Words like “cinematic” and “theatrical” get thrown around a lot when describing music, the adjectives standing in as catch-alls that apply to any situation with a lengthy chord progression or dose of emotion. But just one play through of Choir of Young Believers‘ Rhine Gold‘s opening track, “The Third Time,” serves as a reminder that those descriptors should be reserved for moments such as this. After a dizzying prelude, Jannis Noya Makrigiannis emerges atop carefully constructed strings and polite piano notes that never encroach on the vocalist’s space. Jannis’ ethereal lyrics toe the line between desperate and confident as he sings, “Bite your lip and forget all the things that I said/ just bite your lip and forget.” The introductory track appropriately urges listener to forget the past, because Choir of Young Believers is a band that’s difficult to contextualize, as their second full length, following 2008’s This Is For The White In Your Eyes, features styles that range from folk to ’80s pop to post-rock.
The extended and dramatic opener rolls right into “Patricia’s Thirst,” the album’s most upbeat tune, highlighted by a spunky bass and cool synths. Makrigiannis takes full control of the reins once again on the album’s third cut, “Sedated,” a definite standout that hits a sweet middle ground between the two previous tracks’ contrasting styles. Lyrics such as, “To be caught in between isolation and dreams/ sedated and free from it all” are emotional while still conveying a sense of apathy. Makrigiannis continues with the abstract introspection and slight degree of nihilism on “Have I Ever Truly Been Here,” a song that’s a bit too sparse to justify its six minute, 30 second length.
On the topic of length, the meat of the album can be found on the 10 minute, fifteen second behemoth, “Paralyse.” Its first three minutes and change are upbeat and a bit reminiscent of mid ’80s-era Talk Talk. But then, rather suddenly, the song disintegrates into an acoustic guitar and Makrigiannis’ voice, which gets curiously distorted by what seem to be turntable scratches. And because there’s still a good six minutes left in the song at this point, the band rolls back into original instrumentation before rounding off the arrangement with the analogue, simplistic sound. I do commend Choir for their ambition, but given the song’s length and central placement on the record, it really needed to be a homerun rather than simply a passable experiment.
The second half of Rhine Gold shines an even brighter spotlight on Makrigiannis’ vocal chords. “Nye Nummer Et” is another winning track and one where Jannis pulls out his most accessible lyrics to drive the song forward. Unfortunately, the final two tracks take a turn toward minimalism that feels like a rather cliché close, and one that doesn’t mesh particularly well with the rest of the record.
Rhine Gold does hit moments of sublimity and if nothing else, shows off Jannis Noya Makrigiannis’ extremely versatile and captivating vocals. However, even with a stellar performance on his part, the album still feels as though it could use some more colorful and engaging instrumentation. The stronger tracks on the album’s first half succeed in part because they balance Jannis’ voice with catchy synth and piano melodies that are few and far between during the album’s final 25 minutes or so. Rhine Gold may be cinematic, but let’s hope that the next feature film can cast some equally captivating stars willing to play alongside the young and talented vocalist.