As much as we love electronic music, oftentimes it works most effectively when paired with acoustic sounds. New York duo SPIRIT RADIO is the latest in a long line of acts who’ve confirmed this for us.
Tamalyn Miller’s divine vocals and handmade horsehair fiddle serve as both a complement and contrast to Stephen Spera’s keyboards, guitars, tape loops, samples, sitar, mellotron, Roland MC-505, devices and texts.
It must be said that we’re talking about two more than capable artists here. Miller is a founding member of psych-folkies Goddess and a renowned artists whose installations make news regularly. Spera’s art is part of the permanent collections at The Museum of Modern Art and The Getty. He produced this January release and designed its cover.
One of the hour-long album’s more meditative works gets us started. “A light is running along the ropes: copper” is a shimmering, gentle piece that combines several of Spera’s list of instruments without sounding cluttered. Miller adds a lovely, wordless vocal contribution.
“EARTHBOUND” follows with a great vocal hook. “Is this a change in course,” sings Miller, as part of a stanza that repeats over a bed of white noise. It’s one of the album’s more unforgettable moments.
Equally memorable is the text featured in “SOMETHING ABOUT FIRE.” Miller reads: “I’m told by my mother that as a very young child – four or five – I would sit in the middle of the living room with my phonograph. It was a box really, not much larger than the usual seven-inch 45-RPM single, then in popular use. I would constantly play one song, over and over, about a little girl who played with matches and subsequently burned down her house. And I would cry fitfully. But it didn’t stop me. I probably enjoyed it. I played it time and again, crying every time. I can remember doing this, but not how long this behaviour went on.”
As if that’s not sufficiently unsettling, Spera delivers more noise, this time looped and quiet. Miller’s horsehair fiddle dominates the remainder of the piece, sounding like a small animal gasping for breath.
Just as there is a contrast between electronic and acoustic instruments, SPIRIT RADIO delivers a mixture of quiet sweetness and penetrating, difficult music, writing and vocals. Their ability to fuse all of that into this rich, eminently listenable 58-minute recording is no small accomplishment.