Music Reviews

Chapel Club Palace

(Loog) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Since 2009 Chapel Club have been quietly and diligently building a devout following, in the process releasing a string of four strong singles and a free download in the lead-up to this their debut album, Palace. They have had an exceptional record over the past year, indeed five of the tracks that feature on this LP have gained the honour of being Zane Lowe’s ‘Hottest Record in the World Today’ as well a various other plaudits from the likes of Xfm and the NME. All very impressive but it begs a question: on an album of 10 full tracks, you’ve heard and probably paid for half of them, so what is left and is it worth your money? The simple answer is a very qualified yes – although this album is anything but black and white.

After a rather anonymous intro, Palace begins as singles Surfacing and Five Trees sail through, filled with hedonistically vast moods and currents that carry the listener through the opening of the record. Suddenly there’s a new, alien guitar section, you tense in anticipation and Lewis Bowman (front man and lyricist) plunges in to introduce After Flood with a careful weighted line. From here on out – and this is a technical term – they play a blinder; all filled to the brim with exulted choruses over distorted guitars and reverb, a sound that has drawn comparisons with Echo & The Bunnymen and My Bloody Valentine. If there isn’t such an instant ease to the album-tracks, there’s a reason they weren’t singles and very soon songs like White Knight Position and Fine Light do gain the attractive quality of the other more familiar tracks.

It is this immediate, rich aesthetic that is somehow worrying though. On first listen the album passes by all too easily, and there an unmistakable feeling that it may be a little superficial and thin on the ground – the sort of record that will begin to grate with repeated listens.

Contributing to this feeling, lyrically this album is almost exclusively formed of complex metaphor and imagery – the sort of allegories that make grown men cry in despairing confusion. The impression is that the lines do hold some intense emotional message to the person who penned them, but that for the rest of us they are doomed to remain sphinx-faced and inscrutable, and that makes them almost worthless to the listener.

The thing that Bowman does do excellently is to match and weave the tone and interaction of his words with the instruments and melodies, creating an utterly unified sound to the songs. The one shame in this is that he may have sacrificed clarity of meaning in using the lines that fit neatest into the arrangements. Indeed it is where he finds a balance of the two that he produces some of the most resonant moments of the album, for example on the surging epic The Shore its with a cool venom that Bowman levels his accusations “You Liar, you coward, you snake” moulding each word carefully to give the emphasis of his regal drawl.

It’s only after the third or fourth spin that this record fully dispels the fear that it is constrained to the shallow end. While songs including After the Flood and Fine Light open it up to deeper waters, others, like White Knight Position, O maybe I, and the striding beauty of All the Eastern Girls, create the tidal forces to propel it forward. The album ends with the delicate, melodic allure of Paper Thin, if a little lightweight it still finishes the album in fine fashion.

It isn’t the case then that Palace is something too completely of style over substance; but it certainly has style, and its sound is so clear-cut and confidently replicated that at this point a cover of The Killing Moon seems a near certainty of their future careers. For some, I’m sure, that will be a reason to criticise them – but let’s not be so churlish. While flawed, this is still a very worthy record; a majestic realization of the promise shown by Chapel Club over the past two years and one equally suggestive of the what may be to come.