Chapel Club Palace Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A vital addition to the bleak-indie oeuvre.

Iain Moffatt 2011

Chapel Club may have named themselves after not one but two venues of weekend worship, but, on this evidence, we'd be inclined to suspect that their god is neither a DJ nor one of a more Cliff-friendly variety. Instead, they've chosen to prostrate themselves at the temple of pretty much the entire pantheon of bleak'n'blank boys from the entirety of the age of indie, from the Bunnymen and Joy Division right through to Glasvegas and White Lies. All well and good, you might think – or, more appropriately, all sick and tainted – but what's to stop this being a parade of numbness-by-numbers?

Quite a variety of things, as it happens. First up, there hasn't been a debut album more giggishly constructed than this since Foals' Antidotes: launching with the tantalisingly fades-in-slowly organ promises of Depths, it starts laying its stall out rather tentatively via Surfacing, which, even after all this time (its initial release was as their first single back in late 2009), is still somewhat weighed down by its over-appropriation of Dream a Little Dream of Me in spite of a certain candid cuteness, before working its way to a mid-point plateau that it stomps mercurially across thereafter. Moreover, there's enough creative shading here to ensure that moribundity never sets in – vocally, Lewis Bowman has a masterful knack of being a bruiser one bar and bruised the next, while, lyrically, there's an abject refinement to his lyrics that manifests itself in titles such as White Knight Position and O Maybe I and ruminations on love and loss that tower over mere landfill cliché.

Musically, too, when they deign to stretch out and wait, to borrow a phrase from one of their most frequent touchstones, they're capable of a preciously pretty haziness that sparkles darkly and startles artfully. Fine Light is a particularly pronounced example of this, all hushed guitar cascades, fracturing-into-focus shoegazing and sighs-as-instruments drawing the listener swooningly in before abruptly changing pace for a breakneck display of soaring skew-pop. Paper Thin, their one actual musing on religion proper, reclines into a hymnal minimalism amid twangs that seem to summon up a Hawley-ian heartbreak, and last year's standout single The Shore has lost none of its pathos and potency in the meantime, its slow sculpting and funereally reverent drumming chiming against a blanket of resigned Cocteau Twins reverb and some thoroughly luminous bile to produce effortlessly epic results.

Alright, so they might be inserting themselves into a canon known for its critical consensus, but Palace is still a vital addition to the oeuvre, and richly deserving of the inevitable praise.

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