Norwegian post-rock band Spurv (Sparrow) admits that “four songs in 45 minutes isn’t the average everyday radio music.” But it is what fans hope to encounter in post-rock: make-or-break, risk-taking ventures that soothe and stir in equal measure.
Skarntyde (Danish for “hemlock”) is no suicide venture. Instead, it’s a stable set three years in the making. While steering clear of any restrictive definitions, the band does mention that the album is about “life and death (and) the fragility of nature.” This may seem a surprise coming from one of the happiest countries in the world, but the nation has seen its share of violence and strife. As a result, her residents are in a state of reassessment: has the happiness come at a cost? Are unseen fissures threatening the unity of the nation?
Spurv paints in broad strokes, providing ample room for thought, for the mind to drift or to focus, depending on one’s initial state. This being said, each track contains at least one moment that calls the listener back to attention. On opener “Passacaglia (Fugler Med Ord I Nebbet)”, it’s the entrance of the glockenspiel. As the title translates to “Birds With Words In the Beak”, one thinks of these words captured and silent, yet yearning to be spoken. The glockenspiel allows them tone, but not voice: the uplift of higher notes. Only when two minutes are left in the quarter-hour track do the strings come to the front of the line, but when they do, it’s as if to reassure.
The single (if one can call a 7:30 track a single), “Mellom Broen Og Elven” (“Between the Bridge and River”) surges in the center with hints of Mono. At this point, the listener begins to count the guitars, which now number three (not including bass). The drumming is especially strong in this piece; it’s the highlight of the set. The closing piece, another quarter-hour track, is the better of the extended works. On this track, loosely translated, “Why Is There Something and Not Nothing,” the violin and cello enter early enough to make an impact. While they are initially overpowered, they return later to take control. We’d love to hear even more of the strings ~ on a track this long, an all-string segment can be extremely powerful.
If Spurv has a weakness, it’s a tendency to rely on scales, especially on the opening track. These can be effective in small doses, but when the listener begins to notice, it’s time to change the approach. The band has made great strides since its 2012 EP; there’s still more progress to be made, but overall, this is a fine debut. (Richard Allen)