SINGER Unhistories

[Drag City; 2008]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: post-rock, experimental
Others: U.S. Maple, 90 Day Men

Chicago’s U.S. Maple was a big band for me, one of the first artists I latched onto only after scores of endorsements. While my first exposure to their sound left me confused and uneasy, I eventually realized something about the group’s albums that belied the relative difficulty of comprehending their music – it’s actually pretty funny music. I hear Beefheart, AC/DC, and Bob Dylan in there, devoured by the band and regurgitated in Al Johnson’s wheezing rants.

Now that Maple is on indefinite hiatus (rumors swirl that the band members are battling addiction), guitarist Todd Rittmann and Purple On Time-era drummer Adam Vida have teamed with another of my favorite performers, Rob Lowe (of the 90 Day Men and Lichens), along with Adam’s brother Ben (Bird Show, Town & Country). The result is SINGER, and they sound quite a bit like U.S. Maple with some understandable twists.

Like Todd and Adam’s past albums, Unhistories traffics in spindly guitar passages, horror-house drumming, and a general feeling of nausea. This time around, however, things are laid out a bit differently. Lowe’s bass is a fresh addition and seems to give Ben and Todd a chance to stretch out in slightly more conventionally classic rock ways; the central riff of “Party Lessons” could be on a Hendrix record. Meanwhile, the suites “Oh Dusty” and “Dumb Smoke” show off the group’s range and act as the high-water marks here.

Adam’s drumming is still more conventional than old Maple drummer Pat Samson’s was, but it fits with SINGER’s slightly more straight-ahead sound. In place of Johnson’s rasps is a kind of fucked-barbershop quartet vocal setup, with everyone getting in on the action. They’re occasionally a little low in the mix for me, and, despite the band’s name, the instrumental passages are still the main draw, as no one in the group has pipes to match the playing. Nonetheless, Unhistories is an extremely pleasant surprise for me, given that I wasn’t even aware the band existed and had been lamenting the unlikelihood of a new U.S. Maple record anytime soon. Awesome record; great job.

Most Read