Album of the Week | Chris Farren: Doom Singer

Music Reviews Chris Farren
Album of the Week | Chris Farren: Doom Singer

Chris Farren has been thinking about movie endings. On his third album, Doom Singer, he shares his ideal conclusion: “Everything turns out great for me / There’s no discomfort or conflict.” It’s a fitting idea for the LA songwriter to be caught up in. Through his work in pop punk bands like Fake Problems and Antarctigo Vespucci, Farren has focused closely on chronicling situations of social and romantic discomfort. It’s on solo albums like Can’t Die and Born Hot where he’s anchored each lyric of clever self-deprecation in classic songcraft, wailing guitar parts and quieter songs that plainly display his feelings. Doom Singer stays true to those strengths, combining Farren’s bombastic power-pop instincts with a new round of concerns, situations, and effortless choruses.

It’s worth noting just how strong Doom Singer starts. You’re greeted with “Bluish,” a catchy single that finds its footing in fuzzy chords, an acrobatic guitar lick on the chorus and Farren’s familiarly warm dejection. It also might be the sweetest song on the album. “I don’t belong anywhere without you on my arm” sings Farren on the chorus. Much of the track’s prevailing mood can be found in his vocals, which sounds both amused and pensive. At times, “Bluish” occasionally surrenders to a lovely wall of sound, recalling pop rock idols like Alvvays or Camera Obscura. But it’s also full of fun surprises, like starry synth tones and punchy drums played by the album’s co-writer Frankie Impastato.

Yearning for change is a driving force in Farren’s lyrics and nowhere is that clearer than on “All We Ever” and “Get Over U,” a one-two punch of falsely-cheery, guitar-driven pop songs. With “All We Ever,” Farren’s verses mostly consist of “I want” statements, before puncturing that with a dose of realism. “To just survive, that’s no reward” goes the hook. It’s a restless, itchy song––the keys on the chorus rarely stand still––but that energy culminates nicely in a brief, shrieking guitar solo. There’s also “Get Over U,” which might be the most Antarctigo Vespucci-like song out of Farren’s entire solo career. Complete with Jeff Rosenstock on bass duties, the album’s chunkiest guitars and double-tracked, anthemic vocals, “Get Over U” recalls what Fountains of Wayne might sound like if their most straightforward songs were run through a Big Muff.

The LP also occasionally steps away from Farren’s bread and butter towards softer, glitzier tones. “First Place” takes the feel of a pop-jazz standard, especially when the saxophone-heavy melody hits. It’s a fun shock when Farren sounds completely at home alongside synthesizers that would sit comfortably on a Toto song. Not all of Doom Singer’s screwball experiments pay off as well though. On the theatrical title-track, the corny, histrionic arrangement would fit comfortably on an album by The Format. It’s the only song here where Farren’s fatalism becomes tiring, especially when he starts spiraling about killer bees, WWIII, and new diseases over an instrumental that’s exhaustingly jaunty.

When Farren talked about Doom Singer, he noted that this album came from a desire to change how he had been making music. The process behind Can’t Die and Born Hot had consisted of hours of solitary, home-recorded takes, along with constant self-doubt and uncertainty. For Doom Singer, Farren decided to break from that routine and bring in new collaborators. Enter Melina Duterte of Jay Som, who produced the record in her Los Angeles studio, and the aforementioned Impastato of Macseal, who’s drumming and songwriting is at the heart of the record. Their contributions are heard all throughout Doom Singer, especially when Duterte’s bedroom pop synths poke through the mix or Impastato’s drumming really lets loose.

Impastato’s influence is most evident on “Cosmic Leash,” which is an early shoe-in for one of 2023’s best songs. Farren’s guitars are downright sludgy, his howling vocals unforgettable and each snare drum hit feels like an earthquake. But Farren’s clear, desperate lyrics take the cake here. If Farren shouting “I need more time with you” doesn’t move you in any capacity, rock music might not be your thing. Plus, “Cosmic Leash” has Doom Singer’s punchline when Farren punctates the penultimate chorus with the line “I love to reap, I hate to sow.”

While it starts with a grooving, güiro-heavy verse and a tentative, slow burn of a chorus, “Screensaver” eventually unfurls into another anthem with an unexpected post-chorus. There’s a bit of hesitancy in the earlier choruses, which is reflected in the lyrics (“If I never try, I’ll never be rejected”), but whenever Farren and co. click on the distortion, “Screensaver” quickly starts to feel like a future fan favorite. It’s on songs like “Screensaver” where Doom Singer solidifies itself as Farren’s tightest release yet, building on his previous strong suits like unshakable choruses and memorable lyrical anecdotes. After a string of records this strong, it’s apparent that Farren deserves the cinematic ending he’s been hoping for.

Ethan Beck is a writer from Pittsburgh who is currently living in Manhattan. His work can be found at Bandcamp, No Ripcord and others.

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