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Spires That in the Sunset Rise - This is Fire

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Artist: Spires That in the Sunset Rise

Album: This is Fire

Label: Secret Eye

Review date: Nov. 25, 2006


While thereís nothing overtly occult about their music, itís probably best that Spires That in the Sunset Rise werenít inhabitants of Salem, Mass., in the 1690s. The Chicago quartet play folk-informed music thatís both atavistic and distinctly modern, strangely affecting all the while. To call their music creepy would do it a disservice, as the atmosphere it builds is richer than a simple goosebump-raising chillÖ but thereís something about Spiresí sound that is unquestionably unsettling. This is Fire is Spiresí third full-length, and their second on Secret Eye; a collection of burnt-out campfire songs far more evocative of the dark night on a windswept prairie than the groupís metropolitan home.

Theyíre far from the only victims of this taxonomical offense, but to pigeonhole Spires That in the Sunset Rise simply as a folk troupe simplifies their music in a way that ignores much of what provides its particular appeal. Spires are evolved from a ramshackle brand of Americana, a new construction made with pieces left discarded, ingredients reassembled in novel ways. Their music can be beautiful, but itís not rife with smooth edges or sharp corners, instead it moves with a pronounced lilt, staying rhythmically true, but often with a seasick sway, which often contributes to the albumís baleful streak. The quartetís instrumentation, however, is as responsible for their distinguishing sound as much as the songwriting, if not more. The spike fiddle (an instrument, part of the oud family, thatís known as an rebab) is the musicís most distinctive voice; the two-stringed fiddle echoes the sound of its more famous (and traditional) four-stringed cousin with a decidedly middle-eastern flavor, its output thin and wiry whether plucked or bowed. Acoustic guitars are often used as a trackís melodic backbone, but they appear often as a queasy slide, slippery footholds able to render the most innocuous melody drunken and unsteady. Autoharp, recorder, cello, mbira, harmonium, and percussion also make appearances, with the quartet consistently shifting instrumentation, and, at times, vocal duites. Kathleen Baird tends to handle the bulk of the singing; her voice is one of strident power, husky and forceful without heavy-handedness, often sheís at her best when singing in an almost monotone fashion, a caster of spells focused and dynamic amidst the music.

This is Fire doesnít follow a single course, but whether Spires are being dreamily hypnotic or engaging in more spindly, jagged fare, the results are like a sirenís song; attractive, to be sure, but not without a degree of ominous portent. Whatís hazily pretty may be suddenly drawn into the mire, and the simplest of song forms can be purposefully misshapen, with transfixing results. And while, in 2006, Spires That in the Sunset Rise arenít likely to be burned at stakes or dropped, pockets full, into rushing rivers, This is Fire burns with enough otherworldly auras to arouse suspicion amongst the commoners of something more sinister.

By Adam Strohm

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