Artist: Booley House 
Label: Contraflow 

One of the better known "Christian bands" in the UK is dba, formerly 65dBA and formerly fronted by Peter Wilson, who is now one of the lead vocalists with Booley House. The band has made a good start in Northern Ireland, where it is based, with a single from this album, "Time Is Right," gaining the "Best Song For Peace" award from the Northern Ireland Songwriter's and Composer's Guild. 

As with dba, keyboards play an important part in the Booley House sound, but the two groups are really very different. This album brings in guitars of both the acoustic and the electric variety, along with various electronic instruments, to make for a strong "pop" sound. The first track, "Time is Right," builds from a bubbly keyboard sound to a more vocal-oriented one, with finger-picked acoustic guitar and programmed beat underneath. This song takes an interesting look at the situation in Northern Ireland by examining the feelings of two young people, one on either side of the unionist/nationalist divide, who feel connected with their group but don't really understand the root of the divisions. The lyrics progress from this on to a message of hope.  Peter Wilson sings from the unionist side in English, and guest vocalist Cristiona Nic Shearraith (aka Tina McSherry - singer with another Balfast group, Tamalin) sings the nationalist side in Gaelic, providing a good contrast: 

    So unfurl the flag of hope 
    And write peace upon the wall 
    For if we go back 
    We have nothing at all
 That track isn't the only one to feature a guest vocalist; Joanne Hogg of Iona pops up on two tracks, and Barry Bynum and Ellen Weir provide backing vocals in places.  Along with these players, the main line-up of Andrew Mitchell (guitars), Matt Wanstall (keyboards and programming) and Peter Wilson (vocals and keyboards) are joined by a number of musicians playing everything from bass and chapman stick to flugelhorn. 
Further tracks expand the range of sounds.  "Take Me In," the first collaboration with Joanne Hogg, has a broad sound which has been likened to Clannad, while further tracks bring in a variety of rock and electronic influences.  "Chloroform" is largely made up of ambient keyboards with guitar feedback swimming underneath, until the chorus pulls the guitar forward for a more up-front approach. The song seems to be an attack on the escapism of the drug-culture:  
    Chloroform, breathe it in and close your eyes 
    Chloroform don't resist or be surprised now 
    Chloroform, breathe it in and close your eyes 
    Chloroform don't resist or be surprised 
    If there's nothing that you want, there's plenty there for you  
    If the truth is too strong the needle will get you through. 
    Oblivion is sweet, it's shutting out the world
More clearly at the dance/electronica end of things is "Pearl," the second track to feature Joanne Hogg, this time adding 'vocal effects' to an instrumental track.  The beat comes in and out over Matt Wanstall's keyboards, and this song is sure to be a hit with any "ambient" fans who come across it. 

This album definitely fits into the broad category of 'pop' and does so very well. There are a variety of obvious yet diverse influences, but the band has managed to forge a distinctive sound for itself.  There is room for improvement (particularly in the production department), but this is a strong pop debut.-----James Stewart