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First Listen: Gem Club, 'In Roses'

Gem Club's <em>In Roses</em> comes out Jan. 28.
Tonje Thilesen
Courtesy of the artist
Gem Club's In Roses comes out Jan. 28.

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.

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In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.