Spirit Fest - Anohito

by Mark Moody Rating:9 Release Date:2018-09-07
Spirit Fest - Anohito
Spirit Fest - Anohito

Similar to the saying “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a noise?”, but here the question is “Can a supergroup exist if you’ve never heard of the bands that comprise it?”  Maybe in the chill inducing wake of bands like Asia and The Firm, the question is simply, “Can a supergroup be any good?”  Given their underground indie niche, maybe it’s a stretch to call Spirit Fest a supergroup, but they are undoubtedly good.  Spanning the globe and consisting of members of Japan’s Tenniscoats (Saya and Takashi Ueno), Germany’s The Notwist (Markus Acher) and Aloa Input (Cico Beck), and Britain’s Jam Money (Mat Fowler), they create a synergistic whole that is irresistible on their sophomore album, Anohito.  Singing in French and English in spots along with their native tongues ups the international air.  

Not having heard the group before (they do have a self titled prior album), within a minute of opening track ‘Anohito (Till the Gate)’ I was hooked.  The wide eyed sincerity of Saya’s vocal in Japanese as the song gently drifts along its six minute course is simply mesmerizing.  The first two songs on the album were hatched during a day off in London during their European tour.  They must have spent the day lolling about in Kensington Park to inspire the pastoral buzz that continues into the mildly glitchy, but even lovelier ‘Fête de Départ’.  Saya’s voice is counterbalanced here by her companions as the inner workings of the group start to smoothly spin with only a hint of wobble.  Chimes and other clicks of percussion start to set in as you travel further into the album.  

Over the second half of Anohito, it’s as if the group was given reign of a primary school’s percussion collection and challenged to work everything in from claves to finger cymbals.  The sing song simplicity of ‘Yurias Zahn’ is buoyed by a shifting synth chord peppered with soft hand claps, layered vocals, glockenspiel, and whistling.  The only song sung fully in English is Acher’s ‘Look at the Colours’.  The primary instrument here is a banjo and the glimpse into the lyrical content reveals a childlike worldview where the only thing approaching concern is a vague reference to something "heavy" and something “left behind”.  As cluttered as things get over the entire album is the slightly more involved ‘Ueno the Future’, where a familiar circus organ chord is set upon by a marimba played as dominantly as what Tom Waits discovered on Swordfishtrombones.  

With the album clocking in at just over thirty minutes, the group lets us float out gently on the closing tracks.  The traditional Japanese lullaby ‘Takeda No Komoriuta’ has Saya singing plaintively of a caretaker longing for her own family.  Flavored with sleigh bells and a processed male voice buried deep in the mix towards the end, the collective shows that adding layers need not add noise.  The barely there shimmer of the closing ‘Bye Bye’ covers up a tension that only becomes apparent when the song breaks on a whispered “bye bye” followed on by a snippet of classical piano.  The group lures you in on their journey and cleverly takes you along like the gentlest of Studio Ghibli films and deposits you back safely to Earth in the closing seconds.

If the primary purpose of music is to please the ear, that is exactly what happens here.  The collective and disparate parts and pieces just find a way to quietly gel, with no one trying to one up the other.  The album becomes a half hour exploration of a childlike wonderment of discovery of sounds, sights, and colors with not the least bit of irony.  We could all certainly benefit from more of Spirit Fest’s view of the world.

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