Scotland Yard Gospel Choir: Scotland Yard Gospel Choir

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir grips the past by the throat, stares it right in the eye and delivers an album that listens like a gorgeous exhale of exorcizing songwriting.

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir

Label: Bloodshot
US Release Date: 2007-10-23
UK Release Date: 2007-10-23

Chicago’s Scotland Yard Gospel Choir self-titled album is impressive and overwhelmingly inspiring. The sophomore release teams with reasons why there was so much anticipation surrounding the chamber pop collective’s emergence beyond the confines of the Windy City a few years back. And in just nine songs that collectively jar, heal and inspire, front man Elia and company convey a depth of emotion in song and lyric that answers questions about the band’s future but still keeps you guessing.

Lead singer/songwriter Elia finds his lyrical strength in the awkwardness that most people avoid, especially in a public setting. And it’s in that arena of bold vulnerability where this album lies and sparkles with a blue-tinted melancholy. It’s a mix of brutally candid and confessional storytelling filled with myriad moments of swelling strings and layers of keys that surgically open your heart, allowing the blood-soaked lyrics to pour right in.

Each song is a raw emotional chronicle of how far Elia has come over the last few years, personally and professionally, as he has successfully kept Scotland Yard Gospel Choir from becoming just a memory on the Chicago music map. At the height of its growing popularity buzz in 2003, which included shows with The Arcade Fire and Spoon, co-songwriter Matt Kerstein left to pursue his own musical aspirations, leaving local fans and acclaiming critics wondering if the Choir would continue without Kerstein. Between then and now Elia worked to have various songs placed in Fox TV’s the OC and in independent films while he and cellist/vocalist Ellen O’Hayer continued to play live shows with an ever-changing supporting cast of local musicians.

Without a doubt, this sophomore album retains the best of what Elia brought to the first record I Bet You Say That to All the Boys. His Belle and Sebastian inspirations have evolved and he’s refined the band’s frantic orchestra-pop style, paring it down to his preferred structure of short two minute pop song sprints comprised of heavy and personal revelations about his struggles with drug addiction, relational fallout and death. These brief bursts of song are riddled with gorgeous and crafty hooks and combined with upbeat acoustic guitar-based melodies that find their beauty when they violently thrust against and contrasted with the sparse and jarring lyrics. One thing’s for sure, listening to this album and looking back at the first album track-to-track, shows clearly that Kerstein’s departure was inevitable as the two songwriters were being led in two very different stylistic directions. Kerstein leaned more towards the slow building climatic swoon versus Elia’s frantic charge forward.

Pulling from his Hemingway inspirations, there’s little wasting of words and a vivid cathartic frankness. Welsh-born Elia makes every lyric a precise injection that lingers underneath the emotional epidermis. He’s candid about his past drug dealing ways in the melodically upbeat come-cleaner “Apisrtada” “I used to buy drugs down at aspidistra/I used to buy drugs, I knew all the police by first name/how are the wife and kids/just hanging out no need to run me” And like many of the songs, a few verses later he unashamedly sings how he’s it at peace with himself about the past. “..It was to many run-ins, to much running away/ and if you ask my now I’d say/I’m not sorry for…buying drugs down at aspidistra.” Opening his heart and mind further, five tracks later, he explores the questioning of his sexual identity in “I Never Thought I Could Feel This Way For a Boy”.

The multi-layered and lush orchestrations of keyboards and horns merged together with the serene and breathy vocals of Ellen O’Hayer on “In Hospital” and “Broken Front Teeth,” demonstrating the progression into a type of songwriting that’s a continuation of her previous contributions, an irresistibly eerie combination that prickle the hairs on the back of your neck as the songs slide along an icy and undeniable mirror of pain and fear.

On their debut recording Elia’s ability to write the spastic pop tune or dip into a slower more melodic ballad is what created the buzz surrounding the band. But it was their high-energy almost chaotic live show fueled by a stage packed with at least eight players all swirling in an orchestra-pop tornado of horns, keyboards and guitars.

Much of that excitement remains but on this release the production intricacies are more subtle, giving the album a developed emotional resonance and cohesiveness that wasn’t as consistent previously, a successful swapping of a bit of the spastic childlike energy for crisper more succinct and mature songwriting. And as the helix of organs and keyboards twist around, wrapping up the final moments of “Everything You Paid For,” there’s no question whether or not the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir has successfully survived a potential extinction and returned with more promise than before.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.