Luke Sital-Singh – Time Is a Riddle
Raygun Records – 12 May 2017
Three years on from his debut, Bristol-based singer-songwriter Luke Sital-Singh returns with a powerful second album Time Is a Riddle. The album was recorded over the space of just ten days in a Donegal studio and backed by a bunch of local musicians, although they sound so tight you’d think they’d been working together for years. However, the opening number will be familiar to those who’ve been following his work, Still having previously featured on 2015 EP, The Breakneck Speed of Tomorrow and, in essence, giving him the confidence and direction for the new album. That turns out to be a far more muscular sound than his intimate and stripped-down debut, the instrumentation fuller and ballsier. Case in point Oh My God where, in his previous musical life, a line like “it’s hard to be myself anymore” would have been fragile and confessional, but here, underpinned by wood block clicking percussion, urgent rhythms and a persistent guitar line, his delivery has more of an edge, the melody swirling around his vocals.
The piano backing of Until The Night is Done, one of two songs either inspired by or written for his grandmother (here about a letter her late husband gave her just a few hours before they married) can’t fail but put you in mind of a Lennon ballad, gradually swelling to a climax before a quite fade.
Apparently the result of waking from a Lynchian-like dream about an American desert town where nothing can die, Rough Diamond Falls is a more brooding, but no less sonically fulsome number with its Hammond organs, slouching rhythm, widescreen guitars and massive falsettos. American TV drama soundtrack advisers should be checking this one out.
Nowhere’s Home is, at least until the end, a more restrained affair with its acoustic guitar, simple piano notes and soft, intimate vocal as he sings, with a positive spin, how “all I know is nowhere’s home, and it’s beautiful”, then, as it enters the homestretch, the arrangement builds for a lighters aloft anthemic moment.
He’s said Cynic was deliberately written as a live set opener, a sustained hollow keyboard note (sounding like a didgeridoo) pretty much the only backing to not quite a capella (and, in part, double-tracked) vocals that have a sort of top of the mountains Celtic air about them. Mesmerising stuff, it’ll have the crowds in the palm of his hand.
By contrast, Innocence is an altogether gentler piano waltz with its shuffling percussion and an air of late nights under the stars, Sital-Singh briefly slowing things down to a sort of tightrope walk measured pace midway before, once more, expanding to a grandiose crescendo and dying fall.
It’s back to the keyboards for the big melody title track with what sounds like tap dancing ants in the background, it’s like Damien Rice on steroids. In a good way. His voice echoey and back in the mix, Hunger was written in the midst of his break up with his former label, a melodically jittery number about holding on to what you believe in, however hard it gets, until you see the light breaking through the cracks.
Appropriately stripped back to a melancholic piano backing and sung in a hushed, muted tone, the poignant, moving Killing Me is the second song relating to his Grandmother, written after spending more time with her as she moved in with his folks and inspired by how he felt it must be for her, living without her soulmate who had died ten years previously.
The album ends with perhaps a nod to future directions on Slow Down, a number he freely admits was influenced by his love of Icelandic post-rock outfit Sigur Ros, an initial organ drone and exposed vocal gradually overwhelmed by the arrival of crisp marching drums, soaring falsettos and a maelstrom of noise and distortion that pulses its way to a gradual ebb.
More of a rebirth than a follow-up, awash with emotion and tumultuous cathedrals of sound, this may prove a puzzle for those expecting and wanting more of his softly bruised early Bon Iver introspection, but like all enigmas it’s a captivating experience they will find hard to resist falling, as Toyah might have put it, willing victims of the riddle.
Time Is a Riddle is Out Now. Order via Amazon
The cover for the album was designed by linocut maker Hannah Cousins and the lettering by Bristol-based The Letterpress Collective. Luke has had an interest in old crafts, particularly printmakers. Watch his video about the making of the cover below in which he also performs: