Recorded in 2010 and only just released in March, Philadelphia’s Scott Churchman proves patient with his tape Ignore That Noise (Single Girl Married Girl). He expects the same of you- this record isn’t a shot to knock back, but a fine wine to let breathe and sit on your senses. More than anything the tape reminds us that songwriting is a craft. The intricate construction and arrangement of these songs have a startling impact.
Most of the record swirls in miasmic lower registers: the warbling clusters of close baritone harmonies, the metallic rattle of the bottom three acoustic guitar strings, the muted thuds of percussion, and the body hum of prominent bass run throughout. There’s a whole lot of absent space, especially in the first half. The murky sounds feel interrupted and held back, imbuing them with clenched-teeth energy. So when Churchman brings the (relative) noise, such as in the boogie bridge of “Anna” or the belted peak of “Above the Sky”, these moments land with that pent up force.
Churchman also plays with chord voicings and mode relationships to flash certain moments of harmonic payoff. He uses a lot of second-inversion chords, a voicing that weakens the independent function of a chord and must be understood in its context. He overlaps relative minor and major modes of the home keys, borrowing sonorities to subtly perk the ear and stretch the key’s palette. Both of these techniques mess with the traditional hierarchy of chords that push the ear in fixed ways.
For example, there’s the extended relationship between C minor and Eb major as the home keys of “Anna” and “Fall”. The verse for each is slowly alternating Cm and G chords, G major in “Anna” and G minor in “Fall”. The chorus of “Anna” ends with an ascending progression of G, Ab, Eb/Bb, which reappears in the chorus of “Fall” as Gm, Ab, Eb/Bb, Bb. Most explicit is the aforementioned boogie bridge of “Anna”, which uses enharmonic diminished seventh chords to cyclically tonicize Eb and Cm. With weakened tonic chords, the extended B natural/B flat conflict, and without any real cadences, both of these songs play in an ambiguous tonal plane that longs for decisive resolution. When “Fall” then ends with the first beautiful, no-doubt-about-it cadence in Eb major, you have six minutes of music that finally rests, six minutes of questions clarified.
This level of sonic awareness and manipulation makes his record of moody, textured bedroom pop stand out. Churchman has absolute control over where he wants to take your ear. Even if you don’t care about any of the technical mumbo-jumbo, put on headphones and drift off into the darkened waters, Churchman is a sure rudder.