Gem Club is a minimalist dream pop band from Somerville, Massachusetts. The duo of Christopher Barnes (piano, vocals) and Kristin Drymala (cello, vocals) formed in late 2009. They later added an additional vocalist Ieva Berberian, but Barnes and Drymala still do all of the heavy lifting.
In February of 2010, they participated in a nationwide music writing challenge that is similar to NaNoWriMo. The RPM Challenge is for musicians to create and record an album in the month of February. And by “album”, they mean “ten songs” or “35 minutes”. They took part in this challenge, writing and recording the Acid and Everything EP. That EP is six songs and 19 minutes, so it didn’t actually meet either of the criteria, but the point is that they put it together from scratch in the month of February 2010. They released it themselves in June of 2010.
People took notice of their EP, and they quickly landed a deal with Hardly Art, which is a Sub Pop Records sub-label that is home to This is That Song alumni The Fresh & Onlys and La Sera. In September of 2011, Gem Club’s full length debut Breakers was released to favorable reviews. After that, they played a lot of shows in support of the album including a stint at CMJ.
I didn’t know about this band until I heard their magnificent Daytrotter session from January of 2012. It features two songs from Acid And Everything and two from Breakers. I highly recommend getting a Daytrotter membership, and I strongly suggest making that session one of your first downloads.
If I had known about this album when it was fresh and new, it would have been one of my top albums of 2011. I only recently got around to buying it, and it’s been in pretty heavy rotation around here.
After I listened to this whole album a couple of times, and especially after I listened to tonight’s song about two dozen times, one of my first thoughts was that it reminded me a bit of the wonderful album Hospice by The Antlers. That album, it’s widely been said, is about a dude who falls in love with a girl who has terminal cancer. It’s not happy, but it’s a remarkable album.
I didn’t really pay attention to the lyrics until I started writing this and I wanted to know if there was any significance in the number 252. I can say with certainty that it’s not about the parts of eastern North Carolina that have a 252 calling area code. But I did discover that it might not be a coincidence that I thought of Hospice when I was listening to Breakers.
First the song:
“252” by Gem Club
After reading the lyrics (and the Daytrotter essay), it seems like this song is also about cancer. Christopher Barnes told DigBoston that it’s specifically about finding out that his sister has cancer.
The cells of this body
Have all lost their memory
Confused by each other
To work out of order
And I hate that they require
The need to be together
How could they go wrong
This terrible anatomy
Will surely get the best of me
From a musical standpoint, it’s beautiful and relaxing. Knowing the context makes it very blue. I still love the song, and I can’t help but play it over and over and over….
I really like that both Barnes and Drymala sing so delicately. Not just on this song, but on every song. It’s part of the calm, soothing bit. It’s actually a bit shocking how delicate the vocals are. I’m amazed by it all.
For extra credit, check out the moving video for the song:
You can purchase a physical copy of Breakers from the Hardly Art web shop here.