The Singing Skies

Routine and War

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The blend of slightly antique, mournful-sounding strings, steady acoustic guitar, and slightly tremulous singing on "Acting Fine," the opening number of the Singing Skies' Routine and War, clearly aims to call up a sense of something out of time; and it may be a bit high and lonesome, as well, reflecting an Americana refracted through Australian eyes (something a later song, "Wandering West," puts front and center from its title on down). It's a sweet, sad way to begin things, in keeping with acts on the Preservation label, exploring its artisanal side in the same way that acts like Indian Bingo had a home on Independent Project, or Supercollider had on Emigre. While his singing as noted can go in different directions, Kell Derrig-Hall's vocals sometimes aim for the steadier, with "A Message from the Cliffs" seeming like a pronouncement; its combination of unsettled strings and feeling shift the scope toward a bit of contemplative acid folk, at once resonant with a past and strangely unsettled. The album title has a particular resonance as well, there's something about it that suggests a documentary of long-ago battles reflected upon with sorrow, mixed with an attempt at normality, however sought after or achieved. It can be heard in the gentle, swaying performances on "Say Your Goodnights to the Moon" or "Tried and Trying," the latter mixing a bit of banjo with a backing chorus for extra impact, or the concluding mix of string parts on the title track, which feel like a slightly martial, final march somewhere. Meanwhile, "Loaded Dice" is almost a sudden ringer, finding a quick rhythm to match the easy delivery and granting Derrig-Hall's reflections on fate and luck with a sudden poignancy. It's enough to see it as something that could be a stand-out song in another performer's hands while still working well within this album's aesthetic.

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