Spires That in the Sunset Rise

Four Winds the Walker

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Those with a sense of psychedelic/experimental music history will immediately make two important connections when listening to Spires That in the Sunset Rise: ESP-Disk Records and Sun City Girls. The legendary New York-based label is, rightfully, best known for its tireless effort to document the era's free jazz scene, but starting with early releases by the Fugs and the Godz, ESP-Disk maintained a smaller scale but no less important sideline in the experimental end of folk and psychedelia, releasing not only key albums by cult heroes like Pearls Before Swine and the Holy Modal Rounders, but peculiar one-offs by nearly unknown experimentalists like Octopus and Ed Askew. Two decades later, the Sun City Girls released a blizzard of cassettes, singles, LPs, and CDs documenting a post-punk take on the same psych-folk concept, growing to include both pure radical noise and, crucially, direct influences from folk and pop music forms from around the world. (In recent years, Sun City Girls founder Alan Bishop has been releasing fascinating CDs of the band's original international source material on his own Sublime Frequencies label.) While there are other clear antecedents to the free-form psych-folk of Spires That in the Sunset Rise's second album -- on several songs, particularly near the end of "Wide Awake," Yoko Ono's signature vocal style is replicated -- the majority of Four Winds the Walker sounds like the all-female Chicago quartet are directly applying the concepts of ESP-Disk artists like Patty Waters and the Godz to the eclectic free-form improv aesthetic of the Sun City Girls. (The group refer to their own music as "free folk," so the free jazz comparison is not at all specious.) Ranging from one to eight minutes in length and sounding mostly if not entirely improvised, the 14 songs on Four Winds the Walker are difficult listening on first (or even second) pass, but those with an interest in the more experimental end of the current psych-folk underground can persevere enough to appreciate the dissonant harmonies (all four members sing, including guitarist Kathleen Baird, whose delicate solo records are considerably more immediately accessible than this), pealing drones and unexpected instrumentation on display here. By halfway through the album, even the blend of middle eastern harmonies, balalaikas and skirling gypsy-like violin lines of "Imaginary Skin" starts to make perfect sense.

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