Unlike anything else you will listen to this year.
Širom describe themselves as a “Slovenian acoustic folk avant-garde experimental band,” or, if you prefer, “imaginary folk.” These two descriptions might signal whether or not Širom make the kind of music you would be interested in listening to. Then again, maybe not. It may be that these descriptors, stacked haphazardly as they are, create a sense of suspicion in the type of listener that Širom is after. It may be that you, reading these descriptors, have found what you are looking for: music that cannot be contained by the language we normally use to bind art into categories. You would be right.
A Universe That Roasts Blossoms for a Horse is the latest record from the trio of Ana Kravanja, Samo Kutin and Iztok Koren, three restless, experimental Slovenian multi-instrumentalists. The record opens in frenzy. “A Washed Out Boy Taking Fossils from a Frog Sack” serves a similar function to an orchestra tuning, except, here, Širom pull out the long drone for two and a half minutes, layering Kravanja’s otherworldly vocals overtop and adding percussion and something that sounds like a singing saw being relentlessly shaken to the clamorous strings of the track. The instruments reach a fever pitch before going off the rails. The track ends with a mysterious, metallic resonance.
Most of the tracks on A Universe That Roasts Blossoms for a Horse have two principal instruments: violins and banjo. Voices intrude and it is difficult to tell if language is attached to them, other than the language of the song, of course. “Sleight of Hand with a Melting Key” opens with a plucked banjo, which is joined by a plucked violin. The track’s closest cousin to most listeners will be something like Andrew Bird’s instrumentals. But Širom is always leaving this safer, comfortable folk territory to make things strange. Slight melodic variations in both the vocals and strings build tension not unlike a horror film, but there is nothing so cheap as a jump scare. The track loses melody altogether in a bubbling up of percussive sounds that give way yet again to a repeated string motif quite unlike where the song began that climaxes with deep, thumping drum beats.
“A Pulse Expels Its Brothers and Sisters” is built around looping, syncopated percussion. More and more percussive elements are added until – in the third minute – a frenetic flute shouts bursts of melody. Below the flute the beat begins to change as the track gives way entirely to a trio of instruments that cannot quite be identified. Violin? Marimba? Processed vocals? It is difficult to tell as Širom uses instruments easily identifiable to the western listener along and Slovenian folk instruments alongside instruments of their own devising. This is one of the sources of their specific sound.
Their compositions are always morphing, introducing new elements and dropping old ones. “Low Probability of a Hug” is a study in minimalisms – at least, as far as that goes on this record – voices duel with percussion which transforms into percussive strings which gives way to layers of banjo and high violins before vocals show up again. You get the idea. There is no stasis to be found here, but each new bend in these tracks is dripping with atmosphere and unexpected juxtapositions. Closing track “Same as the One She Hardly Remembered” is the most low-key tune on the album. It is a sustained work of ghostly romanticism, sweeping yet unsentimental – threading through the streams and rivers and mountains of Širom’s imaginary country in search of something that cannot be recovered.
A Universe That Roasts Blossoms for a Horse is unlike anything else you will listen to this year. Its world has depth – both sonically and in the structure of its compositions – that rewards repeat listens. It is a world you will want to keep returning to: strange, indelible and entrancing.