A couple of years ago Chapel Club released their debut LP Palace that was a slice of hazy, goth-tinged indie, spawning the fairly memorable track ‘Five Trees.’ It was a decent effort, but nothing particularly special. They did, however, seem like a band who’d stick around for a bit – I just didn’t envisage that when they did return, they’d come back with such a radical change of direction that I couldn’t tell it was the same band. Seriously: they’ve turned themselves into a quasi-Passion Pit and joined the electro-pop revolution. It’s instantly more catchy than any of their previous work and has tinges of The Avalanches’ hazy compositions. Not even The Horrors’ transformation from goth-punk upstarts into swooning, Teardrop Explodes-esque wonderkids quite compares to this. It takes guts to do something like this, particularly if it comes off: Chapel Club, I salute you.
Having a few brain cells and doing some genuinely intelligent referencing has been something of a dirty thing in recent British indie: okay, we’ve had Foals and their clever take on the genre, but their lyrics don’t exactly expand to the intricacies of Plato. For a while it has been good to be openly rough and ready, and showing your cleverness has been limited only to your sound: a little intricacy there, a little thoughtful pause there. Chapel Club are trying to change that by using an expansive, atmospheric sound and combining it with genuinely thought-provoking lyrics.
Unfortunately, their album sometimes feels a little flat and tedious despite all of the thoughtfulness behind it. It’s telling that a former single, ‘All The Eastern Girls’, is perhaps one of the only “great” moments on this record. Lewis Bowman uses a medley of religious imagery to describe the beauty of the girls and oddly it doesn’t feel at all pretentious: instead you’re left feeling quite elated by the grandeur of it all, and it’s what you feel the band were striving to achieve through the whole body of this record. The production is excellent, but the same can’t be said of the mixing on each track. You can’t help but feel that some extra time making the other songs sound as wonderful as ‘All The Eastern Girls’ would have given a boost to the album as a whole.
Generally, the album has an epic atmosphere that often overshadows the intricacies of what Lewis Bowman is singing about. Who can really appreciate the brilliant beauty of his similes, metaphors and imagery when it’s being washed out by loud and hazy guitars? Sometimes, as on ‘Five Trees’, the sound works magically if only because the guitars on the chorus mirror the ‘dust’ that Bowman refers to. ‘The Shore’ is the only time they employ any subtlety but here lies the quiet gem: perversely, the lyrics on this song aren’t as magical and inspired as on the rest of the album. So is the strange dichotomy that is Chapel Club.
It’s hard not to think that if you surgically transplanted Bowman’s lyrics into the music of a more musically acute band like Foals then you’d have a modern musical masterpiece. As it stands, Palace is a wordy album dying under the weight of its own ambition. In trying to marry Bowman’s epic words with melodies and production to match, Chapel Club have pretty much cheated themselves out of a great record. Maybe they were too clever for their own good.
5 OUT OF 10
Hey what’s with all the people who have the word “club” in their name recently? I’ve got this (fairly) long list: New Young Pony Club, Chapel Club, Slow Club, Bombay Bicycle Club… I’m sure there’s more too! This is an indie-rock song that’s a bit different and less generic thanks to its gloomy atmosphere. Think The National if they were a little sunnier and you’re halfway here. But I guess if you’re gonna call yourself Chapel Club then you’re inviting the gothic and dark to haunt you. Don’t be put off, this is actually a real grower that I think you’ll come to enjoy. If you find that you’re not quite into it on the first listen then have no fear, it took me about ten listens too: