The Choir of Young Believers is, for all intents and purposes, 26-year-old Danish singer Jannis Noya Makrigiannis. This is only noteworthy because of what Makrigiannis has been able to accomplish with his debut album, This Is For The White In Your Eyes: an orchestral and ambient sound that borders on Coldplay density but with far more quality and depth to it. However, it’s an effort still fraught with musical growing pains.
It seems as if nowadays every band can pull a few sweeping strings in underneath a mellowed guitar sound and wow listeners with their unique sonic decisions. But with COYB, the goal is to use guitars to heighten and intensify the moody, spooky, and larger-than-life string work, which sweeps in and out of the songs. Despite the elegance, many of the songs are sinister or angst-ridden (“Next Summer” has “I’ll break your heart when next summer starts”). Further enhancing much of the string work is Makrigiannis’ vocals. His comfort zone seems to be the vocals over songs so big that his voice begins to strain and sound beautifully fragile against the open spaces punctuated by wrath-like sounds. But he can hit the high notes and move the music higher and grander, like he does in “Baptized In Gasoline”.
Albums are, in essence, answers to questions. In the same vein, though, they create more questions. One that immediately struck me was this: What can the band do with a simple pop song? I felt the massive overtones, and the miles and miles of gorgeous room to fill with echo and reverb, and this sense of hope, futility, and that everything was beautiful, but everything could change to black. But then I had the sudden realization that the first four tracks (save for the opener “Hollow Talk”, which is a simplistic piano piece that dances along beautifully) had more or less escaped me and essentially left little impact on me individually, other than as a large lump of feelings and sound that I interpreted as a generalization of the entire first half.
But when the album does try something new, this is where the mass of gorgeous symphonies that is tracks 1-3 become truly appreciated. “Action/Reaction” does its best to take the cacophony and cram it into the boundaries of a more top-40-pop arrangement. The fun continues with “Under The Moon” and its homey, echoey piano in the distance. The songs continue some delayed growth with “Why Must It Always Be This Way”. Here, the content and lyrical themes change, shifting to something twangy, lonesome, and regretful, with lines like “Picture yourself with a gun and a bible, staying awake just to see the sun up”.
Despite this, COYB also demonstrates a steep learning curve. Again, an arbitrary question arose: Does being an orchestral heavyweight allow you to skate by on the lyrics? They are well crafted and bright, but as to what substance they have, other than to strike at the nerves of base emotions and concepts, is yet to be seen. Breaking down into a rush of heart-wrenching and light-than-air sounds is pleasing to the ear but makes one ask where the words are coming from in such an onslaught. As well, at the end of “Under The Moon”, the music goes quiet, save for the sounds of what can only be described as a rusty sprinkler. The last minute or so of “Baptized In Gasoline” also transforms into sinister feedback. Both are wholly insubstantial, but when you’re trying to connect an audience to a universal level of pain, love, and discontent, hackneyed tactics are unbecoming of a band potentially innovating the marriage of string work and pop/rock sensibilities. Lastly, just like track one sways in quietly and with great depth, the closer “Yamagata” works with a piano line that fades into nothing. This almost seems meant to quiet the listener down from the sheer force of what they heard. But with nine other mellow, simplistic tracks, this causes the track to have less of a fresh, bookending effort and instead, more of a cheap trick effect at creating some kind of closure. It feels artificial and damaging to the mood of the other songs.
In all, This Is For The White In Your Eyes stands as the beginning of what could be a unique and prosperous career. Now comes the question of what Makrigiannis does with his symphonic sound: Will he let it grow beyond his control, or will he work the sheer size to his hopefully-discerning taste?