Having played with the likes of Spoon and Arcade Fire and having overtly emulated Belle and Sebastian, the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir seems to be etching itself a niche that straddles the worlds of Top 50 indie and ironic orch-pop. But the influence of Stuart Murdoch — in soft-focused, monochromic album covers; in blithe homoeroticism, in such song titles as “I Never Thought I Could Feel This Way for a Boy”; in blatant invocation of Scotland in the semi-pretentious (given that the band is from Chicago) moniker — is undeniable, and it’s often overwhelming. And it’s largely to blame for the band’s music being entertaining yet entirely conventional indie pop.
On this self-titled release, we are reintroduced to Welsh-born Elia Einhorn and his fifty-member-plus band after their 2004 debut, I Bet You Say That to All the Boys, with a commendable assortment of songs that demonstrates a breadth of subject matter. Opener “Aspidistra,” about reckless drug-fueled youth, is delivered with upbeat guitar pulses and hand-clapping. Questionably following suit is “This World Has No Place for Me,” with its stale metaphors such as “Every grain of sand and every leaf on every tree has its place in this world/ But this world, it has no place for me.” That song’s moral anchoring — the line “I feel my creator and the strength I have within” — is juxtaposed with the blasphemous “I’ve been hiding out at home/ Whiting-out the Bible” on “Obsessions.” From then on, uncomplicated twee-pop hooks combine with hand-clapping and wispy vocals.
The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir has promise: The most damning need for it is to move away from the Belle and Sebastian simulations. The band members declare how the world has no place for them, but they might just be “another horse on a merry-go-round.”