Washington, D.C., duo GEMS makes existential confusion and romantic desperation unusually sensual and alluring on its assured full-length debut. Singer Lindsay Pitts and multi-instrumentalist Clifford John Usher deepen their sound after 2013’s “Medusa” EP with these haunted, hushed songs, featuring melancholic vocals and carefully crafted musical tapestries influenced by Cocteau Twins and trip-hop. Less visceral than Beach House and more rhythmic than Trespassers William, GEMS creates its own distinct shade of contemporary dream-pop. Usher’s angular guitar work and layers of synths provide a luxuriously designed sonic backdrop for Pitts’s doomed romanticism. In these distressed songs, hearts are “black and cold” and anesthetized lovers search for salvation while waiting to “feel alive.” This fetishized heartbreak becomes numbing and obvious at times (“Killing time/ or is it time killing me?”), but Pitts’s fragile, understated vocals give the lyrics dimension and soul. “Soak,” a striking duet between the duo examining love’s collateral damage, most clearly defines the aesthetic. The question for them going forward, though, is what comes after the pain?
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