Two years ago, we reviewed I Can Be a Clay Snapper, from Slovenian trio Širom. Their highly unique sound continues to be undefinable; in the same way that Dead Can Dance expanded the lines of world music, Širom challenges assumptions of nation and genre. This being said, it’s easy to draw a line from the film Baraka to the video “Low Probability of a Hug,” especially when the faces look directly into the camera. A vast, mud-caked landscape turns out to be human; male and female chants intertwine; macro meets widescreen. Hints of asceticism abound, as does a regard for Mother Earth. We witness what may be a Slovenian dance, but there’s a banjo in the mix. Tea Grahek has done a wonderful job translating the trio’s work to screen, preserving the music’s elusive nature while enhancing its specificity.
As mentioned in our prior review, Širom uses many instruments unfamiliar to Western ears. Those we didn’t list last time include the bendir, qeychak, ikitelia, tampura brač and tank drum. The group likes to use found objects as percussion as well; there’s no limit to the breadth of their timbre. But there’s a notable difference between this album and the last, despite the fact that their edges are connected like conjoined twins via the vocal of “Ten Words” (the last track of the last album) and “A Washed Out Boy Taking Fossils from a Frog Sack” (the first track of the new album). I Can Be a Clay Snapper contained long buildups leading to raucous jam segments; A Universe stretches multiple melodies across entire tracks. “Sleight of Hand With a Melting Key” is longer by far than anything on the prior release, yet it continues to grow and develop over the course of a quarter hour, shifting between movements in a fluid, instinctive way. When the drums take over in the final minute, their joy seems earned. By continuing to use rhythm throughout the album, Širom adds accessibility to the avant garde.
“A Pulse Expels Its Brothers and Sisters” is another prime example. The percussion may dominate the first half of the piece, but it’s so full it cannot be seen as prelude. The second half seems more like the passing of a baton, each side integral to the success of the track. The fold in the center of the piece is recognizable, but nothing else conforms to Western expectations. The music is both alien and familiar, like the faces in the cover art, which cause one to ask, “What culture is that anyway?” The answer lies in between. The more one listens, the more the music makes sense: even the title accumulates its own logic. Do horses eat flowers? They do. So wouldn’t it be kind to cook some for them? (Richard Allen)