Širom ‘A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse’ LP/CD (tak:til) 5/5

I enjoy the idea that the person who first invented that section in music shops that says “world” was just a deeply indecisive individual rather than someone violently trying to stick two fingers up at the “others”. After all, the “world” is against you, and the “world” is at large, and the “world” is a cold and lonely place. It really, utterly, truly is you against the “world”. A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse could be one of those “world” albums that people lump together for convenience (or to uphold the aforementioned “otherness”). But this fascinating, though it could be considered part of folk or world or fusion or traditional, it certainly is not from the lineages of those genres in a normative sense.

The wailing of the opening track is a haunting start, bewilderingly titled ‘A Washed out Boy Taking Fossils from a Frog Sack’. Because of course, it is. It feels like the sound of Riddley Walker running through the woods, flanked by packs of wild dogs in the dark. There is an uncanniness to Širom’s album that feels very much like the similar-but-different world of Hoban’s masterpiece. Or perhaps the cries of the population encased in trees in Rodoreda’s surreal Death In Spring. These are the sorts of atmospheres to expect.

This is an album of rude shifting. For a second after the groaning of the opening, the banjo of ‘Sleight of Hand with a Melting Key’ feels like a shock of normality. Or the alternate universe’s title music for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But! Do not be too hasty, Eagles fans, the meat of the album, after the aperitif, is not commonly trodden ground.

Širom consists of three members playing a wide variety of instruments. Hurdy-gurdy, banjo, gamelan, flute, qeychak (had to look this one up), lyre, tank drum and all manner of other items, sit next to the abstractly declared “various objects” on the sleeve. Indeed, a quick look on the internet for videos will show the varied arsenal the trio use.

A Universe is also an album of phasing. Sometimes it is brazen and pokey, other times it slips into hypnotic cycles. It is hard to pin down the melodies, which wriggle and course in unexpected ways across the main four tracks. Clocking in between seven-ish minutes and fifteen, they seem to me to be as long as they need to be. But then, they never feel exhausted, like a weird procession that turns up in your town and you stare at it as it passes the window of your nasty little flat.

In direct comparison, I was reminded of Stephen Micas and Polish folk-subverters Mosaik. Outside of that, the revolving threads of picking, striking and winding lines, is at once familiar and alien. Conceptually, however, I am none-the-wiser. Usually, I am able to at least clumsily apply meaning onto an album, like that lady did with clay in that Lionel Richie video, to make something that at least looks vaguely normal, but I can’t grab it. I don’t know if this is a lament, a soundtrack to a rite, the lazy humming of a protozoa on a distant moon, or a really badly pitched relaxation CD, but it’s kind of all of them at once. And it’s brilliant. A Universe acts as one of those albums that doesn’t really mind if you’re there or not because it exists musically for its own sake. Switching between modes constantly, but never feeling irritating, hinting at moods but never settling on one thing, it feels like an impulsive and magnetic new acquaintance. This is deeply enjoyable music that refuses to be anything but itself and is joyful because of it.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe