The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir
…and the horse you rode in on
Label: Bloodshot Records
The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir does not sing gospel music. The band doesn’t even remotely resemble a choir. Hell, its members aren’t even British. They are, however, the most miserable, spiteful bunch of sad sacks to crawl from the depths of indie music since, well, ever. To put it mildly, … and the horse you rode in on, the Chicago-based band’s third full length album, makes the Smiths at their most morose sound like the Jonas Brothers. Perhaps I’m just an emotionally crippled bastard myself, but I like this record anyway.
Conceived by singer-songwriter Elia (formerly Elia Einhorn) after an ugly split with his girlfriend “sparked a breakup with the world at large,” …and the horse you rode in on features 14 of the most hateful songs you’ll ever hear (15 if you count the 13-second nursery rhyme opener, in which a giggling little girl chants, “I hate you/ I hate you/ You go together like a horse and shoe“). Harsh words, I know. The album officially begins with the declarative “Stop!” which foreshadows the bitterness to come. And is there ever bitterness: heartfelt sentiments like “I hope you get syphilis/ And die alone” and “Christ, I should throw you/ In front of some runaway train/ Because I gave you my heart/ And you threw it away” dominate the record. On “Something’s Happening,” an up-tempo, catchy chorus features the forlorn frontman repeating, “Oh my God/ My life is so fucked up” and lying in bed a la Brian Wilson in a state of manic depressive anguish. The theme of weakness and resignation in the face of adversity continues with the borderline pathetic “I Pretend She’s You” and the pitiable cry for help of “Hope is Still on Your Side,” before the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer-to-the-testicles “Libertyville or Somewhere” finds our heartbroken protagonist “with no one who loves me and an STD.” There’s got to be a silver lining, though, right, Elia? No, not really: lonesome holidays, brazen infidelity, sexual frustration and piss-drunk self-loathing run rampant throughout this supremely pessimistic album, without even the most minuscule shred of hope emerging from the ashes of despair.
What saves this album from the doldrums is that there’s something refreshing – in a cynical, twisted way, I admit — about a band that’s still hung up on such grievances as heartache. While other indie artists insist on spoon feeding listeners a steady diet of death, doom and observations so abstract they make early R.E.M albums sound linear in content, The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir’s focus on mere failed romanticism is a welcome – though far from uplifting — alternative. Listeners will appreciate that this band does not rely on screeching vocals or blind, juvenile anger to air its dirty laundry. Even Elia’s pitiful, my-life-is-a-cloak-of-sorrow moaning can be forgiven: though perhaps far from an original concept (nearly everyone can relate to the theme of dejection in the wake of failed romance), and though his words are laced with self-righteous anger and disgust, the vocalist doesn’t come across as a truly malicious individual. He may say that he wants his ex to contract a brain-rotting venereal disease, but we all know that he, like many a freshly spurned lover, would crawl through muck, feces, and a Donovan anthology if his scandalous ex-sweetheart would take him back. Besides, there’s something darkly comical about blunt lyrics like, “Are you deliberately trying to make me sick/ Because you are succeeding magnificently.”
Perhaps … and the horse you rode in on’s most endearing trait is that it showcases a band capable of creating complex and exuberant musical arrangements. Violins, trombones, trumpets and keys accompany the usual lineup of guitars, bass and drums, creating a sound that’s reminiscent of an even more energetic Orange Juice. A double string quartet led by violinist Ethan Adelsman propels “Stop,” while the catchy, up-tempo chorus of “Something’s Happening” provides a sharp contrast to the song’s joyless content. The sexually-charged “One Night Stand” is feverish in rhythm and intensity, while Mary Ralph’s vocals on “Sixteen Is Too Young” reveal a tenderness unseen on the album’s more hardened tracks. The crown jewel is the rollicking “Tear Down the Opera House,” in which Elia’s pent up frustration finally explodes against a backdrop of distorted guitars.
Happiness has a way of destroying an artist’s muse, and before you know it, you’re writing songs for the Shrek soundtrack and being broadcast on Radio Disney. You hate to wish bitter unhappiness upon anyone, but for now, at least, the bleakness that seems to have overtaken Elia’s life is a cruel blessing in disguise for listeners. His utterly downtrodden and malicious shtick may grow tiresome after a while – eventually the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir will have to explore new topical waters to avoid going stale – but for now it works, spawning one of the most creative, contemptuous and darkly entertaining records in recent years.
by Marcus David