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Spiral Joy Band - Little Sparrow

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Artist: Spiral Joy Band

Album: Little Sparrow

Label: VHF

Review date: Mar. 30, 2009

Like the slow tearing of sinew from bone, Little Sparrow, the latest offering from the Virginian outfit Spiral Joy Band, is a product of a delicate savagery. The album makes a largely sonorous sound, but the individual voices are often full of grit and gristle, true to the rather rustic aesthetic mined by this band and their musical kin. Recorded with “no overdubs, no amplification, no effects” (Spiral Joy Band’s standard manifesto), Little Sparrow is a hypnotically woven document of quiet clamor in which the beauty of the drone is almost secondary to the activity that takes place underneath.

Mikel Dimmick, Amy Shea, Nathan Bowles and Mike Gangloff make use of an assortment of instruments on The Little Sparrow. The fiddles and harmonium are perhaps the album’s most preeminent ingredients, but the key to the tone of the music often lies in the interaction of these more commandeering sounds with those that roil underneath. Shimmering cymbal rolls, the plink and patter of banjosticks, and some disguised elicitation of avian sounds (perhaps the bird who lent the disc its name?) all flit or flow underneath the drone, which isn’t so opaque as to overwhelm. The marriage of bow, rosin and string gives the music its most palpable texture; when the harmonium or sruti are added, they act as eggs in baking, binding the sounds into a denser whole.

There are certainly other groups making a similar sound to that of Spiral Joy Band (including Pelt, with whom Dimmick and Gangloff have played), but what sets Spiral Joy Band apart from the masses is the direction of their music. The sounds of the strings tilt and sway, and the percussion, bells, and whistles might meander in the background, but even at its most unhinged, Little Sparrow retains a focused feel, largely avoiding the feelings of aimless rambling that can mar music of this sort. “Tolling over the Rocks” is an anomaly on the disc, a sparse series of gentle ringing and clanging over the waves of the Atlantic. The track is minimalism of a different sort, though even here, Spiral Joy Band manages to convey a purposeful tone. It might not be the disc’s most memorable (or characteristic) track, but it’s an exemplar of the secret to Little Sparrow’s success.

By Adam Strohm

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