Spires That in the Sunset Rise, “Ancient Patience Wills it Again” LP

June 6, 2012
By Nicholas Zettel

If we push rationality far enough, to the bounds of logic, language, and perception, we can find mystical elements in our very being. Rather than pillars of silence, or inexpressible madness or afflictions of mind, mystical elements of reality can be clearly portrayed through our voices, dreams, painting, and other reflections. A devoted hymn, a committed improvisation, stream of conscious experimentation can present examples of reaching mystical elements in our own being without leaving the realm of perfectly rational and intelligible communication.

One of the most promising elements of Ancient Patience Wills it Again (Hairy Spider Legs), the fifth album by Spires That in the Sunset Rise, is the sheer transcendence of simple, acoustic elements. Between the interaction of vocal and instrumental lines, a beautiful intermediary stage emerges, where the experimentation and repetition of instrumental lines and melody of the lyrics converge. Recorded clearly, presented without manipulation, the overall feeling of an earthly performance captures both sides of this album.

Kathleen Baird and Taralie Peterson use acoustic instrumentation in their collaboration to ground their experimentation within particular limits, which makes the sonic results extremely engaging, almost trapping the listener. Furthermore, both performers use their voices as major instrumental counterparts, which lends the instrumentation and overall presentation a distinct feeling of a particular place and time. This is experimental music that feels tied up to folk music, or folk music stretched beyond structural bounds, into the realm of hymn or worship. Between vocals and instruments, a distinct type of communication emerges, a narrative that is entirely other, serene, surreal.

Baird and Peterson accomplish some of their most stunning moments in the transition between tracks. On the first side, the movement between “Veiled Undertow” and “Grandma” counteracts an extended bowed drone with stark percussion strikes. Whereas the vocals carried the first song alongside instrumental lines, the vocals on the second cut initially stand on their own, the only player beside the percussion. On their own, the folk instruments are bent into abstraction or carried to their droning, flowing limits, but the vocal performances lend the proceedings a hymnal feeling. The engagement between the vocal inflections and instrumentation creates a pure narrative — completely unforced, perpetual, churning.

On the second side, the percussive strikes of “Grandma” filter into the instrumental deliveries, as the instruments counteract some of their flowing performance from the first side. This is striking in the middle of the side, alongside the final two tracks, “November” and “Well Tempered,” but those percussive themes also effectively open the side with “Child of the Snow.” Here the duo deliver instrumental arpeggios with striking, percussive conviction, as nearly conflicting vocal and string lines enter the song, once again carrying forward the album’s narrative.

Perhaps this album is so stunning thanks to its bare, largely acoustic elements, or because of the central role played by vocal deliveries. Overall, the convergence of instrumental and vocal performances by Baird and Peterson produce an album that feels as accessible as folk music while presenting a narrative that transcends folk’s everyday trappings. A fine opportunity to find mystical experiences through common elements.

Hairy Spider Legs

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