Gem Club

Acid and Everything EP

(Self-released; 2010)

By Kaylen Hann | 8 August 2010

To be drunk on inhaled clouds of late-summer dust motes and flickers of lightening bugs held in ether; to unfocus for a moment stretching itself into hours, before you realize that’s what you’ve done; long expanses of morning transitioning into evening without hiccup—maybe a muted laugh of a girl a few neighborhoods away; when something as close as an arm’s length, let alone a few neighborhoods away, feels immeasurably distant; to experience all as unobstructed views of heavy, humid sky—an unfocused gaze through fog, a hazy stare through a moving crowd or down long halls: what sounds so harsh and sharp-ended, and, well, acidic, Acid and Everything is a tragically misleading title for what is a beautifully rendered, soft-focus EP.

Acid and Everything is not that at all, just sparse piano ballads featuring only Christopher Barnes, using his perpetually murmured, half-defeated vocals, and Kristen Drymala’s clear bars of cello interspersed with a few, carefully distributed chimes and layering whispers. It begins with what is maybe on other albums a superfluous gesture or nod to something experimental, ambient. “[Birds],” is exactly so: a recording of birds and the shuffle of leaves with a woodblock knocking far away and a few, bright chimes pricking through. However, it does create a much-needed, bare space for the weight of piano and humidity that descends immediately afterwards, fallen like one of these sudden summer storms: full-bodied, heavy clouds over humid air, with rain or heat-lightning slicing clean through.

Instantly, it happens, from the first pressure of piano chords and vocals in “Flax”: introspection; disembodiment. Everyone around you will turn, from the first notes, to hazy apparitions held down solely by the weight of your thoughts, which can’t help but collect around them. “Flax” creates a watchful, haunting static around everything. And amazingly enough, it’s an atmosphere Barnes and Drymala manage to maintain, compellingly, song by song.

Eschewing any anchor but the occasional weight of a thought or cello, the EP is perpetually unhinging from hustle or extroversion. If anything moves it is carried by something as minute and soft-handed as “breeze” or “drift.” Elements intentionally wade, hover, murmur, or move in clean lines and etch the soundscape in string incisions. Meanwhile the people Barnes sings about—“Margaret,” even “You,” like characters in a Chagall—are suspended with the stars in expanding purple skies that seem to flood in and occupy even the smallest of bedrooms.

Wherever you are or wherever you feel deposited after the few following tracks, Gem Club have established a certainty over everything you experience in the interim. In their sound, which invokes a less climactic, less epic Sigur Rós or the more ethereal moments of Gary Jules’ “Mad World,” this particular atmosphere blooms, acquires the most subtle shifts of levity, but all in all doesn’t budge. Five seconds from any song on this EP could be five seconds from any other song on it. And that is fine, they are perfectly fine where they exist: where the simplest lurches of voice or the most sparing movement of chimes expand in your mind like the most involved daydreams—or, in the instance of “Animals” (a distant and engrossing way of watching people at a wedding party or in a musty church basement), dance at a pace that feels like it’s from another universe, a universe you’re surprised to find yourself still tethered to.

There aren’t many of them, but all elements in Gem Club create this same beautiful motion in repose, in slow-motion. And everything around you can’t help but go soft and start flickering like a slide show, a home movie projection you can’t take your eyes off. And that is fine, that is perfectly fine.