Erratum April 4 2020: When I posted this on 30th March, I wrote that the vocal on ‘The Singularity’ was by Jason Lytle. It’s not. The vocal is by Stevie Scullion. I copped this only after playing Malojian’s Humm album on April 3rd. ‘The Singularity’ is a bonus track at the end of Humm and when I heard it in that context it dawned on me. So that’s embarrassing, and it was gracious of Stevie and Jason not to point this out at the time of first posting. Stevie clarified via Twitter that he sang and played piano and Jason “produced it / fixed it / worked his magic”.
On Saturday March 28th, my Spotify Release Radar playlist threw up a song that was completely new to me, ‘The Singularity’, by Stevie Scullion of Malojian and Jason Lytle of Grandaddy. The song was completely new to me not least because it was completely new.
On Malojian’s Bandcamp page, Stevie Scullion says that he wrote the song on Friday March 13th and sent his parts to Jason Lytle that night. Lytle “worked his magic and sent it back” and it was ready for release by the following Monday. I didn’t know any of this back story when I heard it first or when I shared the song last Saturday, but the speed of its creation does, to me anyway, make the song that bit more amazing.
‘The Singularity’ is simple and timeless in its construction. Scullion plays a beautiful piano melody and flowing connected chords. Anchored by the piano, Scullion sings with grace and frailty. He sings about the present moment. The lyric opens “Plug your phone in for a while / Watch the bars go up and smile / Never need to leave your home / These days kids play on their own”. At times his voice is barely there at all; it’s an echo of a voice. The chorus is “Is there anyone here / Who can heal the trembling of my heart? / If I show you my fears / Could you heal the trembling of my heart?”
As the song concludes there are voices in a higher register, floating above Scullion’s; it’s hard to know whether those harmonies bring comfort or elegy. Scullion sings “Hold on / Hold on disease / For the singularity“. When I wrote this first, thinking Lytle was singing, imagining I guess that he had a hand in the words, I wrote “You are reminded that Lytle was navigating the intersection of technology and tragedy as long ago as ‘Jed’s Other Poem’.” So – that was wrong, but not horribly wrong. It’s not un-Jed. Right?
In the last few weeks I’ve found that I have been using music as a tool, and I’ve been needing it to serve specific functions. I’m not crazy about this idea, and don’t think art should necessarily have to do anything to justify its existence. Still, music can do what other arts can’t do now; I can’t read fiction for instance. Music is more visceral and at a frayed moment it can ground and elevate me at the same time. Music that works now has to be equipped to acknowledge the palpable existential unease and simmering anxiety of life now and has to somehow settle the dread. So it’s not escapist but taking it on.
This is true of music recorded long before the coronavirus like Os and Starfall by Slow Moving Clouds. In their case it’s Kevin Murphy’s resonant, earth-like cello that provides the fundamental reassurance while Murphy’s falsetto, Aki’s nyckelharpa and Danny Diamond’s eagle-like violin aim towards exaltation.
It’s true of Stars of the Lid for reasons I don’t quite fathom; maybe it is the reminder, as shimmering, subtly shifting tones wash by and dissipate, that all is transient. It’s true of the Flaming Lips ‘Bad Days’, which for a solid 25 years now has been a voice of a calm in crises, not all of which were, in retrospect, all that serious. It’s true of Keeley Forsyth’s ‘Look To Yourself’: “Look to yourself and you will see / Everything that there is to see / Look to yourself and you will know / Everything that there is to know”.
I don’t have an ending to this piece and I have to head and feed the kids and the birds. I just wanted to say to Malojian and Jason Lytle and everyone mentioned here and many not mentioned that I appreciate what you are doing. The song asks “Is there anyone here who can heal the trembling of my heart? If I show you my fears could you heal the trembling of my heart?” As ever, if anyone can, it’s the artists, who keep us going, to whom we owe so much.