Music

Singer: Unhistories

Sean Padilla

Chicago post-rock supergroup releases a debut album that sounds like all of their previous bands at once...which isn't necessarily a good thing.


Singer

Unhistories

Label: Drag City
US Release Date: 2008-03-25
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

It's almost impossible to enjoy Chicago post-rock supergroup Singer's music without knowledge of the band's collective pedigree. Guitarist Todd Rittman and drummer Adam Vida were members of U.S. Maple, rock's most divisive Beefheart acolytes. Adam's guitar-playing brother Ben plays with drone merchants Town and Country. Bassist Robert Lowe used to be in the No Wave-influenced quartet 90 Day Men. As if that weren't enough, both Ben and Robert have ambient solo projects (Bird Show and Lichens, respectively). Pedigree aside, Singer's main gimmick is that -- as befits its name -- all four members sing. Each song on its debut album Unhistories boasts multi-part vocal harmonies that frequently sound at odds with the fitful, atonal music behind it.

Since even the best supergroups tend to be little more than the sum of their parts, it should shock no one that Unhistories sounds like U.S. Maple fronted by a barbershop quartet, with occasional dollops of electronic processing thrown in. Opening track "Slow Ghost" sets the template. One guitarist plays a long-lined chord progression, while the other plays solos that veer wildly in and out of the pentatonic scale. The drummer embellishes his boxy stop/start rhythms with long, fluid rolls. Lowe's voice shifts from a slurred drawl to a raspy falsetto with equal aplomb, while the rest of the band harmonizes behind him. Lowe takes the lead on most songs, which is a good thing: if his comrades' work with their previous bands is any indication, he's clearly the best singer of the bunch.

Unfortunately, there are many moments on Unhistories when the music is so dissonant and disjointed that it almost forbids Lowe from eking a strong vocal melody out of it. Singer frequently puts its instruments in simultaneous yet independent motion. On "Please, Tell the Justices We're Fine", the guitarists sound like they're playing an entirely different song than the one that Adam's metronomic Krautrock pulse is meant to support. Singer also grafts unrelated intros and codas onto songs that would've been stronger without them. They spend the first six minutes of "Mauvais Sang" building up a propulsive calypso groove, only to abruptly derail it with the album's most blatant U.S. Maple impersonation, right down to the detuned guitars and asthmatic wheezing.

Paradoxically, Unhistories's biggest weakness is its sameness. Despite the band's insatiable appetite for deconstruction, the songs -- all but one of which are in the exact same key -- blur together very quickly. Although Singer certainly lives up to its name, the band's refusal to draw a straight line and follow it may be more of a vice than a virtue. Even fans of its members' previous bands may end up scratching their heads upon first listen.

5


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.