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|Aspiring to Universality: The Spiral Band, "The Spiral Band"|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Wednesday, 06 December 2006 02:27|
Imagine if Dave Matthews moved back to South Africa to find inspiration for a new album. After contemplating what really matters in life and taking some elements of the native music styles, including hand-drum percussion and backing vocals that at times sound similar to tribal choirs, that new Dave Matthews album might sound a lot like the debut recording from the Spiral Band.
The Spiral Band was a project started in the late 1990s at the University of Oregon by Chad Nesland and Michael Espejo. The band did some recording back then, but the tapes sat around for nearly a decade. Now band members have revisited and updated those recordings, turning them into the band's first studio album.
The Spiral Band is a semi-local outfit (not currently playing the Quad Cities) with members Nesland, Espejo (who now lives in Moline), Michael Mayer, and Nick Levine. The band draws from many musical genres, including jazz, world beat, tribal, and roots rock. While not creating anything specifically new, the band has crafted a signature sound out of all those elements.
The album's strength is the way it balances its music and words. Lyrically, the album is gentle, with a recurring theme of love and an introspective and philosophical style. The music feels like a backdrop to poetry, yet it stands on its own. The results speak more to human truth than individual experience.
"Solace" begins with a tender violin hiding behind a piano intro until drums and a trumpet knock at the door about 30 seconds later. The lyrics are comforting in invoking the universal: "Though miles separate us through land and sea / It is still the same sky we stand beneath."
On "Simple Song," a funky bass line opens the track and hovers near a tribal hand drum. During the second chorus, a trumpet brings fullness to the song, as if completing a puzzle. The trumpet slides in and out from behind the cymbals tapped slowly throughout the chorus, like raindrops on a tin roof during a quiet summer rain. The lyrics describe how many of us avoid solitude: "Without the rat race many may be left in fear / Afraid of silence / Afraid of a mirror of truth."
The band's influences are evident. For instance, the vocals on the opening track, "Beautiful Sky," sound left over from a record that Sting or the Police never made.
But the band finds places to surprise the listener with something fresh, even with elements that sound borrowed. There are several moments when a guitar seems to chase a trumpet that comes out of nowhere. That guitar tone recalls Carlos Santana's "Smooth," with a velvety drone that you don't hear on many records these days; the guitar player has almost given the instrument a voice.
One of the lyrically heavier songs on this album is the politically charged "Our Land No Longer." The song mixes elements of reggae with a frantic bass line racing against world-beat-style hand percussion and direct, argumentative lyrics about preserving the environment. There is a sense of urgency when you hear all of these sounds combined: "Beautiful my land no longer / You say your money makes my town stronger / Let's open our eyes to the real reason / It ain't growth / It's treason."
In eight songs and 30 minutes, the Spiral Band touches on a lot of styles on its debut. Each track has its own sound, yet the instrumentation and sequencing give it a cohesiveness and an arc; the record is best appreciated listened to from beginning to end, and each song adds to the one it follows. You could easily imagine The Spiral Band as the opening act on a Dave Matthews Band or O.A.R. tour.
For more information on The Sprial Band, including where to buy its CD, visit (http://www.thespiralband.com).
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