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Spiro Lightbox Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Beneath the surface lurks something far more intricate than is immediately obvious.

Chris Jones 2009

Jon Hunt (guitar), Jason Sparkes (accordion), Alex Vann (mandolin) and Jane Harbour (violin) confound by subtle means. The first listen to this, their third album, will probably make you smile a little; enjoying the rolling, jaunty pastoralism, the faux-jig Englishness and the feeling that beneath the surface lurks something far more intricate than is immediately obvious. But then you peruse the sleeve and note the words, '...recorded live in the studio with no overdubs'. Blimey.

While all critics and fans so far have been keen (and correct) to point out the parallels here between Spiro and systems music specialists such as Steve Reich or with other contemporary folk(ish) ensembles like Penguin Cafe Orchestra, there is a USP to Spiro's music. For one, it is far closer to folk traditions than it almost dares to admit. The rather arbitrary division of traditional and modern forms erroneously denies the linear heritage; for what is a jig or a reel, if not systems music before the term was coined? Secondly, their adherence to scales and instrumentality that all come with attendant rural connotations means that it takes a while to realise that this is staggeringly complex stuff.

Partly produced by Simon Emmerson, the man behind the Imagined Village project, Lightbox has no solos and no showboating, but considerable skill. Much like King Crimson's gamelan-like explorations in the 80s, this is cerebral music, precise and well thought out. If that makes you think of something cold and unfeeling, you'd be wrong.

Melodies that bleed through the warp and weft as on Underland or The White hart can be breathtakingly moving, and their ear for understanding how to build something towards a dazzling climax means that even if you don't experience them on disc, you should most definitely catch them live. Without a doubt it'll be quite a spectacle.

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