SINGER Mindreading

[Drag City; 2011]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: experimental rock, electronic, slo-mo
Others: U.S. Maple, 90 Day Men, Dirty Projectors

Mysteries abound with Chicago’s SINGER before one even gets past the band’s name, written in all caps on the band’s 2008 debut, Unhistories. Now… maybe it is, maybe it isn’t? The follow-up, Mindreading, was recorded in 2009, but has just now been released; it’s anyone’s guess as to why. Between the two records, former U.S. Maple guitarist Todd Rittman left to form Dead Rider (formerly D. Rider), and bassist/singer Robert Lowe (ex-90 Day Men) continues to perform with his Lichens project. The band’s Myspace page languishes with nary a mention of the new record nor any supporting tourdates.

Now, granted, none of this has a thing to do with the music found on Mindreading, so let’s see what we have here. Unhistories was a surprise favorite of mine upon its release; I even had a chance to catch the band when they came through Brooklyn in 2008, and they were terrific. I’ve been burning a candle for U.S. Maple since their dissolution several years back, and SINGER is the closest approximation I’ve witnessed: while not as sleazy or herky-jerky as the Maple, they made a similar impression of band-as-organism, with all members vocalizing and improvising seamlessly, coherently, and oddly.

Without Rittman’s spidery guitar in the mix, Mindreading is a strikingly different album from the band’s debut. Yawning synthesizers and reverb-drenched guitar loops take the place of the Maple-influenced lurching, start-stop dynamics. While the rhythm section remains the same and the vocal styles — multiple members singing at once, nearly all the time — are the same, the record is distinctly sleepier than its predecessor. Unfortunately, while the sound is still unique, the sameiness in tone and lack of arresting ideas across the album prevent Mindreading from satisfying the way Unhistories did.

The record is not without its sweet spots, however; leadoff track “Sister’s Mane” is a gooey number that evokes Ween on Ambien. “New Bad Teeth” is a skittering, ephemeral take on Dirty Projectors-style pop that (for better or worse) could never have found a place on the darker, sparer Unhistories. “Dial M for Mother” is the album highlight; the moaning synths and close harmonies are eerily well matched, and the song has one of the album’s few compelling melodies. “Night Terrors in Titan” is an inspired interlude; it really does sound like a celestial lullaby (though certainly not a terrifying one).

Elsewhere, the album frequently drags, coming off more as a collection of unfinished sketches for something else than a finished missive. The production is smooth, the playing immaculate, but the songs feel wispy, incomplete; it’s hard to remember where one ends and the next begins, and not in a good way. Juxtaposed with the long pre-release delay and lack of touring support, it’s hard not to wonder if the band’s members have already moved on to new things. Given the excellence of their debut and the members’ respective pedigrees, it’d be a shame.

Links: SINGER - Drag City

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