Published May 07, 2020After 2016 debut Passive with Desire, Salt Lake City's Choir Boy (Adam Klopp) has returned with Gathering Swans, another set of melancholic '80s jams that hover somewhere between goth pop, new wave, and post-punk. It's an appealing mix that sounds even better now backed by a committed full-time band, with some especially good synth and sax work from Jeff Kleinman. Flat production limits their sound somewhat, and certain tracks could perhaps do with some editing, but this is a strong sophomore effort overall.
Klopp's voice certainly grabs attention right away, dropping into deep, quavering tones now and then that hint at actual choral training, which, given his religious upbringing, probably isn't a stretch — to say Klopp sometimes sounds like a gothier Rick Astley is maybe only half-weird. In any event, it suits the album's gloomy vibes well, set off by stark, clean guitar lines, cascading synth toms, and that most '80s of all signifiers, the saxophone. The last of which, however, seems like it should be far higher in the mix; it really doesn't pop at all. Luckily, Kleinman's synth is better documented, with tasteful solos hitting brightly in both "Nites Like This" and "Shatter." Overall, it's competently if not exactly imaginatively mixed; a no frills, post-punk aesthetic it might be interesting to hear the band unhampered of, as some of the slower arrangements could benefit from some extra flair.
There are enough hooks and flourishes to keep momentum, and Klopp is a distinctive frontman, with an impressive range that he doesn't overuse — although his somewhat silly bass in "Sweet Candy" was perhaps a mistake. "Toxic Eye" is probably the best track for everyone concerned, with a hook and sadly beautiful synth line that has the band's full intent behind it. Not every cut comes together as well as this, but many come close enough to warrant continued interest in Choir Boy, and if you've been enjoying the synth and sax stylings of someone like Alex Cameron lately, but also have some dusty Cure and Depeche Mode CDs in your basement, there's likely a spot in the pews for you. (Dais Records)