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Spires That in the Sunset Rise - Four Winds the Walker

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Artist: Spires That in the Sunset Rise

Album: Four Winds the Walker

Label: Secret Eye

Review date: Aug. 17, 2005

While a lot of the more recent folk derived combos have seen fit to drink from the well of benign inspiration, the quartet of ladies that make up Spires That in the Sunset Rise seem more intent on channeling pagan ritual and sound, imbuing their music with a pervasive sense of dread, an ominous clatter that shrieks and bursts more than it gently soothes. Four Winds the Walker is their second full-length album, and while not quite as unsettling as their debut, it drops more than a few haunting passages in its wake.

All four members of the band are talented multi-instrumentalists, and as such, everything from fairly standard acoustic guitars and banjos to zithers and mbiras get thrown into the mix. The vocals get traded off among three of them pretty equally, and it's safe to say that none of the songs presented here showcase the same instrumental configuration twice. This has its obvious pros and cons. On the one hand, an hour's worth of acoustic sentiment can get a bit trying, so a variety of sounds keeps the proceedings fairly interesting. But at the same time, there tends to be a general lack of cohesion that can be somewhat bothersome at times.

Few artists come close to the frightening blend of witchcraft and uncomfortable imagery that Comus struck on their classic debut First Utterance, but it seems that Spires are angling for just that sound. Generally, Spires are more jarring than comforting, reveling in dissonance and ramshackle percussion. Their compositions tend to be performed with the type of intensity that could tear apart a song at any moment.

"Little for a Lot" starts out quite lithe, gently building the clamor against a restrained vocal. "Sort Sands" undulates on top of sawing cello lines. The gentility of "Ong Song," with its thumb piano and slide guitar, doesn't attempt mask the threat lying just below the surface, and all the better for it. A banjo gets bowed to excellent disorienting effect amidst the gallop of "This Ain't for Mama," and the washboard-banjo-cello combination of "Imaginary Skin" sounds like a hoedown for the damned.

The only real problem with Four Winds the Walker is its length. At a full hour, it feels overlong and somewhat labored in parts. Absorbing the types of paranoid, claustrophobic sentiment that these ladies cook up over 14 tracks can become exhausting. Best consumed in small portions, Four Winds the Walker is morbidly good at times, and downright discomforting at others.

By Michael Crumsho

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