Gentlemen Hall was the winner of Billboard's Battle of the Bands competition, and was featured in an online Microsoft commercial for their song "Gravity Will Break Our Bones".
For a group of musicians with only one record to their name, Gentlemen Hall have amassed an impressive list of honors: MTV VMA for “Best Breakout Boston Artist” (2009), Boston Phoenix’s “Best New Local Act” (2010), a Billboard Battle of the Bands win in 2011, and, perhaps most importantly, the Gentlemen Hall Smoothie created by the tastemakers at Ben and Jerry’s. All six members are alumni of the Berklee College of Music. The band is probably still in the adolescent period, roughly four years in the making, yet the boys’ mature approach to songcraft is obvious even to a layman’s ear (no doubt thanks to topnotch schooling).
Their debut EP, When We All Disappear, is 20 minutes of fine-tuned indie synth pop, with nary a musical misstep or random ugly blemish. Vocals are spot-on and soaring and Jacob Michael has an agreeable tone that suits each instrumental flourish; Sure, the lyrics are a bit pedestrian (“The way she touched I was taken over / A love so good I was never sober”), but the final product is so polished one could peer into every song and see his own likeness peering back. A revealing metaphor for pop music in general: successful pop music mirrors the fundamental need to feel good in a wholly primal way, like a big stupid smile that appears out of nowhere. Lyrics matter little when the intent is to get hooked on a feeling, so to speak. When We All Disappear substantiates our basic impulses—to love, to dance, to lose ourselves in silly, reckless abandon—and by the end, that little spot behind your rib cage reserved for simple joys is, well, pretty damn jubilant.
Of course, you can’t call yourself a true Gentlemen Hall fan unless you’ve experienced a live performance. The band played selections from their EP, including “Gravity Will Break Our Bones,” a major melodic anthem sure to get the arms up faster than you can shout “raise the roof for Jesus!”; “All Our Love,” featuring a tight beat that drifts into a slow, stomping chorus; the funky “Blush,” that has Michael singing in a sort of pleading falsetto (if pleading was sexy); a cover of Metric’s “Help I’m Alive”; plus a few unreleased tracks and lots of flute action. At one point I imagined flautist Seth Hachen leading the crowd onto the streets of Minneapolis as some sort of modern interpretation of the Pied Piper; sadly, that never happened.
What happened instead was an hour-long attempt to not focus entirely on Michael, who proved himself a force to be reckoned with on stage, displaying the kind of physical zeal usually reserved for the beginning of tour not the end (also displaying the aforementioned tightest, reddest pants in all the land). That being said, on songs like “All Our Love,” with Gavin Merlot on lead vocals, I was reminded of how every element of this group—be it person or instrument—seems necessary and deliberate; they may produce intricate, swelling sounds but even live the result doesn’t read as excessive. An obvious statement, maybe, but when the number of bodies on payroll increases sometimes it comes across solely as an excuse to exploit odd instruments (is the hurdy gurdy really vital, Arcade Fire?).
As a final thought, I’d like to mention how refreshing it is to support a band that legitimately adores their fans. Gentlemen Hall performed an incredible set to an average-sized weeknight crowd and it was probably equally incredible as any other performance they’ve had, based on the smiles and hugs and steadfast Tweeting post-show. In an age of weird ironic detachment from our top indie artists, it’s just really charming to see this level of cheer and hopefully it remains after they sign to a label.
Gentlemen Hall is Gavin Merlot (vocals, guitar), Jacob Michael aka Cobi Mike (vocals, guitar), Ro Richard (bass), Bradford Alderman (synth), Phil Boucher (drums/percussion, glock), and Seth Hachen (flute, piccolo). The band just wrapped up an abbreviated U.S. tour, but be sure to check out their website and Facebook page for upcoming show info. When We All Disappear is also available for free (with a little guerilla-style promotion on your part).
Gentlemen Hall at 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis (04/18/12)