The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

There is a video of two members of the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir (as well as cellist Jenny Choi) playing live on a Chicago rooftop (maybe Wicker Park or East Village) with Josh Caterer of the Smoking Popes covering “Ask” by the Smiths. I love it. The collaboration works because they are both Chicago bands who wouldn’t exist without the Smiths, and also because the union brings together the sophistication of one band with the inimitable vocals from the other. It’s part of the defunct AV Club Undercover series. Search it out and watch it. And, notice the lyrical change from “Luxembourg” to Chicago suburb “Carpentersville.”

What I Think of This Album

While it is perhaps up for debate that this is the best Scotland Yard Gospel Choir album, there is no question that this is the quintessential SYGC album. In addition to containing some of their best songs, the normative aspects are reflected in the cover art, the lower case song titles, and the decision to make the album eponymous.

Now fully in command after the departure of fellow songwriter Matthew Kerstein, leader Elia Einhorn is finally able to offer a set of songs that hews to a consistent style. And that style involves some obvious debts to the Smiths and Belle and Sebastian, though with enough creativity in the marrying of chamber pop arrangements to clever, heartfelt, and insightful lyrics to establish an independent identity. 

Nowhere does SYGC shine more brightly than on the uplifting tale of “I Never Thought I Could Feel This Way for a Boy.” Against an absolutely gorgeous cello part and supported by Ellen O’Hayer’s heavenly harmonies, to say nothing of the delightful handclaps and the driving bass, Einhorn delivers a sweet song of sexual awakening and self-acceptance, culminating with the Smiths-y question of “now, is that so wrong?”

The band is deceptively dark on the playful and zippy “Aspidistra,” which chronicles Einhorn’s past drug use, and they delve further into the autobiographical with “Then and Not a Moment Before,” during which Einhorn bitterly lays into an absent father to a degree that seems unbearably intimate (indeed, the details are so precise that one naturally concludes it is based in fact), which makes the slippery lap steel and bright horns all the more welcome.   

“Pins and Needles” ruefully documents sudden onset maturity, and Einhorn delivers an almost comically anguished performance on “This World Has No Place for Me,” which sounds like Morrissey backed by the Left Banke. “Obsessions” may be the most insular Scottish indie-pop ripoff ever. The song starts like a Leonard Cohen pastiche – much like Camera Obscura’s “Your Picture” – before transforming into a more standard bit of Belle and Sebastian homage, complete with Murdochian lyrics like “I’ve been hiding out at home, white-ing out the Bible” (which is an activity that doesn’t even make sense, by the way).   

O’Hayer gets three showcases. One is the photo album review of “Broken Front Teeth” (a song she co-wrote) on which her vocals rest on arpeggiated acoustic guitar (and ultimately some accordion), somewhat reminiscent of “Back to the Old House.” She also takes charge on “In Hospital,” a piano ballad about grief that incorporates some ghostly harmonic drones (which brings to mind the Smiths’ “Asleep”). Finally, she receives more robust orchestral support on “Everything You Paid For,” which is a lovely and sympathetic message to a beleaguered friend (though it ends with some unusual tape manipulation that is jarringly out of place).

The liner notes are a god-awful mess, often blurring the line between pretentious and guileless as evidenced by explicit nods to novelist/memoirist Dave Eggers and outsider artist Harvey Pekar (“for what they do”), as well as David Sedaris, autotune, Lexapro, and vegetarians.

More relevantly, the musicians include the departed duo of Kerstein and Sam Koentopp, as well as Sally Timms (Mekons) and vocalists Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan (both Neko Case collaborators). Other indie luminaries mentioned (but not as contributors) are Ben Gibbard and John Roderick (the Long Winters).

The Best Thing About This Album

The melody, arrangement, and pure joy that comes through on “I Never Thought I Could Feel This Way for a Boy” is magical.

Release Date

October, 2007

The Cover Art

Solid-to-very-good. I would have preferred the shot without people in it, but I like the monochrome blue-grey scheme, and the almost see-thru font.

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