Fifths of Seven: Spry from Bitter Anise Folds

Though the Canadian cello-piano-mandolin trio Fifths of Seven performs classical-flavoured chamber music throughout much of Spry from Bitter Anise Folds, there's also a strong connection to the Montreal labels Constellation and Alien8. After all, the group includes cellist Beckie Foon, well-known for her contributions to A Silver Mt Zion and Set Fire to Flames, and mandolin player Rachel Levine, who performs with Alexander St-Onge in Cakelk. But the connections extend beyond mere biography. Not only does the title “Bless our Wandering Dreamers” recall groups like A Silver Mt Zion and Godspeed You! Black Emperor but the haunted, spectral music does too. Similarly, though “Coeur, Arteries and Veins” starts meditatively, the mandolin turns louder and more aggressive until a ghostly ambiance is nurtured that's reminiscent of Set Fire to Flames.

Most of the time, however, the group (which also includes Wolf Parade's Spencer Krug on piano and accordion) performs melancholy music of quasi-classical character that's often ravishing, the mournful waltz opener “Rosa Centifolia” a perfect example. Krug's accordion deepens the dramatic mood in the lovely “Out from Behind the Rigid Bellows” which exudes a passionate tango-like intensity, a style explored more intensively in the mysterious “Echoes from a Wandered Path” where the trio's dramatic attack resembles the kind of sounds that bleed forth from late-night Argentinian cafés. This exotic dimension also rises to the fore in “For you Alone in the Smoldering City” when the plucked mandolin resembles a Chinese pipa so strongly they're virtually indistinguishable.

Of course the differing sonorities of the instruments bolster the album's uniqueness. There's obvious contrast between the bright mandolin and the deep, woodsy tone of the cello (most audible on “Out from Behind the Rigid Bellows” with the mandolin voicing the affecting theme first and the cello echoing it), while the piano possesses a slightly blurry quality, like an unearthed recording from decades past heard once again. Spry from Bitter Anise Folds is a nuanced collection of melancholy, dramatic, and occasionally funereal music.

July 2005