The 77 hard copies of Spoicke sold out swiftly, and it would be cruel of us to go on about Fluid’s exquisite packaging, so we won’t; we will, however, tell you that you really need to be on the Fluid Audio mailing list so you won’t miss out next time. Photos of the release can be found by clicking the link below. Fortunately, this evocative release is about much more than the physical presentation, and if you like them on Facebook, United Bible Studies might be generous enough to send you a free download. If it follows the pattern of other limited editions from the band, Spoicke may eventually be available on Bandcamp as well.
For many readers, Michael Tanner (Plinth) will be the entry point for United Bible Studies, a collective that also includes Richard Moult and Áine O’Dwyer and has been active for over a decade. For most of the last ten years, the collective has demonstrated a love for medieval music and mythology, operating in the same general vein as Dead Can Dance, although painting with a different tonal palette. With 2010’s The Gascoigne Observatory, the collective seemed to make a shift, concentrating on extended studies in the Richard Skelton vein, while continuing their love for traditional instrumentation. Spoike, recorded for a 2009 festival, combines Tanner’s bowed loops and glass harmonica with the sharper tones of piano and harp, adding guitar, tin whistle and voice for a well-rounded production.
In its folk-like moments, “The Shore That Fears the Sea” in particular, one can hear echoes of such Dead Can Dance favorites as “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”, but despite such resonant vocal segments, Spoicke is primarily an instrumental album. The two set pieces, the 17-minute “Black Matthew 1” and the 15-minute “Hazlehurst”, are lyric-free, the second incorporating sparse vox only for the delivery of notes. “Black Matthew 1” unfolds like a candlelit improvisation section, a vat of swirling elements eventually coalescing into an astonishingly convincing concoction. In the closing third the drones begin to dissipate, allowing the listener to concentrate on the purity of notes and chords. “Hazlehurst” seems altogether more composed, the piano setting the stage for an array of other instruments and guests to enter. By the full finale, the piece evolves into a small symphony, expansive in both participation and tone. After a decade, United Bible Studies continues to present its best work, an indication that even more mesmerizing works are yet to come. (Richard Allen)