Liam Singer: Arc Iris
Hidden Shoal

In textura's review of Liam Singer's 2010 release Dislocatia, we wrote, “Of all of the figures working in the electronic music field today, none sounds more destined for a side-career in operatic theatre composing than Liam Singer. Some enterprising Broadway producer should commission the man before others secure his considerable talents.” The Queens-based chamber-pop artist's fourth full-length Arc Iris does nothing to dissuade us from reiterating that earlier sentiment. It's a wonderful fourteen-song set that suggests Singer is well-capable of creating a work as dynamic and memorable as John Adams' I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (1995) and Philip Glass's Songs from Liquid Days (1986). With its songs bookended by a prelude and related closer, Arc Iris structurally simulates a song cycle, too.

Singer deftly manages the not easy feat of making music that's compositionally sophisticated yet immediately accessible—no listener will need to work hard to appreciate the ravishing pop melodies spread so plentifully throughout the set. It's not a wholly solo affair, however. Wendy Allen (Boxharp), members of Slow Six/Wires Under Tension, and bassist Dan Shuman (Monocle) contribute, and more critical is the involvement of Scott Solter, who collaborated with Singer on the album's creation over a ten-month period (Solter also served as production midwife for Singer's second album, Our Secret Lies Beneath The Creek, and Dislocatia).

There are moments when the album calls to mind the the more daring work created by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks for Smile. That's especially so on purely sonic grounds when Arc Iris's palette offers such an instrumentally rich listen. Wilson long ago coined the term ‘pocket symphony' for the fantastical constructions to which he gave birth, and the term could be applied to operatic roller-coasters like “The Astronaut” and “Dear Sister/Gears Turn in Gears.” There are moments when Arc Iris evokes other composers, too (Philip Glass in the cycling woodwind patterns in “Disappear and Appear,” for example), but for the most part Singer's his own man. Despite their intricate construction, Singer's songs exude a graceful quality that connects directly with the listener, and that applies to instrumentals, too, as attested to by the lovely “Coma Nocturne.”

Baroque instrumental touches do, in fact, give “Prelude (Into the Luminous Currents)” a luminous quality, before the album's first standout, the haunting “Stranger I Know,” appears. Graced by a stirring vocal melody as well as stirring vocal counterpoint between Singer and a background choir, the song is one of the album's strongest arguments for his gifts (the instrumental interweave of cello and clarinet is lovely, too). Also powerful: “Nine Ten,” which is buoyed by some of the album's loveliest melodies; “Forever Blossoming,” a dramatic outpouring distinguished by Singer's heartfelt vocal and classical piano playing; and the comparatively light-hearted “Unhand Me (You Horrid Thing).” Contrasts of mood and tempo abound: propelled by galloping motorik rhythms, “O Endless Storm” exudes an appropriate degree of tumult, for example, while the instrumental setting “The Dance of Cupid and Psyche” presents itself as an elegant, piano-driven lilt.

If there's a misstep, it's “Eye Eclipse Eye,” whose deteriorated sound design feels out of keeping with the polished presentation of the other songs. But errors are few and far between on the album, and one comes away from it thoroughly won over. Singer's exceptional command of melody, compositional form, and arrangement are on full display, and the performances are first-rate, too. Arc Iris is forty-three minutes of music guaranteed to make you swoon.

August-September 2013