Fifths of Seven’s debut Spry from Bitter Anise Folds is all about war. Not the heat of the battlefield, mind you, but the immediate impact of the raging conflicts fought on it and the subsequent tragic aftermath. It is an audio archive, chronicling the lives of the civilian rather than the soldier—loss, fear, grief and all.
Spry From Bitter Anise Folds is the work of another addition to the extended Constellation family of eccentric instrumentalists. These illustrious members include cellist Beckie Foon, who has played with A Silver Mt. Zion and Set Fire to Flames, pianist Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes) and mandolin player Rachel Levine (Cakelk).
As fitting their instruments, the album is essentially a European chamber instrumental record. And yet, perhaps as a testament to their indie roots, Fifths of Seven are more Dirty Three rather than Debussy. Their playing is tinged with a post-rock sensibility, every stroke and vibrato purposed to create atmospherics of epic proportions. It’s bloodthirsty classical music reflecting the tormented state of wartime civilian psyches.
In their opener “Rosa Centifolia”, the opening sequence is not unlike the Christmas carol “It Came upon the Midnight Clear”. Unfortunately, it is less canticle and more dirge, minor chorded melancholy washing out any traces of hope. “Peace on the earth, good will to men, from heaven’s all-gracious King”, the lyrics say? To the ones who have lost loved ones in battle, these are not words of comfort but belittling retorts. They are Right Words from a Right Answer Society that have lost the facade of optimism that they have worn all along.
The song unveils a sobering thought—funerals do happen at Christmastime.
Another highlight is “For You Alone in the Smoldering City”. A rather self-explanatory title, the scene that is aurally painted is a sordid one. It is seemingly the story of the Sole Survivor, the one who has enduring the firefights and massacres of the night before, the witness of death and destruction that was not destined to be his portion yet. Charred buildings to the left, torched bodies to the right, the fierce tenacity of yesterday is replaced by the resigned sadness of losing families, friends and home.
This is an ode to the ones left behind.
But with any effort with such an intense air of despair, an obligatory sliver of hope peeks through the presence of thick grey clouds in the final track “Bless Our Wandering Dreamers”. Relatively cheery sequences are finally released for the benefit of hungry ears, tortured by an almost-relentless attack of acute sadness. The grim reaper and the infant ambles hand-in-hand, because death always leads to new life.
There is still hope, little ‘uns. There is always hope.
Bless our wandering dreamers, indeed.
Spry from Bitter Anise Folds is the soundtrack of not just the two World Wars, but a reflection of our ongoing War on Terror. And sadly, it seems that Fifths of Seven’s mournful tones will refuse to fade away for a long, long time to come.