The introduction of vocals to an artist’s oeuvre is a selling point for larger audiences, and a challenge to instrumental-based sites. Spirit Exit includes Caterina Barbieri‘s first use of vocals, yet it is not a vocal album. Instead, the artist (who scored our Album of the Year in 2019) has continued to expand her scope and sound.
The entry point to the album is the video for “Broken Melody,” which establishes two things from the start: Barbieri’s voice adds glimmer to her modular synth; and her sonic world remains delightfully off-kilter. Director Iacopo Carapelli creates a visual reflection of Barbieri’s themes: desperation, help, transcendence ~ although not in that order. The moment of flight recalls Portishead’s visuals in “Only You,” while the curved earth seen in the closing scene echoes that of Björk’s “Human Behaviour.” Even the font is carefully chosen: half-ornate, half Ralph Steadman. The very idea of a broken melody is suggested throughout the album, as songs are echoed in other songs, whether back-to-back or separated by other tracks, halves seeking to be whole. The memory may recall an earlier melody, or one may shuffle the order to expose the connections: “At Your Gamut” followed by “Terminal Clock.”
Barbieri’s cites St. Teresa D’Avila, Rosi Braidotti and Emily Dickinson as influences, representing theology, philosophy and poetry. A sci-fi tinge is present in the name of her new label, light-years, and titles such as “Canticle of Cryo.” Vintage synth tones reference the scores of 80s speculative cinema, opening the doors of mind and cosmos. Some of the hybrid pieces seem to begin in the sanctuary before rising like incense to the heavens, an ecstatic trance conveyed by melodic scales. This is especially true of the ten-minute “Knot of Spirit (Synth Version),” which changes at the six-minute mark, revealing a series of arpeggios and interlocking lattices. This is the closest the set comes to “Fantas” until “Life At Altitude,” when the synths begin to dance like agitated atoms.
If the idea of a spirit exit is to suggest a direction for the spirit to follow, Barbieri has paved a path of sound and sight, connecting seemingly disparate elements ~ voice and instrument, nature and machines, and the power of human connection. In recognizing the spiritual nature of all things, humanity might finally find its way home. (Richard Allen)