The Bristol-based band reveals hidden contours of genre-free music with fantastic results.
Colin Irwin 2012-02-22
Spiro rightly won widespread acclaim for their explorative previous album, 2009’s Lightbox, which was characterised by alluring subtleties and infectious tangents. But this new set takes their intuitive appetite for pursuing the hidden contours of music a whole fantastic leap further.
Based in Bristol, but with hearts, roots and inspiration firmly locked in the north of England, the free-thinking ingenuity of violinist Jane Harbour, accordionist Jason Sparkes, mandolin player Alex Vann and guitarist Jon Hunt produces spectacular instrumental gymnastics that appear to bear little relation to anything anybody else is doing.
Folk tunes may be their calling card, but the orchestral, semi-classical edge, the sudden dives into dance rhythms, the engulfing beauty and the sheer, mindboggling complexity of their playing pitch them far beyond all conventional notions of genre or style. Every time you think you’ve nailed a track, it transports you somewhere else entirely; you get sucked into the solid groove they lovingly build around Hunt’s guitar on tracks like Spit Fire Spout Rain and Yellow Noise, only to reel sideways as they whip the rug from under your feet when mandolin, accordion and/or violin imperceptibly switch focus, mood and texture. Even on the seemingly minimalist and rather jaunty string-led Softly Robin, the whole piece takes on a darker and more sinister hue the moment Sparkes arrives in the mix with chiming piano accordion, for this is a band which works not in notes but in contrasting colours.
There’s plenty of traditional music – The Weaver’s Hornpipe pops up within the dexterous Rose Engine and You’ve Been Too Long Away Willie Gray is a prominent ingredient of the vibrant The City and the Stars – but it’s craftily enmeshed in the unpredictable ebb and flow of Harbour’s cinematic arrangements. Musos will love it, but Kaleidophonica has an all-embracing heart, too, that crosses boundaries of genre and taste, happily devoid of self-indulgence or grandstanding.
You can talk about Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Penguin Cafe Orchestra as influences and kindred spirits, as people often do, but the elusive threads which almost magically turn Spiro’s ambitious ideas and virtuoso musicianship into a cohesive, heart-warming and often strangely affecting wall of sound joyously isolate them from the crowd.