Jannis Noya Makrigiannis gets lost in the clouds on his third album as Choir of Young Believers.
Though Jannis Noya Makrigiannis fronts a band called Choir of Young Believers, he could put up a fight with any full choir on the strength of his angelic pipes alone. No matter the stylistic variations Choir of Young Believers undergo, Makrigiannis's vocals always soar, often forming lush layers of multi-tracked harmonies. This Choir has seen many supporting players over the years, but Makrigiannis remains the sole steady member, a multivoiced choir of one.
Makrigiannis' role as a singer is quite important for Grasque, the third Choir of Young Believers record. Grasque follows 2012's Rhine Gold, a fine outing that melds together prog, pop, and psychedelic stylistics. From the motorik of "Paralyse" to the Fleetwood Mac-esque "Paint New Horrors", Rhine Gold is a compelling listen. It evinces Makrigiannis' ability to meld together pop smarts (check that catchy, retro chorus on "Paint New Horrors") with quirky sonic dalliances (such as the vaguely Eastern riff on lead single "Patricia's Thirst"). Despite being a noteworthy record, Rhine Gold slipped under the radar critically and commercially, even though it offers a great deal for a variety of listeners. The gorgeous existential ballad "Have I Ever Truly Been Here" out-Bon Ivers most other forlorn white dudes with guitars in recent years.
Grasque carries with it some of Rhine Gold's sonic maneuvers. The moody disco tune "Serious Lover" plays with avant-pop rather like "Patricia's Thirst" does. Makrigiannis also continues exploring the range of his eclectic tastes. However, whereas Rhine Gold feels camped out in the '70s, Grasque treads into the '80s -- see the cheesy Casio-style synths on "Cloud Nine" and the pad synths on "Perfect Estocada". Hell, Makrigiannis even gets as close as he probably ever will to writing a radio-friendly power ballad with "Face Melting", a song that would have worked were it not for the obtrusive and distracting "Come ons" that pepper it. To be sure, Grasque makes it clear that Makrigiannis hasn't lost any of his desire to experiment, and that's commendable to an extent. Some of these compositions work rather well, particularly the title track, which begins with a tense electronic pulse that brings the Haxan Cloak's Excavation to mind.
Ultimately, the biggest folly of Grasque is that it gets far too lost in dreamy soundscapes, leaving the instances where more visceral technique has the chance to grab the listener by the wayside. It's easy to understand why Makrigiannis thought up these compositions: the dreaminess does suit his dreamy voice. But even a singer as talented as Makrigiannis isn't immune to the risk of becoming sonically monochromatic, which is where Grasque ends up pretty quickly. Furthermore, it doesn't help that the album runs a little long – just shy of an hour – and as a result, all the intricately plotted layers of these songs meld into one soup of vocal harmonies and synthesizers. Four of these 12 tracks are short pieces that never run longer than two minutes (one, "Salvatore", only runs 54 seconds), but because they feel so insubstantial, they are the quickest to disappear in the ethereal fog. Grasque's anchor is Makrigiannis, but as stunning as his voice is, it's given too much heavy lifting to do here.
All of this is not to say that Choir of Young Believers are beholden to the template set up by releases like Rhine Gold -- far from it. Rather, Grasque's biggest missteps come when it fails to strike the balances that Makrigiannis has skillfully executed in the past: the wispy with the visceral, the esoteric and the catchy. In fleeting moments Grasque offers glimpses into Makrigiannis's inventive musical mind, but too often it gets stuck wandering up in the clouds. The view is pretty up there, but the risk of running out of oxygen increases the longer you stay.