Liam Singer: Dislocatia
Hidden Shoal

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. By spreading the songs' vocal duties around, with Boxharp's Wendy Allen adding her singing to Singer's, he even fashions Dislocatia to be a resplendent song cycle, just as would a theatre composer (a song such as “Words Make the Master” exudes an emotive and dramatic punch so characteristic of theatre-based composing). The myriad influences that were audible on Singer's previous album, 2006's Our Secret Lies Beneath the Creek, are no longer prominent, even if a slight trace of Philip Glass seeps in during one song. Singer's more fully developed his own voice this time around, and produced a bold and sumptuous fusion of classical and popular musics with a theatrical flavour in the process.

The robust two-minute overture “On Earth a Wandering Stranger Was I Born” introduces the album with bravura flourishes of theremin, harpsichord, wordless vocals, and Singer's trademark piano playing, after which his tremulous vocalizing appears alongside stately piano and violin melodies during “The Brief Encounter.” With its entrancing character bolstered by multi-tracking, Allen's singing voice elevates the already hypnotic weaves of piano playing that course through “Leave the World to Those Who Care” and “Cross Bones Style.” On some of the vocal songs, Allen and Singer appear separately, but in a few cases they're heard together, specifically during the haunting “Winter Weeds” and “From Fast to Slow / Behind This World,” both of which are distinguished by their stately vocal counterpoint (the Boxharp connection runs deep as not only does Allen contribute but her Boxharp partner Scott Solter produced the album). The inventiveness of Singer's arranging style comes to the fore in “Mold Me Torn Fan” when the piano core is supplemented by dulcimer-like strums, melodica, and a recurring creaking accent that echoes the inspired touches with which Brian Wilson infused Pet Sounds and Smile. The subtle addition of vibraphone to the ballad “Bellingham, WA and the Four Green Doors Beyond” also speaks to Singer's arranging skills. While most of his songs unfold at a breathless pace, he wisely ends the album with a ponderous and sparse piece called “Stinson Beach” that eases listeners out while also allowing them to catch their breath.

There are moments when Singer's cleverness threatens to get the better of him, the primary example being the bursting-at-the-seams cacophany that is “Morton Feldman Holding Notes for Eternity.” But such excesses are more than compensated for by the multiple rewards the album furnishes to the listener. He shares with Nico Muhly a restless and fecund imagination and sophisticated compositional sensibility, and Singer shows by squeezing sixteen songs into a forty-two-minute running time that he's not interested in wasting a second.

November 2010