Liam Singer: Our Secret Lies Beneath The Creek
Tell-All Records

Citing influences as disparate as Max Richter, Elliott Smith, Erik Satie, Steve Reich, Rachel's, Sufjan Stevens, and Philip Glass, it's no surprise that Our Secret Lies Beneath the Creek, the sophomore effort by San Francisco-based composer Liam Singer, sounds both familiar and unusual. The admittedly lovely “The Hero, the Cube, and the Flower,” for example, has Glass written all over it and the church organ setting “Left Ventricle / Tone Clusters” could easily be a lost track from the North Star sessions. Surprisingly, Michael Nyman's name isn't cited as an influence which is strange, given how much Singer's material sometimes echoes the English composer. “Frozen Lake/Pet Heaven” exudes a Nymanesque melancholy and lyricism, while May Beatty's vocal acrobatics in the three “Travelogue” settings recall his Prospero's Books and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover soundtracks.

Singer's material impresses most in its purely instrumental form where its naked elegance comes forth most powerfully. Solo piano pieces (like the elegantly flowing “Move in the Wind”) are standouts, and the sparse treatment Singer gives “Razor Wire (Second Ascension)” allows its poignant qualities to stand out affectingly. Remove the vocal chorus from “One Breath Out” and you're left with an entrancingly intricate setting of piano and mallet percussion (glockenspiel, vibraphone) while “Falling Forever / An Arc of Slow Pinwheels” includes some gorgeous horn section writing. An occasional Theremin appearance (its mournful warble graces “Frozen Lake/Pet Heaven”) also sets Singer's music apart. Compositionally, his work is distinguished, especially the mournful vocal dirge “Surprise Surprise” and hymnal ballad “If You Awoke (First Ascension).”

Despite its derivativeness, Our Secret Lies Beneath the Creek more than earns its recommendation for Singer's ambitious vocal-classical-minimalism fusion and for its admirable concision (14 pieces in 35 minutes).

September 2006