A couple of weeks ago I went to see legendary novelist Don DeLillo in a rare public appearance. During the Q&A his interviewer referred to him as “reclusive”, a label to which he replied: “I’m not reclusive, I’m private. There’s a big difference”. The reclusive tag is one also often attributed to Frederick Squire, and it seems hard to introduce him without bringing it up, but to avoid labelling him incorrectly I’ll say the reclusive and/or private Canadian singer songwriter, Frederick Squire. Either way, you should know that Squire is not one to stand in the limelight, at least for too long, but is one of the best and most distinctive singer-songwriters at work at the moment.
Spooky Action at a Distance is Frederick Squire’s third album and a worthy addition to his impressive repertoire, the last of which was released five years ago (and is now available on Bandcamp). As usual things were done very much DIY, with Squire performing, recording and mixing everything himself in a small basement, and it takes just seconds for opener ‘Spill Your Lungs’ to establish there has been no change in style or quality. This is undoubtedly Frederick Squire, thanks to be to the Good Lord, the song sort of slinking and sidling with unhurried guitars as Squire sings “We’re going to chase each other around this town for nothing”. It’s one of several tracks on the album that was written a number of years ago, songs written by and about a younger man. Following track ‘Book of Love’ is quiet and reserved, backed by the warm buzz of what sounds almost like a church organ. Pattering drums eventually enter too, as the number becomes understatedly stirring, Squire’s vocals taking off beyond his usual range (“I make mistakes sometimes / I often don’t get it right”)
‘BOAT!’ is about as classic a folk song you’re ever going to hear, the deep and warm vocals perfectly suited to the atmosphere of solitude and longing, trails of electric guitar skating across the surface like an icy metaphor to support the wintry lyrics:
“I love you in the snow in the wilderness
And I love you in the snow wherever you are
But mostly I love you when you’re in the snow that’s in my arms
Because that’s where I always am”
The guitars are electrified on ‘Bike Thief’, another of the songs written around ten years ago. Squire’s vocals sound almost palpable at the centre of the song, as if they’d sink to the bottom of the music, possessing a quality or a richness that keeps everything anchored. ‘Blue’ is slow and gloomy and builds to a wonderful moment as it reaches the final refrain of “So I’m blue”, the vocals harmonising in ghostly splendour, sounding quietly transcendental. ‘Sweetest May’ begins as an acoustic folk song, before the entrance of twanged countrified guitar, while ‘Switch the Engineer’ is a reverby folk rock song which was written much more recently, and has a completely different lyrical point of view.
“Should I let myself give in and trust you
And reverse my built in sadness
A crazy horse that’s impossible to harness
We should get ourselves out of these shadows
Switch the engineer whom darkness follows
Relax and enjoy the weather
Just get old experiencing our time”
‘This Place’ is a short and sweet acoustic track about coming to terms with things as they are, written during what the blurb describes as Squire’s “current state of matrimonal harmony”, with haunted harmonised ooohs to close it out, before the album closes with the abstract and atmospheric ‘J Floor’, a wordless and reverberating outro.