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A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For a Horse Harry Stott , September 2nd, 2019 09:26

Širom create folk music from imaginary places. Minimalist, ritualistic, ceremonial and never dull, finds Harry Stott

The Slovenian trio Širom’s second album A Universe that Roasts Blossoms for a Horse is a surrealist romp: smart, sprightly and frequently superb, even if it sometimes becomes a little sedate in its harmonic meanderings. Sibilance aside, this is a really interesting record. It mixes minimalism and Balkan folk in a way that appears to warp, melt and drip like one of Dali’s clocks. Strange, demonic artwork and song titles like ‘Sleight of Hand with a Melting Key’ and ‘Low Probability of a Hug’ set this deliberately bizarre tone, while the three band members – Ana, Samo and Iztok – delight in exploring the timbres of an increasingly niche list of instruments.

The record’s topography might superficially seem random – the ceremonial wailing and jittery, sliding strings that open ‘A Washed Out Boy Taking Fossils From A Frog Shack’ place us in a kind of improvised, trance setting – however, stylistically the music is pretty consistent. Riley-esque minimalism is the realm we are operating in, and the third track, ‘A Pulse Expels its Brothers and Sisters’, is the case in point. With the delicate, well-placed skill of the finest minimalist composers, the band develop a soundworld which sees whistling chords on a variety of metal bells form a cyclical ostinato, usurping the mechanical rigidity of the song’s percussive opening. These robotic periods – unavoidable in minimalism such as this – do have a certain charm in their predictability, though, especially given the warm counterpoint provided by the record’s other main theme.

Širom’s folk tendencies provide that other half, the fusion which makes this record’s sound so unique. On ‘Sleight Of Hand With a Melting Key’, ferocious strumming of mandolins and waif-like vocals neatly offset the chugging gamelan motifs – respite from the repetitive thrum. The melodies they create here are truly sweet: ‘Low probability of a hug’ has long sections where pretty lines emerge, floating from the muddled, droning dirge created by the quite phenomenal range of instruments that each member plays. This combination of folk and minimalism gives the whole thing a ritualistic, almost anachronistic feel: images of lurid pagan dances around a crying twilight fire seep from the music.

However, this meld is also the cause of the album’s main pitfall: by the end, you feel like you’ve heard all that this mix of genres has to offer. A beguiling combination it is, but in fusing folk and minimalism the band actually expose the confines of their own creation. While much contemporary classical music and indeed 20th century minimalism derives its intrigue from strange, clashing chord changes, by keeping it within a folk context, Širom are anchored to only one or two tonal areas. The music can thus feel rather static: a small contained wristwatch rather than the expansive Rube Goldberg machines that more harmonically expressive minimalism tends to feel like. It’s not that this is a band with one trick, and nor does the record ever feel unadventurous – the start of ‘A Pulse...’ puts both those ideas to bed –  it’s just that by the end, this feels like an album trapped by its self-imposed harmonic limits.

Ebbing and flowing between order and chaos, A Universe that Roasts Blossoms for a Horse feels like a long ride in an entropic machine, programmed to descend into mire and din. As such, it’s never dull, it’s just you sometimes wish it had a couple more places to go.