A Fog Like Liars Loving: a graceful and haunted work of modern composition, noise and avant-pop

Leider, A Fog Like Liars Loving, United States, Beacon Sound, BNSD058 vinyl LP (2021)

Born in Malaysia in 1985, artist / musician / writer Rishin Singh studied classical trombone at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (Bachelor of Music Studies) in 2008 and gained a Bachelor of Arts (1st class Honours) from the University of Sydney a year later. He currently lives in Berlin where among other things he leads new four-piece ensemble Leider, playing trombone and writing the group’s material. Leider’s debut album “A Fog Like Liars” is a delicate if melancholy work meditating on themes of modern urban life: alienation, loneliness, addiction and the never-ending, repetitive grind of surviving from one pay cheque to the next, perhaps not knowing if you can afford your next meal. The quartet’s approach is very minimal and sparing, almost to the point where the music is either nearly intangible or about to fall to pieces. Tones and melodies barely hang together and the instruments used (viola, cello, percussion, trombone and two voices) are rarely in tune with one another or keeping time: each instrument follows its own mournful path, as if imitating the ways in which people in modern Western societies try to reach out to others but with no success because few of us now have experience of working cooperatively or in communal groups – such is the strength of the Western emphasis on individuality without a deeper understanding of what individualism means or the responsibilities that attach to it as well as the privileges.

The songs have a haunted beauty and grace once listeners become attuned to the music’s peculiarities. Singers Annie Gårlid and Stine Sterne may sing at cross purposes to each other but their crooning, at once plaintive, fragile and tentative, and full of longing and sadness, gains its own appeal. The instruments also have a nearly insubstantial quality; even the trombone has a soft, almost tremulous tone and at times is hardly distinguishable from the flute. Now and then the music may erupt into unexpected noise, as in the track “Great Expectations” (of which some of the lyrics are inspired by or borrowed from Charles Dickens) where stringed instruments suddenly break out into a harsh, shrill quarrel.

Listeners might expect that Leider’s fragile style is best expressed in short songs or mood pieces but it works well in longer tracks like “Colder Underground” where the stringed instruments lay down a long droning foundation for the sung lyrics. The solemn mood carries over even when all that can be heard is a soft regular beat. Interest is sustained by changes in the slow folk-like melodies and the contrasts between the viola and cello, both at odds with each other in tone and key but not in solemnity or pace.

The album probably could have ended after “Colder Underground”, the last couple of tracks not really adding much new or expressing much hope or optimism after what has come before. “A Fog …” can be quite bleak and in its own way a fairly dark, even confrontational work. Yet there is unexpected beauty in the music’s style, the women’s singing and the forlorn melodies. I sense there’s a lot of potential range in Leider’s style and direction: the ensemble could continue in the zone between noise art and avant-pop, stake a position in either one of those genres or strike out into something completely different.