Choir Of Young Believers :: Grasque (Ghostly International)

One thing Grasque most definitely isn’t is immediate, but it’s so deliciously different, referential and fresh that it rewards repeated listens in spades. I’ll wager you won’t find a more inventive, infectious and all-out blissful pop record this side of Pet Shop Boys’ forthcoming Super in 2016.

Choir Of Young Believers :: Grasque (Ghostly International)

If you’ve come across Choir of Young Believers before it’s likely because of their under-the-radar Rhine Gold album released to some critical acclaim in 2012. If, for whatever reason, you’ve dismissed them as not being your thing as a result, I’d urge you to reconsider when it comes to giving their latest a try.

Grasque was originally intended to be the band name of a side-project created by Jannis Noya Makrigannis, allowing him to pursue a markedly different sound than the two previous Choir Of Young Believers records, one that had developed over the course of a period spent traveling as well as touring in support of Depeche Mode. It’s easy to see why, as Grasque marks a night-and-day shift into new sonic territory.

Grasque is a veritable melting pot of pop, soul and electronic tropes that have been chopped and spliced, whisked, morphed, mutated and diced to create something akin to a scrapbook full of seemingly unrelated elements. It’s full of creative twists and turns that deposit songs in territory utterly unlike their departure point, and does this for the duration of a near one-hour run, which is really quite something.

The live recording “Olimpiyskiy” features crowd noise (presumably from their time supporting Depeche Mode as you can hear people chanting their name in the background) and an ostentatious barrage of vocal oohs that forms the intro to Grasque‘s first tour-de-force, the collage-like “Serious Lover.” Makrigrannis croons through a haze of reverb-drenched Fairlight-style samples soft, soulful synth pads and a swollen, tuba-like bassline. Absolutely true to the press release, it evokes Sade so completely it’s almost indistinguishable, or would be if COYB weren’t busy subverting the genre, as they do on almost every track here. The verse and chorus seem to stem from two completely different songs, each competing for center stage dominance and disturbing the balance until they finally collide and tumble over each other in the song’s final minute.

“Face Melting” takes on more 80s pop tropes and then seems to sarcastically mock them with decidedly jelly/wobbly, almost irritating vocal “Come ons” and macho 80s guitar stings. Unnecessary key changes abound, the ordered piano chords become keyboard-mashed atonal fits of pique and pitch-bent synths veer violently off key. Then it re-freezes and crystallizes into a bubbling lake of vocal gurgle, keyboard chatter and what sounds like a sample on Neil Tennant in the background. It’s wonderfully deranged.

The near eight and a half minute “Graeske” is even more experimental, opening with dark, brooding drones, hollow, clattering chimes and a scratched CD rhythms more akin to industrial techno than pop. A burst of vocals and muted snares are then fed through vocoders, before changing key again and soaring above military rhythms that are a world away from the panoramic thrum of its opening. It’s as if the songs are rewriting themselves as you listen.

In “Jeg Ser Dig” (I see you) Makrigannis’ goes full-on Danish with the vocals, there’s 90s house piano, ominous growl and pounding bass, plus it’s unlikely you’ll never hear pan-pipes sound this effective and palatable again in your life. Not quite sure what to make of “Cloud Nine,” which is odd as it’s the album in it’s purest pop form, rendering it slightly forgettable.

Late-nite saxophone adorns the interstitial “The Whirlpool Enigma,” prefacing the almost Gregorian distorted chants of the beautiful “Perfect Estocada” (meaning a perfect sword thrust, typically with reference to bullfighting). Spanish guitar mimics the vocals, rolling bass rises and falls and the whole gorgeous mess disturbingly evokes memories of George Michael.

A self-confessed fan of Terence Trent D’arby (at least before he nuked his career from orbit with the pompous and self-indulgent Terence Trent D’arby’s Neither Fish Nor Flesh: A Soundtrack Of Love, Faith, Hope and Destruction), intro “Salvatore” and actual track “Gamma Moth” feel weirdly under-produced and dated, and the biting final track “Does It Look As If I Care” is a near nine-minute collage apparently edited down from nineteen that defies description.

One thing Grasque most definitely isn’t is immediate, but it’s so deliciously different, referential and fresh that it rewards repeated listens in spades. I’ll wager you won’t find a more inventive, infectious and all-out blissful pop record this side of Pet Shop Boys’ forthcoming Super in 2016.

Grasque is available on Ghostly International.

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