[CD Review] Singer, 'Unhistories' (Drag City)

There's a strand of whatever is left of indie rock that was always too shadowy and unsettled for any kind of easy packaging; something dedicated to taking standard instrumentation and doing things to it that sounded like a constant collapse and wavering, somewhere between stumbling and precision. Its roots were less Velvet Underground than the Godz, its terms ranged from art music to cult act to lo-fi. The group Singer come out of that vein; they're almost traditionalists about it, growing out of a passionate Chicago scene, an agglomeration of performers from groups like Town and Country and U.S. Maple, an afterecho of whatever post-rock was meant to be.

The seven songs on Unhistories sound constantly caught between poles, which is no bad thing. Saying something is a challenging listen is so much press release spinach for the most part—usually it just means something whose mastering level is too loud for the listener. But Singer's work lives up to that level of hyperbole, largely by sounding like a series of collages that are not actually stitched together, but that interweave. A song like “Divining” begins with what appears to be a core melody, only to have a totally different one by its end. High, almost strained voices effortlessly melt into an eerie feedback drone, only to have the singers suddenly reappear; “Party Lessons” is classic rock devolved, inverted, its riffs and pronouncements turned into something non-FM ready.

When I first listened to the album, I'd just been indulging in the perfect theatrical pomposity of Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell, and I couldn't fully deal with Unhistories. A second listen brings out the knotted logic of what they're doing: unsettled listening for dying late-winter nights.

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