Akron quartet the Singular has been playing and recording since 2007 under the guidance of primary songwriter James Pequignot (drummer Mark Bradbourne, bassist Terry Mortensen and keyboardist Nichole Catalano-Miller round out the line-up).
Earlier this month, the band released its fifth collection of original tunes, the full-length album Artifacts, a solid nine-track distillation of Singular’s spacious, melodic, piano and acoustic guitar-driven sound with roots in the ambient ethereal side of bands such as Radiohead and the indie Americana.
Recorded at Catalano-Miller’s house and engineered, mixed, produced and mastered at Pequignot’s home studio (he also co-runs the band’s label Diskette records), Artifacts has a more intimate sound and feel than the band’s previous full length, The Sad Machine, which sported a fairly strong OK Computer-era Radiohead influence.
One aspect that hasn’t changed is Pequignot’s emotional tone. He doesn’t bother with love songs or political treatises or third-person narratives. His lyrical and musical penchant is for sad or at least sad sounding, songs, with elongated, melancholic melodies filled with existential and spiritual musings sung in his emotional lonesome wail.
On the descriptively titled album opener Artifacts From Childhood Filtered Through Hindsight — one of the peppier tunes on the album — Pequignot, on the cusp of 30 and apparently feeling reflective, looks back at his younger self, “I found a picture of myself I drew when I was 17 years old, How terrible to see the way I saw myself, When I had no regrets and no responsibilities.”
Catalano-Miller’s piano (the album’s understated musical hero) leads the WAPS the Summit (91.3 FM)-ready indie pop tune Electric Chair while Pequignot’s struggles with religion “So I found the body, found the blood, and found out what they mean, I found there’s not a chance in hell for a sinning man like me, So I did my best to justify and I did my best to find, Some holy voice inside my head and trust it as my guide.”
Elsewhere, Pequignot seems unable to get out of his own head, singing over the lazy country groove of Justy Knuff, “Oh I am terrified of every moment spent alone inside my head, Oh I am hatching up a scheme to pull myself out of this bed, And see what’s next.”
Pequignot doesn’t write songs about unicorns and puppies or everlasting love, but they come across more like cathartic emotional and spiritual clearing houses rather than just depressed rants.
He may be navel-gazing and seeking answers to big questions that folks must answer for themselves, but he is also quite self-aware.
The album ends with the Americana flavored Lucky (Rants About Radiohead) wherein our intrepid narrator lays his cards on the table, “I'm sorry for what I am, there’s not much money in sad songs and poetry.” Or rant’s about Radiohead’s rock and roll dominance.
But the married singer/songwriter offers the listener a ray of hope in the form of love: “We hung out on the weekend, Your hair was softer than animal fur, I did not believe in love anymore, ’Til you stole the fear from my spine, And put back the stars in the sky.”
Whew, so at least he’s got that going for him, though he probably still could use a hug.
The Singular’s music requires some patience as the band takes its time and most of the songs aren’t built on peppy rhythms or immediately catchy melodies. Artifacts, isn’t the soundtrack for most folks’ Friday or Saturday night revelry. But if those same revelers find themselves sifting through shame and regrets and questioning their existence on Sunday morning, Artifacts will make a fine backdrop.
Artifacts is available for download at iTunes and bandcamp.com and in physical form at the band’s shows.