Album Review: Chapel Club – Palace

By on Wednesday, 5th January 2011 at 12:00 pm
 

When the Beatles gathered their famous friends and performed ‘All You Need is Love’ on the first-ever live satellite hook-up in 1967, the world knew something special was happening. Chapel Club from Dalston, London, have certainly set their sights high for their debut effort, decorating their album cover to look like that famous event back in the ‘60s. However, don’t judge a book by its cover, as this is not a psychedelic, trippy-dippy album, except if you consider the ephemeral backing harmonies that are peppered in on occasion. ‘Palace’, the name of the album and a former band moniker pre-Chapel Club, is instead filled with shoegazey guitars, driving drums, and the lyrical – sometimes religious, but always evocative – waxings of their frontman, Lewis Bowman.

By now, I’m sure you’re familiar with their first two singles, ‘Oh Maybe I’ and ‘All the Eastern Girls’. I approached the former with little interest, because it seemed to just plod along forever. The drumming and bass is great, I’m also not too keen on the repetitive lyrics and maybe I’m reading into it, but I’m not keen on the overuse of “darling” in what sounds a condescending way. Not knowing anything about the band except that they were from London, I thought their post-punk sound was reminiscent – too reminiscent – of BBC Sound of 2009 runner-up White Lies. To my relief, they proved they were different with ‘All the Eastern Girls’ – sultry verses, appealing guitars, and a foot-stomping chorus. (I am very curious how well White Lies’ sophomore album ‘Ritual’ going to do on the charts and in the shops, being released into the wild only 2 weeks prior to ‘Palace’.)

The band recently released the video for the single ‘Surfacing’ (released on 24 January, a week before ‘Palace’). The song features droning guitars and Bowman’s disaffected vocals, but it’s interesting to note that the band decided to use a Southern-style congregation of Bible thumpers as the basis for the video, because before I had seen it and had only known the song from hearing it on the radio, I was thinking how much Bowman’s voice sounded country, like Johnny Cash’s. This is a good clue, just two tracks in, that this is an album that will surprise you. I’m no Bible scholar so I can’t tell you how deep this stuff is (snakes abound in the album’s lyrics, not just in the ‘Surfacing’ video), but I do get the sense that Chapel Club is not about pretension. ‘Five Trees’ and ‘The Shore’ are more winners: driving melody with a regretful, swooning vocal.

The ‘jewel in the rough’ of this collection is the deceptively simply-named ‘Blind’. Bowman shows his deft hand in the effective use of metaphor: “we fell together like an accident / two lives colliding like continents / there would be mountains between us in time”, this is handily the best comparison of a love affair gone sour to continental drift ever made in popular song. I don’t want to spoil it for you by describing it to you further, as ‘Palace’ is definitely a case where you definitely need to buy and enjoy the whole album, not picking and choosing singles on mp3.

There is something very sweet in Bowman’s voice, almost avuncular and familiar, that draws you in. In ‘Paper Thin’, the band takes drums and guitars to make a life-affirming track, exactly in the way you don’t expect post-punk to be. And that’s the point of this album review – if, like me, you thought Chapel Club was just another White Lies and could be readily dismissed, think again. Get this album and prepare to be spellbound.

9/10

‘Palace’ will be released on 31 January 2011 on Polydor. You can pre-order the album itself and/or a special 2 CD set with the added ‘Wintering’ EP from Play.com.

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2 Responses

7:46 pm
6th January 2011

Thanks for recommending! Excellent review, btw. Checked them out on youtube and am impressed. Pre-ordering.

[…] whence we first knew them through their stunning 2011 debut album ‘Palace’, which featured strong singles ‘Oh Maybe I’ and ‘All the Eastern Girls’, […]

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