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Caterina Barbieri: Spirit Exit Album Review

Caterina Barbieri: Spirit Exit Album Review

Holiness has a way of creeping into unexpected spaces. Caterina Barbieri Spirit Exither first attempt at light years, the label she founded after 2017’s hailed Consciousness patterns, is proof that the same spirit that grabs you in a basement club can also reach within the walls of a locked apartment while a virus ravages the city outside. In Barbieri’s case, the square was Milan, the time 2020, and the synth virtuoso’s last project is an appropriately named portal between chaos and transcendence.

Uncertainty lets in the light, and the Italian composer’s music, created on a custom modular synth that she thinks of “more like a mechanical fortune teller”, is glowing with discovery. The songs are an unexpected but faithful reflection of a world that has gone wrong: some prayer, some screaming into the void. Layer by layer, Spirit Exit unfolds odd-pair interconnections of electronics with elements inspired by minimalism, classical guitar and machine learning. Her influences are as relaxing as the songs themselves: the mysteries of St. Teresa d’Avila from the 16th century, posthumanist philosophy and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Listening to these wild, ecstatic compositions feels like pulling back an endless series of curtains – especially on the prominent “Canticle of Cryo”, a seven and a half minute long odyssey with loud, lamenting vocals and arpeggios with rumbling bass tones.

As on previous compositions (like 2017’s excellent “TCCTF”), Spirit Exit is rich in slow-moving buildings and intense, polyphonic soundscapes that feel intimate despite their eerie. But here Barbieri changes length for depth, and makes eight exciting tracks that are more pointed and targeted than before. “Broken Melody” is the shortest, at 4:26, and proves a visceral, captured testimony to how quickly these compositions can seduce. In the middle is a melody that may have been borrowed from a medieval canticle, but it is the texture she drapes over this foundation that permeates the song with its eerie power – layers of fuzz and auto-tuned harmonies, mechanical tones that ping in the background. “Even if you are gone, I will haunt you,” she opens loudly and resoundingly, like a voice coming from a cave.

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Spirit Exit reflects subtle but important changes in Barbieri’s songwriting process, which she modified to suit the limitations of the pandemic. Where previous tracks took shape in concert halls and across tours, iterated and refined together, she created this record in the home studio over a two-month period. The resulting album is tight and amplified, as captivating as her previous work, but more condensed. The songs are an engaging intellectual puzzle, but they are also cumbersome and beautiful in their simplicity.

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