Bristol quartet Spiro remain unconventional in their second album for Real World Records. Kaleidophonica takes the atmospheres and structural nuances of Lightbox, their last release, a significant step further.
Using a combination of strings and reeds (fiddle, mandolin, guitar and accordion), Spiro take a selection of traditional melodies and self composed pieces and create a cascading maelstrom of soundscapes in a sort of organic answer to systems music.
Maelstrom, however, could be a misleading description, because chaos is the last thing on Spiro’s collective mind. These pieces are intricately planned and leave no room for improvisation, in a performance as carefully executed as a symphony. Even in the instances where melody seeps out from the labyrinth of sound, sometimes as brief as the flash of a meteorite against the night sky, it seems to exist only with the support of the background matrix. In contrast, many of the tracks are bereft of melody; a series of complex riffs that dance around each other. The opening track, Yellow Noise, for instance, begins as a typically (for Spiro) light cadence of mandolin that’s suddenly raised by the addition of uplifting guitar and violin. The swirling, descending sounds return as the track draws to a close, but the piece as a whole is energized, given extra vigour by the mid sections.
Where the melody holds more authority, of course, is on the traditional tunes scattered around the album. Often these are delivered against the familiar backdrop of endlessly tumbling rhythmic phrases, such as in Rose Engine or Softly Robin, but at times they’re presented more or less in their own right, such as in the beautiful simplicity of Gloamimg.
This multi-faceted approach to the music is no doubt aided by the band’s varied background of pub based folk sessions and classical training. Jane Harbour (violin) pulls it all together by arranging themes with riffs and deciding what works together. Despite her classical training in Japan, Jane is just at home with dance music as she is with Bartok and Stravinsky. Jane, Alex Vann (mandolin) and accordion-player Jason Sparkes are mostly responsible for adding the riffs to the melting pot; the traditional melodies used are lovingly collected by cellist / guitarist Jon Hunt. Far from minimalist, the arrangements are complex in their use of repetition and driving rhythms, conjuring up images of 3D fractal explorations – mesmerizing and beautifully complex in structure.
The overall result is an album that the listener can approach in a variety of ways. Submit, and follow whichever aspect of the vortex catches your mind; seek out the melodies – there are tunes on the surface, there are even more in the depths; or simply let the whole, complex, swirling mass of music wash over you. Whatever approach you take, do take time to listen. If you have an ear for the unorthodox, seek out Spiro – you’ll enjoy the journey.
Kaleidophonica is released on Real World Records (Feb, 20)
14 Mar Cardigan,Theatr Mwldan
15 Mar Pontypridd, Muni Arts Centre
16 Mar Newtown, The Hafren
22 Mar Cambridge, The Junction
22 Mar Birmingham, MAC
23 Mar Yorkshire, Settle Victoria Hall
28 Mar London, The Old Queen’s Head
29 Mar Bury, The Met
31 Mar Bristol, The Fleece
1st Apr Basingstoke, The Forge at The Anvil