It's sometimes the emptiest music that has the most heart. It's easiest to relate to emptiness - there's nothing really to interpret; it's just empty. It's up to you to add emotion into it.
The debut record from Gem Club, entitled Breakers, is the perfect example of that phenomenon. The 2011 record's sound consists of the dreamiest pianos and sweet strings that back Christopher Barnes' sweet indie voice. It's a very gentle record, introspective all the while laying down some heavy meanings.
The first impression you get of the record is the brilliant 'Twins,' a tragic admittance of Barnes' twin who died at childbirth. The lyrics wistfully croon "The wind shook the kiss from your mouth / Before I could learn whose twin I was" in a pretty and gentle voice. Beautiful piano chords simply but powerfully ring out as the gentle violin sings quietly above the track. This song, like many others, is written with brevity but with much thought. It's full of amazing metaphors for death that resonate with meaning beyond the purpose of the song itself.
The best part of the record is undoubtedly its lyrics. The track 'Lands' faces utter hopelessness, Barnes and Kristen Drymala singing together in a tragic duet as the slow drumbeat emulates a heartbeat. The pianos ring gently and darkly as pretty synths and atmosphere build up. The lyrics tell the haunting tale of someone who has lost the most important part of their life: their lover. The narrator faces severe depression, and the song seems to be about the choice to end it all. Barnes quietly cries "I feel you are the one whose moving beneath me / Are there riders coming through the dark," as the everlasting presence of the narrator's lover continues to haunt them. After clinging to it for so long, the presence leaves, the lines "There is no more communication / I'm building lovers in our bed," revealing their reluctance to let go. The song ends quietly and as darkly as it persisted, the piano growing with the slightest intensity before fading out with the hauntingly memorialization of the narrator's final moments: "I feel no real danger / I'm filled with desire / The back of my head split wide open / And I saw the look of lands changing / Are there riders coming through the dark."
'Red Arrow' follows it through is just as powerfully, a slightly more convicted track detailing the release from life. Love was everything to the narrator of this track, and it was tragically taken away from them. The standout of this track is moreso the incredibly simple and powerful instrumental and the backing vocals that hauntingly resonate at the back of the track. The album slowly evolves into one that seeks hope to fill it's empty void. 'I Heard The Party' is the narrator's attempt at finding purpose, but the burden of his emptiness is too great; he cannot find happiness even when in the face of it. There's reminiscing in 'Tanagers' as Barnes sings in a very introspective manner. There's something about the symbolism of horses that Barnes can't seem to escape, yet it provides strong emotions to the tracks it is mentioned in. 'Lands' speaks of "riders" as they come to take him away to the next life, the metaphor providing a strong image of deliverance. In 'Tanagers,' the horses act as a message for hope; the memory of them gave the narrator something to want to return to. The horses gave them emotion.
The album ends on powerful notes. '252' is a song that has too strong interpretations: the narrator is in deep love, or the narrator's lover is diagnosed with cancer. In the cancer timeline, the two involved struggle with how the gravity of the situation effects their lives. The constant hospital visits paired with the heartbreaking thought that every meeting could be the last, Barnes blaming "the cells of this body [that] have all lost their memory... This terrible anatomy / Will surely get the best of me" for his sorrows. This meaning coincides with the story of love (how being deeply in love can effectively damage your own life through obsession), both meanings brought together by the lines "Confused by each other / To work out of order / And I hate that they require / The need to be together... Maybe they'd grow in someone else / Watch as they grow in someone else." The album ends beautifully and calmly in 'In Wavelengths' as if to submit to all of the pain and suffering that the narrator has been the victim of. It's one final defeat, and it feels like it. In the end, they come to terms with reality and let it take them, whether for better or for worse.
Breakers is like what Sufjan Stevens would sound like if his music was based solely around ethereal pianos and tragic orchestras. Every track on this record is it's own 'Fourth Of July,' the strength of each song expressed through its meaning. It's a depressive, challenging, and empty record, but in its emptiness it finds power. It draws emotion from the rawest places. Gem Club's debut is one of the strongest out there, but it's incredible how it makes so much out of nothing. Tragedy can be channeled into the most beautiful art.
Favorite Tracks: Lands, Red Arrow, Black Ships, 252
Least Favorite Tracks: Breakers, Tanagers
Rating: 94 / 100