When listening to Denmark’s Choir of Young Believers, it’s hard not to imagine an army of white-clad singers with arms outstretched, their voices raised in holy polyphony—in fact, the Danish group is the brainchild of Jannis Noya Makrigiannis. For years, Jannis moved in the underground circles of the Copenhagen indie scene. In 2006, he moved to the Greek island of Samos and began developing his own solo material. Jannis returned to Copenhagen and, gathering musicians and friends around him, formed Choir of Young Believers, an orchestral-pop project marked by magisterial melodies, dark lyrical concerns, and a healthy dose of cathedral-grade reverb.
The songs on Choir of Young Believers’ 2008 debut album THIS IS FOR THE WHITE IN YOUR EYES mixed modest folk arrangements with ambitious, grandiose indie pop, cooled with a stoic Nordic distance and glowing with an inner light. On their upcoming 2012 album Rhine Gold, Choir expands on their debut in every way. Now a proper band, the collaborative dynamic has imbued their sound with more authority and daring, as Choir inhabits a wholly unique space where intimate folk, classic Krautrock, big-sky Americana, avant-garde composition and bombastic theatricality seamlessly serve the same master.
Copenhagen, Denmark’s Choir of Young Believers has nothing to do with organized religion, but there’s something about their music that could almost work in a place of worship. On their latest album, 2012’s Rhine Gold, the group has put out nine avant-garde compositions marked by spacious arrangements and dark pop melodies. Opening track “The Third Time” begins with quietly atmospheric instrumentals, sounding like the kind of music that might soundtrack a David Lynch film. Jannis Noya Makrigiannis, who is the mastermind behind the group, has vocals that are just as enigmatic--if not more so--as the instrumentation.
Before starting Choir of Young Believers, Makrigiannis was part of the underground Copenhagen music scene, and was in a band called Lake Placid. When the group split in 2006, he moved to the Greek island of Samos (Makrigiannis is part Greek, as well as Indonesian-Danish), where he began to develop solo material. After returning to Copenhagen, he gathered a rotating roster of musician friends to join his Choir of Young Believers, and 2008 saw the release of their debut album, This is For the White in Your Eyes.
Now, Choir of Young Believers has become a full band with the addition of Lasse Herbst (percussion), Sonja Labianca (keys, saxophone), Casper Henning Hansen (drums), Cæcilie Trier (cello, backing vocals), Jakob Millung (bass, lap steel, backing vocals), and Bo Rande (horns, keys, backing vocals). As a collective, with the release of Rhine Gold, they’ve executed Makrigiannis’ original vision of sparse, atmospheric rock painted with rich orchestration. Songs like “Paralyse” (the album’s longest track, at just over ten minutes) meander across different layers of sounds, feeling experimental and exploratory while still maintaining a sense of synth-pop melodies.
In contrast, “Patricia’s Thirst” is the shortest track on the album, coming in at just around two and a half minutes. It’s inspired by the story of Patty Hearst, granddaughter of the infamous tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who was kidnapped (and later brainwashed to join) in the 70s by the American left-wing revolutionary group, the Symbionese Liberation Army. “With a machine gun and legs spread/you let the world know what’s ahead/You’re sleepwalking/while you dream of running,” sings Makrigiannis in his 80s-style croon. While Choir of Young Believers might initially seem pretty experimental, songs like this show that there’s a true sense of pop musicality and range beyond the avant-garde.