You could be forgiven for thinking that Spiro's music is traditional. If you see a group of musicians with a fiddle, a guitar, a mandolin and an accordion, you're bound to make assumptions. You wouldn't be that far off, either. The musical heritage of Northern England is at the heart of the quartet's sound. Those are the traditions that gave birth to the band in the first place. But Spiro has grown in the 18 years since they first came together in Bristol. Instead of looking at its genre as a boundary, the band began searching for strands that connect the historic and the modern. Folk structures began to give way to minimalistic classical elements. The sound expanded, absorbing the breathless repetition and carefully constructed climaxes of contemporary electronica, and making the most out of minor variations. Then they stripped out the showy solos that pop up in other folk instrumentals, leaving a lean, progressive, relentlessly innovative core. "We 700;ve got as much to do with minimalist classical and dance music as we have with folk. Even though we use folk tunes, they 700;re raw materials that the rest of the sound is built around," explains guitar player, Jon Hunt One thing is certain Spiro are their own people, commendably operating in their own sphere and at their own pace; a highly imaginative and highly disciplined group whose unique sound is unified but never uniform. Kaleidophonica took 18 months to write in contrast to Spiro's previous Real World album, Lightbox (June 2009), which evolved over ten years! The album title gives a clue to music within, meaning "beautiful sound forms": in Greek, kal = beautiful and eidos = form. Kaleidophonica, then, becomes a sonic kaleidoscope, in which the instruments mirror each other, and play out constantly changing patterns. Then there's the Kaleidophone - a scientific instrument invented in the 19th century that converted sound waves into visual patterns hinting at Spiro's scientific and mathematical approach to their music. Kaleidophonica, like Lightbox, was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. It is more densely composed than Lightbox - the mesh and interplay between the instruments has been developed to create the "halls of mirrors" where the sound is made up of parts that are so enmeshed you can't hear who's playing what, creating a bigger, almost orchestral, sound. The music is composed using a combination of playing, imagination, and use of systems. The arrangements are constructed like an intricate piece of machinery, wound up and played out with no ornamentation, no vibrato. Most of the tracks are completely original compositions, with a handful based on traditional folk tunes. Kaleidophonica is an album of extremes where chilled tracks, sit alongside some more intense acoustic dance music. Sprio's music is moving, exciting, and transporting - a musical illusion that it is much more than the sum of its parts, and which gets off the ground and almost takes flight. "Spiro are like Detroit techno played by a travelling band out of a Hardy novel or Steve Reich playing the cider-scented backroom of a village put. Intense and minimal, they roll out complex arrangements with such ease that you feel your heart lift a few inches above its normal resting place" **** The Word
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.
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