July 2018 – upcoming avant-pop gigs – Liam Singer in New York and Catskill with Sontag Shogun, Alexander Turnquist and Tim Mislock (12th, 13th July)

6 Jul

Liam Singer, 2018Bar his efforts in assembling a performance of Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ under the Brooklyn Bridge last year, not enough has been heard from Liam Singer since he released his gorgeously limpid ‘Arc Iris’ album in 2013. In fact, he’s quit New York City and moved upstate to Catskill, where he’s now co-running HiLo – a combined cafe, bar, art gallery, and performance space. New responsibilities, however, haven’t stemmed his musical flow. Two imminent shows (one at HiLo and one in his old Brooklyn stomping grounds) mark this month’s release of his fifth album, ‘Finish Him‘, on Birdwatcher Records.

Centred on his piano and the sweet murmur of his voice, Liam’s previous records brought in strings, glass harmonicas and spectral studio reverb; the clink and clatter of gamelan and prepared instruments, Morton Feldman namedrops, and women’s voices shading into birdsong. They sketched out a sharply etched dreamworld which seemed to take place in and on the towns, roads and headlands of a permeable New England coastline – one in which ancient mythology and personal headspace interpenetrated, and danced their way up and down from the seabed to the constellations. Either that, or they evoked loft life in an idealised, slightly antiquated boho New York or upscale university town – Art Deco bannisters, rumpled stockings discarded by elusive free-spirited lovers; mannered speech, books on the Harlem Renaissance.

It was pop, but pop over which Steve Reich and the aforementioned Feldman presided as occasional guardian angels (as did Henry Cowell and Shaker music), amidst a papery flutter of old books and wallpaper witnessings, and of dust being blown off enthralling junk-shop discoveries. Longtime co-producer Scott Solter likes to link it to “Edward Gorey and the Brothers Quay“. The descriptions may sound precious, but the songs aren’t. No showboater, Liam is nonetheless one of those singers whose tones gently, subtly shift and refract between wonder, melancholy, wry self-deprecation and ecstacy: a caster of light upon things, rather than a hoarder or showcaser. The folding of literary and mythical references into his songs – and their subtly eclectic instrumentation – may bring him comparisons to Elliott Smith (especially in terms of the intimate delivery) and to Sufjan Stevens; but to me he’s a far more gentler character, bringing a human fragility and self-awareness to his steps in and out of a numinous music realm. A bit like an American William D. Drake, perhaps; though minus the occasional overt music-hall flourishes.


 
That said, ‘Finish Him’ (described as “a coming-out party”) sees Liam changing tack. Now he’s fully, publically embracing influences he’s previously only hinted at – predominantly colourful 1980s art pop “from a time when traces of the Baroque and avant-garde began to seep into the margins of the mainstream alongside the iconic synths, gated reverbs and big hair.” The science-fiction bacofoil-meets-CGI video, drum machine and layered synths of pilot single Test Tone determinedly sets out this new stall – like Wes Anderson simultaneously taking on ‘Tron’ or one of those Saturday afternoon space operas – and while new tracks like The Devil and I Want To See Sparks are less immediately brash, they’ve set aside some of the diaphanous sound of previously-on-Liam in favour of grander, brighter colourings, scrim-sweeps of noise, and bolder narratives about the struggle between selfishness and connection, the booting over of applecarts.



 
If there’s a new parallel, it’s the latterday work of Paddy McAloon – the revealing of extra bite and sharp points behind the musical meringue, the emergence of perspective and bone-deep feeling that comes with age and gravity taking more of a hold. The magic and mists are still there, just with a little more lightning.

Main support at both shows comes from Liam’s friends in the “lullanoise” project Sontag Shogun, who travel the world and bring back armfuls of noise and aural capturings of different places and times, only to re-knit them into ambiguous/meaningful post-minimalist mood pieces of piano and soundscape. Evoking or manufacturing memories filled with beauty and displacement, they produce music which is part hypnagogic tape, part four-dimensional postcard or souvenir.

For the Brooklyn show, the core Shogun trio (pianist Ian Temple, laptop/field recordings manipulator Jesse Perlstein and tapesman/oscillator operator/microphonist Jeremy Young) are “reformatting and outfitting” the band with a string quartet (thus forming the Sontag String Ensemble) and are playing “all new music, marrying improvisational and experimental sound with composed string arrangements by Ian.” For the Catskill show, they’re reverting to the trio format.



 
Each of the two shows will be bolstered by another instrumental set, each by a different guitarist/composer. In Brooklyn, it’s Alexander Turnquist, whose instrumental reflections on nature and philosophy blend virtuosic twelve-string acoustic fingerstyle with studio-based electronic noise aesthetics, producing a melodious state-shifting thunder of folk baroque/New Acoustic stringwork and reverberant processing which perhaps makes him the heart of an imaginary triangle between Michael Hedges, John Fahey and Jim O’Rourke.

Alexander’s counterpart at the Catskill show is Tim Mislock, whose use of simple electric figures and slow, ebbing ambient-country pulses… renders him more similar to Britain’s Rob Jackson or to a Nashville-saturated Robert Fripp, while also dipping into the lonesome romantic post-rock minimalism of Explosions In The Sky. His current album ‘Now Is The Last Best Time’ is “a heartfelt ode to (his) mother, who over the course of the past decade, has been the primary caregiver to her husband and Mislock’s stepfather; as he slowly fades into the ever-present silence of Alzheimer’s disease.” It’s a project encompassing love, regret, compassion and drift, and you can feel all of them in every note.


Dates:

  • Liam Singer + Sontag String Ensemble + Alexander Turnquist – Wonders Of Nature, 131 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, New York 11249, USA, Thursday 12th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Liam Singer + Sontag Shogun + Tim Mislock – HiLo Catskill, 365 Main Street, Catskill, New York 12414, USA, Friday 13th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here

 

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