The Choir, Bloodshot, (Galaxy21)
GRAMMY®-nominated indie rockers’ 17th studio album
The Choir continue to explore and reveal, whether crafting adventurous new sonic textures or shining a light into shadowy corners of the heart. With Bloodshot, the Nashville-based alternative rockers push at the borders of their spacefaring sound while uncovering intimate truths, compelling generations of fans to return and relate.
“We launched this album alongside the reissue of [1989’s] Wide Eyed Wonder,” says drummer and lyricist Steve Hindalong. “That album was about the innocence of a newborn baby. Contrast that with Bloodshot, which is about us in our 50s. We’re weathered and world-weary, and we’re certainly not innocent. But we still see beauty in life through bloodshot eyes.”
Hindalong continues a pattern of unflinching personal revelations through his lyrics, and Bloodshot collects perhaps his riskiest statements ever. The joyful highs and tearful lows of marital life have been chronicled in past songs like “Sentimental Song” and “Sad Face.” At Bloodshot’s core is a story of brokenness and rebuilding.
The 34-year marriage fans had glimpsed through the prism of Hindalong’s lyrics has ended, and the writer appraises emotional damage both inflicted and sustained. “Only Reasons,” “Birds, Bewildered,” and “House of Blues” speak to the unraveling of a relationship that both partners expected to weather all storms. At the songs’ root is a commitment to extend mercy to loved ones in turbulent times, and to rise from disappointment with grace and integrity.
“This record is the most bruising we’ve made,” says guitarist and singer Derri Daugherty, who had witnessed the tumult. “I knew how hurt he was and how hurt she was that they couldn’t make it work. Once Steve started sending me lyrics, I thought, ‘Wow, this is really going deep.’”
The band wrestled with inclusion of certain songs that were close to the bone, but ultimately clung to its devotion to honesty. “I couldn’t be in the room when Derri sang ‘House of Blues,’ but I don’t know what else to do other than write about what I’m feeling,” says Hindalong. “At some point, I said, ‘I’ll risk it. It’s true.’”
Despite its unmistakable shadow side, Bloodshot also offers light. Songs like “Summer Rain,” “We’ve Got the Moon,” and “Magic” point toward the buoyant optimism of new beginnings. Humor is evident as well. Hindalong takes lead vocal for “The Way You Always Are,” a comical but pointed pot-shot at a wayward brother.
Daugherty continues a lifelong exploration of sound. The ping-pong pulse of “Californians on Ice” recalls 80s trendsetters The Church. The band referenced Beck’s Morning Phase while recording “Bloodshot,” and Teenage Fanclub during “The Dizzy Wounded.” Other songs allude to the sparkle of Cocteau Twins, or the steady simplicity of Tom Petty. “Derri really brought his A-game,” says Hindalong, praising his old friend. “The Choir is about melodic guitars, and no one is better than him.”
Stately string arrangements by Sixpence None the Richer veteran Matt Slocum join Daugherty’s chiming guitars during “Birds, Bewildered,” suggesting the lush and clattering sound of Echo & the Bunnymen favorites like “The Killing Moon.” “I love how everyone came together on that song,” says Daugherty. “It’s a little bit like a ‘70s Gus Dudgeon production with Elton John, some ‘80s vibe like Echo, and something more modern and exotic like Sigur Rós.”
Daugherty’s clear tenor remains captivating and sweet. His supple vocal takes flight on key track “The Time Has Come.” The singer nods to Beatle George Harrison’s Abbey Road masterpiece “Here Comes the Sun.” The song itself finds the Choir at its evocative best, describing fractured spirits reaching for redemption. Cinematic and spirit-centered imagery are given life by one of Daugherty’s finest performances. “That’s a spectacular vocal,” says Hindalong. “He really got inside the song and felt those things. ‘Mercy on you, mercy on me,’ has been our message all along. That song is a summation of our career, and Derri made it shine.”
Veteran Choir bassist Tim Chandler continues to anchor the band as mad foil to Hindalong’s perfectly skewed fills and rhythms. Chandler’s convention-bucking arrangements meet at the intersection of the Who’s unfettered fury, the Beatles’ melodicism, and XTC’s craft and finesse.
The sonic identity of the Choir is heightened by reeds player Dan Michaels. His tenor saxophone on songs like “Only Reasons” traces to new wave heroes Psychedelic Furs, while the baritone sax on “Californians on Ice” points toward groundbreaking ‘90s trio Morphine. Michaels distinguishes his own influential presence on the lyricon, an electronic wind controller used to create spacious synthesizer textures on “The Dizzy Wounded.”
When asked what sets the Choir apart, Michaels describes an intense and symbiotic relationship with its audience. “Ultimately, we cast our net deeper than wide,” he says. Support extends beyond buying albums and tickets. While making Bloodshot, the Choir broke the fourth wall to allow eight fans to actually perform on the album. “It’s a testament to mutual trust with our fans that we can bring them this closely into our process,” says Michaels, proudly. “They were really good contributions, too,” says Hindalong. “It was risky, but successful.”
The band has kept a busy schedule of touring and side projects. Since the release of 2014’s Shadow Weaver, the Choir has toured North America three times and traveled through Europe. Hindalong released his solo album The Warbler in 2016, and Daugherty releases The Color of Dreams in June. Both records stoked the creative fires that produced Bloodshot, and the Choir is eager to travel with its new songs this year.
– Jeff Elbel, May 13, 2018