Willie Reviews Širom’s “A Universe that Roasts Blossoms for a Horse”

Willie Reviews Širom’s “A Universe that Roasts Blossoms for a Horse”

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Slovenian trio Širom goes looking for something arcane and finds it on their new album, A Universe that Roasts Blossoms for a Horse. Here’s RPM’s review:

In the centuries before the Freud-loving, civilization-doubting Surrealists with a capital S came up with manifestos which explained and justified their art, a select number of individuals in the same Western ancestry owned their own brand of dreamed art. Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch depicted religious terrors and raw pleasures of the flesh with equal enthusiasm. During the Renaissance, painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo playfully constructed figures out of fruits and other objects. These examples stick out because they ruin the careful sheen of the canon, in which even-tempered painters lived, died, and were replaced by duplicates of themselves. But it should be no surprise that there always were and always will be outliers, whose zest for the absurd is shocking. These historical examples are a refreshing distortion of canvasses stained with old varnish and portraits of folks in clothing not quite perfumed enough to hide the scent of shit. So it’s always fun to produce new, obscure, and mystifying creations from the indecipherable record. Širom eagerly draws from a surrealist well on their new record, A Universe that Roasts Blossoms for a Horse, and their source of inspiration is pleasantly esoteric. Because really, why question a group that chooses a name like this for their album?

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The best and most engaging thing Širom does is spread its tendrils in every direction, because collage of any sort requires vast inventories of material. We get this in the adventurous textures of their three-piece band. The first track, “A Washed Out Boy Taking Fossils From A Frog Sack,” indicates the sort of sounds that are fair game, including scratchy strings, resonating bells, and wails of lamentation. I can’t say with any accuracy what exactly I heard there because the list of instruments used throughout the album between the three of them reads like the index of a music textbook. They list the following: violin, viola, ribab, qeychak, balafon, bendir, flutes, various objects, voice, ikitelia, hurdy gurdy, tampura brač, lyre, melodica, chimes, percussion, banjo, three-string banjo, gamelan, and tank drum (I am merging “various objects” and “objects” into one, but would not be surprised if the two are separated by some weighty and fundamental difference!). It’s beyond fascinating just to hear these instruments interact—gamelan with hurdy gurdy, viola with percussion, and so on. It’s just “off” enough to spark closer listening, but the instruments are mostly from traditional musics from all over the world. Folk traditions and playing styles in particular will always gel nicely. It isn’t Slovenian folk music, but all the musical inputs play well with others. The musicians make a good case for moving past these clashes as a gimmick and turning them into a new, real vocabulary—we’re too far along in the globalization of music to turn around now!

What do they do with this enormous ensemble? Well, they tell the stories in the manner that they approach the rest of the sounds. The narratives are there in a recognizable shell, but skewed past odd, curious, and bizarre into truly dreamlike. It’s no stretch to first recognize them as composed narratives because they’re careful to mention in the album notes that we are not hearing improvisation, but rather the end result of long, generative sessions. In the end, they receive titles like “Sleight Of Hand With A Melting Key” and “A Pulse Expels Its Brothers And Sisters”—active, agile things. The former is a 15-minute journey with multiple parts that I wouldn’t call programmatic, but I also wouldn’t call meandering. The title matches the evasive, impossible tone of the piece which takes on different shapes like a shadow play. A solo banjo struggles to find form, then falls into it wholeheartedly before bringing on voices singing a repeated phrase à la Steve Reich. The musical shapeshifting does feel like magic, and seems to be a culmination of the stylistic aspirations of the group—never reveal too much, but always engage.

The band: Ana Kravanja, Iztok Koren, and Samo Kutin. Photo from Bandcamp.

If you find yourself on solid, familiar musical ground at any point, do not fear; it does occur. There is post-rock and there is minimalism, but the sound never makes a decision to fall into any style, not even traditional music (see track three). Whereas many efforts in the avant-garde scene tend toward a familiar gloom, these songs start to clink dishes when it gets a little too predictable. I’m always for more head-scratching and less frowning. In the end, A Universe that Roasts Blossoms for a Horse shares more with time-tested folk methods than exhausting art pieces. Širom makes sure there’s always something new coming around the corner.

Score: All around the world, everyone just woke up from the same dream about the color red.

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