A confident exploration of sounds

It is a case of the seven-year itch, albeit one emanating from absence. David Michael Stith released his debut album, Heavy Ghost, back in 2009, to acclaim, but little of him had been heard since. You even suspected he had simply vanished into thin air.

As it happened, the Buffalo, New York-born multiinstrumentalist has been busy: penning poems, painting, appearing on his mentor Sufjan Stevens' touring band for the latter's album The Age Of Adz - and working quietly on his own follow-up, Pigeonheart.

What a bafflingly brave record it is.

Taking off from the introspective trajectory of his first record, this is a more confident exploration of sounds, not least that fluttering falsetto of his which flits around like a hummingbird. It coos, it goes into the heavens, it swoops, it keens.

  • BAROQUE POP

  • PIGEONHEART

    DM Stith

    Outset

    4/5 stars

This avian quality means nothing, revealing itself at first listen. Pigeonheart is a series of tracks premised on a set of questions and invitations and then shoots off on a tangent, before arriving at its own conclusion or occlusion.

Each song usually begins quietly, without fanfare, before it unfurls its myriad shades.

"What would I do with your love right now/forehead to the door, keep you pounding outside," begins Sawtooth, with him babbling like a silly, lovelorn Heathcliff over incongruously bouncy disco beats.

The sprightly tenor belies the passive-aggressiveness of the song, as it swings from gnarled electric riffs to ghostly sirens. "We'd sawtooth together/eat each other alive," he continues.

"Don't ask questions to which you know the answers," he declares next in War Machine, making sure you know he is not trading in platitudes. "Am I in trouble? Am I in trouble?" he asks, as a chorus of multi- tracked DM Stiths ululate over tribal-industrial beats. It is the most uplifting song about an existential crisis you would hear this year.

Just when you think everything will be all right, he will blindside you with Cormorant, a track which plumbs the depths and barely comes up for fresh air.

"Is this what you wanted/at the end of the night/to stare down your life?" he whispers at the start, as soft strums give way to an infestation of white noise.

So much so that words simply fail him at times. Murmurations is a cavernous whorl of vocals layered over one another, peeled and unpeeled incessantly, revealing who?

Other times, he gives in to delirium. My Impatience beseeches from the offset, "Kiss me here", as proto- techno beats shore up his intergalactic dreamscape.

"I wasn't thinking/Tell when it's over," goes the refrain, as he oscillates slowly around reality, till you realise you have arrived at a celestial realm where everything is indeed all right, if only for a few minutes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2016, with the headline 'A confident exploration of sounds'. Print Edition | Subscribe