Crime in Choir – Gift Givers

Gift Givers - Crime in Choir

Crime in Choir - Gift Givers

Very few albums impress as quickly as Gift Givers, the fourth LP by supergroup Crime in Choir. It’s one of those rare gems that engage you after only a few seconds. The band showcases a remarkable ability to perfectly balance the old and new by combining the ideas and even timbres of influences into a radically inventive stew of colorful, complex sounds. You’ll never know where it’s going even as you can tell where it’s been, and that’s wonderful.

This seven member powerhouse formed in San Francisco in 2000 and consists of members of At The Drive-In, The Fucking Champs, Jonas Reinhardt, and The Mass. They boast a similarity to Faust, Goblin, Magma, Soft Machine and King Crimson, and with good reason. Gift Givers is a magnificent homage to these bands (as well as some others), but it’s not simply a retread of past pinnacles. The album is equally exciting to the current and past generation of prog fans.

Simply put, “Crystal Lake” is one of the most ear grabbing opening tracks I’ve ever heard. It combines a slight glam disco rhythm with the saxophones of Van Der Graaf Generator and the keyboard tone of Camel a la The Snow Goose. There is also the staccato guitar work of Bad Dudes and the frantic energy of The Mars Volta. The tension and momentum create skyrocketing attractiveness, and clearly revs up anticipation for the rest of the disc.

The brief interlude “Fingers Lightly Bowed” juxtaposes spacey synths with weeping guitar, while using the bass to keep order between the two. It never really changes, but as a minute and a half piece between two heavy compositions, it’s not supposed to. It leads into the next track almost seamlessly.

“Fool’s Gold” definitely has an ELP vibe a la “Karn Evil 9” (from Brain Salad Surgery) in its electronic, almost computerized soundscape. Combine that with the jazz fusion, double tracked guitar riffs of Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson, and you have an idea of what’s going on here. Even so, the piece is still vibrant and appealing in that it’s an audio journey never taken before.

The title track (and another intermission) begins slowly, with an electric piano melody overshadowing accompanying synthesizers. The guitars are so distorted that the notes are hard to recognize, but it fits in fine. The middle guitar solo is piercing in tone but played with professional restraint and taste, and is never too loud or obnoxious. Overall, though, the track is a bit bland and dormant, but things quickly pick up afterwards.

“Jealous Dancing Days” is another frenzied opus, as it should be given the pattern of the album so far. The shifting time signatures, masterful horns and dancing keys make it, like all the major tracks, thrilling and admirable. The guitar reprises a catchy melody throughout. It reminds one Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days” (but with a lot more going on) in that it’s a fast moving adventure into the unknown. If performed live, you’d have to applaud at the end.

Next is “Pedal Nervous Sensation.” It appears out of the infinite universe like a looped representation of time travel (think of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s famous closing sequence). It’s a mixture of Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, Ayreon’s Into The Electric Castle and more King Crimson. Both calming and alarming, it’s a great success. It segues into the album closer with subtle brilliance.

If Gift Givers were a conceptual piece, “Round Air Copy” would be a quite the sorrowful climax. Hell, it is anyway. The delayed, ominous opening keyboard notes are like a funeral dirge for humanity. Soon another loop moves the piece along while the keyboard continues to bellows out its cry. Halfway through, the loop changes, and it’s reminiscent of the transitions in Dark Side Of The Moon (though, admittedly, a lot more boring and unmotivated). Things speed up near the end until it’s too fast to comprehend, and it’s over. If the track symbolized the destruction of this dimension, it has finally been obliterated. In all honestly, the track is a bit irritating in that it’s basically one loop for half the track and another for the remainder. It’s too much of a good thing, and more changes (like what we’ve heard on other tracks) would’ve made it better. Still, it’s substantially affective for its limited content.

Crime in Choir manages what few bands of the genre do; simultaneously sounding fresh and vintage without overly emulating anyone. There is an obvious authority of bands like Camel, King Crimson and ELP, but the group also incorporates their various backgrounds with ease. At times it’s a bit too “spacey” and extended (not enough happens within the time span), but those instances are very few. The large majority of Gift Givers is simply extraordinary, and all fans of the genre should own a copy.