The Slaves are a duo from Portland, Oregon and their Pacific northwest home is not the only thing the pair has in common with Liz Harris of Grouper fame. The Slaves work with a similarly noisy, dark and vocal-led version of droning ambience, with synth and guitar forming a cavernous backdrop. Where Harris tenderly keeps to the undergrowth with increasingly subtle and complex work, The Slaves attempt to rise above the ground in a display of glorious transcendence.
It's clear that Barbara Kinzle and Birch Cooper have a hugely ambitious bent. The music on Spirits of the Sun is infused with a dogmatic, sacred air. The choral qualities of the vocals, the chant on opening track "111," the omnipresent organ tones, they all suggest a holy setting. The dark, gaudy majesty of their textures evoke a similarly opulent image. On "Born into Light," those textures are impossibly pure, almost too rich for their own good. They're beautiful to experience but forbidding too, suggesting a world you can't enter, a pair of pearly gates locked shut. Kinzle and Cooper attempt to build a cathedral of particular sonic perfection, starting with a roof arching triumphantly for the sky. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten about the foundation, weakening their whole structure in the process.
While the dark tone hints at black and doom metal influences—and the harsh wash of guitar towards the end of "111" is a thrilling moment of blackened adrenaline—the dread, intensity, danger and weight required to channel that aesthetic just aren't present. Instead, the music floats by without much consequence, lacking the fire-and-brimstone passion it so desperately needs to hit home. It suggests heaven without a chance of hell, a one-sided equation that winds up in a type of limbo.
Technically, Spirits of the Sun is unimpeachable; beautifully crafted and layered to perfection. However, it lacks the raw bite that Cooper's recent solo work has in spades, the sense of risk and recklessness, right on the edge of losing control. It's that missing quality which can force gloom to turn apocalyptic and then become something to truly stand in awe of, whatever the results.
Tracklist: The Slaves - Spirits of the SunA1 111
B1 The Field
B2 Born into Light
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