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Somerville, Massachusetts, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Somerville, Massachusetts, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Pop Avant-garde




"Coke Machine Glow"

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. - CMG


Christopher Barnes and Kristen Drymala are making a name for themselves with their reflective, autumnal odes to the past. Paints a wistful shadow through ghostly piano and cello, recalling the graceful, sepia disappointments of Perfume Genius. - NME


Christopher Barnes and Kristen Drymala are making a name for themselves with their reflective, autumnal odes to the past. Paints a wistful shadow through ghostly piano and cello, recalling the graceful, sepia disappointments of Perfume Genius. - NME


Christopher Barnes and Kristen Drymala are making a name for themselves with their reflective, autumnal odes to the past. Paints a wistful shadow through ghostly piano and cello, recalling the graceful, sepia disappointments of Perfume Genius. - NME

"Christopher Barnes"

Christopher Barnes [Boston] - The delicate, enchanting vocals of Barnes is what makes these pieces gold coins. Using only low-key piano and hushed vocals, you better not be talking or playing with your cell phone at his shows. There will be hell to pay." - Advance Copy


Somerville, Mass., soft-focus pop duo Gem Club are Christopher Barnes and Kristen Drymala. Together, they create cavernous-sounding piano-based ballads that, despite their earthly trappings, feel truly ethereal, as if they’re being piped in from another planet bereft of gravity.” - Pitchfork

"Delicious Scopitone"

"I couldn’t ever have been a goldsmith, I’m mediocre with arts and crafts. I’m not patient enough nor tactfull with handmade things. I rather work into the coal mound, sweat for hours in the dark, alone, to find out the stone full of gold nugget… The other day, my pick sticked what I thought to be a big stone, one more. And yet, after I cleant it, I found one of the most beautiful gems. The sparkle of Gem Club is so bright, so intense, that I was totally blind then and I had to look away a few moments.” - Delicious Scopitone

"Dead As Digital"

“In each song on Gem Club’s Acid And Everything you can hear a dirge of the silver trails of these past moments. You can see them wrapped and coiled around the stark piano progressions and string arrangements, and guided in the gorgeous lyrics that drift in the verses and choruses. You come to see each of these songs as a lifeboat.” - Dead as Digital

"Tough Love Records"

Gem Club just wrote a sad and simple and beautiful song, and gave it an enigmatic title. And it feels like an antidote.”
- Tough Love Records

"Boy Attractions"

“i’m a little in love with these tunes. they’re simple, melodic, slow pop tunes that typically only feature the sad chords of a piano, strings, and barnes’s haunting vocals.” - Boy Attractions

"No Fear of Pop"

“Somerville’s Gem Club are Christopher Barnes and Kristen Drymala, and they devoted themselves to wonderfully intimate and slow ballads, with a sad voice supported only by a piano, gentle strings and occasionally some subtle noises in the distance - that’s all, but that’s more than enough to create magic that leaves us baffled and spellbound.” - No Fear of Pop

"NPR's First Listen - 'In Roses' LP"

Roses are beautiful and alluring, but they're often seen in the saddest of settings: hospitals, funerals. The music of Gem Club is a bit like that, mixing beauty and melancholy. One makes you appreciate the other, so it's a dynamic that works perfectly on the band's second album, appropriately titled In Roses.

Built around piano, cello and voice, Gem Club got its start a few years ago in Boston. The main voice and author of the group's woe and splendor is Christopher Barnes, who sets the tone alongside cellist Kristen Drymala and singer Ieva Berberian; together, they made some of my favorite music of 2011 on their debut full-length Breakers.

While Gem Club primarily recorded Breakers in Barnes' bedroom studio, this time they traveled to San Francisco to lay down tracks in John Vanderslice's all-analog Tiny Telephone studios. Barnes worked closely with Minna Choi, a string arranger and music director for the Magik*Magik Orchestra, the studio's de facto house band. Together, Barnes and Choi helped discover new intricacies in this music, which sounds more resplendent with more ambient passages. The voices and cello are woven together perfectly.

Gem Club's first record was a perfect late-night soundtrack, and In Roses is its perfectly elegant sequel. It'll be a close companion for thoughtful, beautiful times in 2014. - NPR


Acid and Everything (2010) - Self Released
Breakers (2011) - Hardly Art



There are times when beauty and sadness are inextricably linked. Massachusetts-based Gem Club understands this fragile symmetry. The band—singer/pianist Christopher Barnes and his collaborators, cellist Kristen Drymala and vocalist Ieva Berberian—create music that is intimate, graceful, and filled with melancholy. Their second album, In Roses, will arrive January 2014 from Hardly Art.

In 2009, Gem Club’s primary songwriter Christopher Barnes began playing local solo shows. The enthusiastic reception led him to bring Drymala and Berberian into the fold, and the six-song Acid and Everything EP was self-released the following year. Breakers, their subsequent full-length, paired plaintive piano melodies with impressionistic lyrics. Made primarily in Barnes’s bedroom, the album displayed how music, even at its most minimal and hushed, could be cathartic, even transcendent.

For the new In Roses, Gem Club have ventured beyond the isolation of the bedroom to record in San Francisco at John Vanderslice’s analog studio Tiny Telephone. Barnes worked closely with arranger and conductor Minna Choi of The Magik*Magik Orchestra, who, Barnes says, “helped reshape the new songs in fresh and unimagined ways,” The resulting album is more expansive, more majestic, than prior Gem Club releases. There are spacious, grand flourishes—the church-choir voices on “Idea for Strings”; the reverberating drumbeats that propel the melody of “Braid”—yet the music retains the intimacy of previous works.

Because In Roses is an album of haunting piano songs, it might seem felicitous to the listener that Christopher Barnes once lived in a disused Boston piano factory. Nights, from behind neighboring doors, he could hear strangers fighting, throwing loud parties, even shooting scenes for porn films. While life exploded around him, Barnes retreated, “trying to re-create these landscapes with music.” But he is quick to note that In Roses takes a different approach to the landscapes of the world than before. “Whereas Breakers was more about the body and inward-gazing, the new album is about me looking out on relationships I’ve had or wish I’ve had.” Many lyrics address “the crashing realization that lives are no longer happening the way we want.” Other songs are elegies for those Barnes has idolized or loved, but has lost: “Soft Season” is inspired by the life and death of early-90s gay adult film actor Joey Stefano (“I’m a boy on my back,” Barnes sings, “and I’m more of a man”); the harrowing closer “Polly” is a song he wrote about his relationship with his late aunt.

Beauty and Sadness is the title of a 1964 novel by the late Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata, but the name could also serve to describe the music of Gem Club.  During one scene of the book, Kawabata writes, “He heard a sound that only a magnificent old bell could produce, a sound that seemed to roar forth with all the latent power of a distant world.” With In Roses, the beautiful and sad sounds of Gem Club come roaring forth with increasing power.

--Scott Heim

Band Members