Doom Singer, by Chris Farren
★ ★ ★ ★
Release: August 4th, 2023.
Fabled Floridian and homeschooled hero Chris Farren returns to the center stage of the music world with the 5th LP released under his name. Doom Singer is Farren’s most expansive project to date and the first recorded beyond the walls of his soul-sucking LA home studio. The album is also his first solo project that doesn’t go full solo, as he pulls from a vast cast of collaborators, collected over years of networking in the industry. What takes the limelight is the partnership with lesbian/friend Frankie Impastato, who endows Doom Singer with a cowriting credit, drum lines, fills, and guidance. The result is a slew of great tracks, fusing pop punk irreverence with the suaveness and hairdo of a golden age lounge singer. Catchy hooks and anticipatory verses become progressively fry screamed choruses that are sure to make one prone to contagious existential fear and/or a bopping head.
The album opens with the power ballad “Bluish”, the second single leading up to the album’s release. It’s a catchy opener that checks all the boxes of a classic rock hit, from treacly lines to noodly guitar solos. But what truly sets the tone of Doom Singer is the follow-up “All We Ever”. The acoustic rhythm guitar clashes with an overdriven electric lead, which in its turn battles the fuzzy bassline, courtesy of punk extraordinaire Jeff Rosenstock. And along with the heavy yet harmonious instrumentation, adjuring lyrics perfectly conjure the image of the cover art’s Prayboy (Chris Farren’s self-portrait). After a while, it becomes hard not to make a connection between the kneeling hand drawn character and the song’s imploring enumeration of Chris’ wants (“I wanna get drunk with my friends; And believe in God again; I want my life to mean something”).
“Get Over U” and “Only U” share not much more than a capital vowel. The former is a guitar-driven, guilt-filled break up anthem, harking back to Farren’s early indie rock endeavors. The latter is a shuffling pop tune with doo-wop flavored transitions and wonderfully bubbly string licks. Impastato’s live drum tracks are also a clear centerpiece of these, elevating Doom Singer’s rhythm section to a standard previously untouched by Farren’s solo projects.
Sitting halfway through the record, the title track boasts oxymoronic irony, layering revue-esque vocals with acoustic strums and a fluttering sax (another contribution of Rosenstock). On the lyrical side, Chris plays with the inevitability of damnation, and progressively nihilistic stanzas are punctuated by sweet vocable oohs.
This constant zigzag between heavy and boppy tunes makes the gaps between them constantly, though never overwhelmingly, unexpected. And accordingly, tonal cohesiveness across instruments and a tight mixing erase any feeling of strangeness that could arise in-between songs. The successful treatment of the album’s intricate track layers is a testament to the efforts of producer/engineer Melina Duterte. Duterte also owns the Cali studio where the album was recorded and is citated by Farren as being a comforting foil to his meticulously self-critical persona.
It is rewarding to hear a callback to the jazzy flow of last year’s Death Don’t Wait (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), Farren’s (mostly) instrumental album. The delayed guitar phrases summed with a syncopated bass in “Screensaver” can’t help but reminisce the slow built thrill of the pastiche spy film score. And as the deceivingly predictable chorus bleeds into a climatic breakdown at the halfway point of the track, the crippling motif of the album is again reinforced. “First Place”, on the other hand, channels crescendo-y saxophones and crooning vocals that surely wouldn’t be out of place in a Cold War era ballroom.
The 2:20-long “My Beauty” feels like a nice little treat in between more tonally encroaching songs, its upbeat guitar riffs pairing with self-reflective vocals like a sonic surf & turf. From there, everything gradually transitions to the apotheotic “Cosmic Leash”, which appropriately delivers the otherworldly implication of its title. Distorted strings and Frankie’s steady drums envelop Chris’ vocals, belting lyrics that beg to be sang live. The echoes of nostalgia, rejection, and other thematic constants of the album, accentuated by the switch between first and second person give the song an informal but poignant dialogical quality. “I love to reap; I hate to sow” is a particularly notable line coming off from the themes of internal greed of the preceding track.
“Statue Song” brings the track count to a perfect 10 and closes the album with a lush slow jam. Drenched with ambient keys and vocal reverb, Farren crafts an operatic telling of urban dread. He imagines the thoughts of a sentient statue lamenting its jealousy of mortal impermanence, and passively commenting on the human neglection of free-will. The digital sounds progressively rise to a cacophony until they suddenly cede, giving a bittersweet but filling ending to a mostly up-tempo record.
If Chris Farren is a beam of light, Doom Singer is a prism dispersing it into neat pockets of color, or something like that. It’s the artist’s best work yet and an instant banger that asserts its own quality better than any pretentious concluding analogy could.
Reviewed by Guilherme C. Tinoco on August 5th 2023
(Cover photo by Kat Njimeddin. Billboard photo by Dan Ozzi. All distributed by the artist as promotional material.)