Originality rarely rings true in the arts these days when every option seems to have been examined, explored, and experimented. Many newer bands revel in nostalgia, giving us twenty-first century shades of the music we’ve grown up with and loved. In the midst of revivalism, Choir of Young Believers offers refreshing take on established genres. The strange combination of chamber pop, prog rock, new wave, emo, folk, and more on Rhine Gold sound all very familiar yet alien. This ingenuity may not be so apparent at first, and the album continues to reveal novelties with repeated listen. Rhine Gold is a timeless record that can best described in two words – ‘retro progressive’.
COYB takes a big risk with their sophomore effort and emerges with an ambitious record with more highs than lows. Led by Danish Grammy recipient Jannis Noya Makrigiannis, the collective are not afraid to lose the success garnered from their debut LP, This Is for the White in Your Eyes. Rhine Gold retains the affecting candor of its predecessor while elevating the sophisticated songwriting. The album starts off with the panoramic "The Third Time ", an intricate symphonic pop with Eastern flavor laced with the wistful vocals of Makrigiannis. While the opener encapsulates the experimental spirit of Rhine Gold, it is hardly the album’s template, but then none of the nine tracks are. CYOB takes the biggest gamble on "Paralyze"; unfortunately, it doesn’t quite achieve the epic status it seems to strive for, save for its ten minute and fourteen second duration. Still, there are plenty of golden moments. The Krautrock-charged number dips in for a sparse folk moment after jamming away for three and half minutes, before returning to the sonic distortion of the electric guitar, escalating and dissolving into that odd acoustic moment again. Then for the final minute, cello comes in to chime off with the chorus. One imagines that this peculiar piece would probably sound fantastic live.
Every track on the 54-minute album has its worthwhile moments, but if one had to choose the weakest link, it would be "Paint New Horrors" – the catchy pop tune with easily digestible lyrics. As Makrigiannis croons, "To give to you / Girl I want to give it to you / The things I was pulling you through," backing vocals chime in with "ah-ha". It feels contrived and fails to match the experimental standard of the album.
The desolate "Have I Ever Truly Been Here" and "The Wind is Blowing Needle" reach the emotional peak on Rhine Gold. Haunting choir, hypnotic strings, and fragile acoustic guitar swirl into an abyss of a trance on "Have I Ever Truly Been Here", melding with reverberating tenor, like an echo in some bleak Scandinavian mountaintops. On "The Wind is Blowing Needle", vocals reach its sorrowful apex as Makrigiannis utters, "Oh how I long" as the backing vocals chime in, "For something different." Accompanied by weeping guitar, moody bass, and timorous brush on the snare, this downer is a warm up for the title track for an ominous conclusion.
"Rhine Gold" exquisitely intertwines digital effects and organic sounds. The anguished cello cries and the weighty piano wanes against the spacey soundscape of black hole. The album’s opener asked us to, "Bite your lips and forget." By the journey’s end, Makrigiannis languidly professes, " You do as you please / Your persistence keeps down on my knees / Your secret / I never can tell." We’ve come along to discover the mystery unsolved… Akin to their fellow countrymen’s musical path, Mew (QRO live review) and Efterklang (QRO spotlight on), Choir of Young Believers promises an exciting future of innovation. Rhine Gold is an evocative and engaging record you might just pass by if you don’t give it a chance to age.
MP3 Stream: "Paralyze"