Forget the land of the Loch Ness Monster, this choir (which is actually more of a loose, indie-rock-style collective) calls Chicago home. Singer-guitarist-founder Elia isn’t Scottish, he’s Welsh, and there’s nothing terribly choral about his sonic creations. None of that will matter after the first spin of this sometimes stunning, always solid debut disc.
With his main collaborator Ellen O’Hayer riding shotgun on vocals and cello, Elia commands a rotating army of 50 backing musicians, ranging from Bloodshot stalwarts Sally Timms and Kelly Hogan to moonlighting members of Rilo Kiley and the Legendary Shackshakers. His big accomplishment is that the songs never come across as busy, even when the springtime-in-Paris horns are competing with daydream-nation blasts of feedback and panoramic pedal steel.
Of the many big-topic issues tackled here, you won’t find a more devastating rumination on death this year than the O’Hayer-sung piano-ballad “In Hospital”. The fey folk-popper “I Never Thought I Could Feel This Way For A Boy” details the singer’s boundless affection for his fellow man, and the Buzzcocks-brand punk-rawker “Aspidistra” relives his former life as a street-level drug dealer.
Whether Elia is doing his best to upstage Camera Obscura with the pastoral English pop of “Then And Not A Moment Before” or elevating indie art-rock to proggish heights with “Obsessions”, the rest of Scotland Yard Gospel Choir’s album is no less gripping.