodies. Gem Club’s strength lies in knowing when to highlight each piece of its ensemble. At times, near the end of “First Weeks” or album-closer “Polly,” for example, Barnes and Berberian step aside as vocalists to let the piano and cello intertwine to create a reflective mood. At others, during “Soft Season,” for instance, vocals take center stage, as Barnes and Berberian show how well their voices blend over soft piano notes. Here too there is a subtle difference: While the lyrics maintain a reflective quality, that reflection moves from an inward focus on Breakers to a relationship focus on In Roses. All these subtle changes between the two albums show that Gem Club is comfortable in its genre, unafraid to experiment.