Spirits of the Sun starts off gently, even spiritually, as the multi-tracked voice of Barbara Kinzle builds to a form a nebulous choir. However, as droning guitars and synths erupt into the mix, the tone of ’111′ becomes less and less reverential (at least in any sort of religious/choral sense), and the duo opens a gateway into a dark and shadowy netherworld.
The Slaves (Kinzle, plus Birch Cooper on guitar and similar abstract vocal chants) approach this self-made universe using familiar tools: detached vocal passages supported, or at times supplanted, by guitar and synth filtered through heavy effects that are then combined, even amassed, to create suffocating walls of sound. The blistering finale of ’111′ is a case in point, as a seething wall of overdriven noise erases the deceptive calm of Kinzle’s choir.
A hallmark of Spirits of the Sun is the duo’s tight control over what could be volatile means. Much like shoegaze legends My Bloody Valentine, Kinzle and Cooper never allow their waves of distortion and feedback to unbalance the graceful flow of these four tracks. Indeed, the murky, angry final passage on ’111′ is the most unhinged of the entire album (and also probably a high-watermark). ‘River’ emerges out of this seething torrent like a becalmed stream, with Kinzle and Cooper’s airy vocalisations drifting aimlessly over a shimmering blanket of subdued synths and occasional splutters of guitar. There is a clear connection at this stage between The Slaves’ music and the recent output of celebrated synth/hypnagogic acts Grouper and Motion Sickness of Time Travel, not just through the female vocals, but also the attachment to a form of “performed inertia”. However, as befits an act with such an unsettling name, underneath the crystalline ambient passages lies a sub-current of alluded dread. Much like the aforementioned Grouper, the haze isn’t so much an attempt at cosmic bliss, but rather a veil over sinister possibilities. You actually find yourself expecting each track to explode into fury the way ’111′ did.
Kinzle and Cooper ratchet up the unease on ‘The Field’, on which gloomily muted guitar lines and organ-like synth drones build up into a slovenly, doom-like rondo that revolves and reverts upon itself like a drunken cat chasing its tail. The atmosphere is as pregnant with malaise as the opening scenes of The Shining, the score for which is also echoed in the tune’s grim bombast. In contrast -again- 12-minute closer ‘Born Into Light’ is positively beatific, a soothing tiered piece in which Cooper’s monk-like groans are subsumed by glistening synths that build up until they positively glow with the brightness inferred in the track’s title. Spirits of the Sun is, over its duration, as much an emotional journey as an atmospheric one, and after all the shades of grey, the sheer stretch towards heaven of ‘Born Into Light’ leaves a lasting impression. I don’t know what sort of slaves Barbara Kinzle and Birch Cooper purport to be (here’s hoping they don’t mean the word literally), but I’m willing to bet they mean that they’re slaves to feeling. After all, Spirits of the Sun overflows with the stuff.