Sphyr command attention right away by combining hip hop-infused slam poetry with a mellowed-out post-rock rhythm section and a classical guitarist. The result is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, though I’m sure this sort of thing has been toyed with elsewhere.
Led by Derek Stephens heavy-handed, righteous love psalms, the players of Sphyr can’t help but create a musical backdrop for his meanderings. In this sense, a comparison can be made to the Doors. However, while this CD may be a poem for a special someone named ‘M,’ Stephens is no Jim Morrison. What he exudes is less of a voluptuous sensuality, and more of a whiny world-weariness, as in early Dylan. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Stephens looked up to Dylan’s apocalyptic blues with one eye.
While Stephens’ passion is obvious, his rhymes are forced with deliberate enunciations betraying the rhythms of spoken language. Then his heavy handedness becomes off-putting. “Follow me to paradise/As I exist amidst the hurricanes of my demise,” he sings, his wheezy whimper pitching-up in Dylan parody near the end of every line. “I was forewarned…/Waiting for a sign despite myself/Spiritual wealth, heaven or hell.”
On the rare occasion that the band has an opportunity to break away from Stephens, their uncustomary talents are obvious. Especially those of guitarist Ohad Benchetrit, who is to my knowledge the finest classically trained guitarist playing rock. His elongated gypsy flourishes dwell to back up Stephen’s lyrical sentiments. Two of the members of Sphyr, Benchetrit and drummer David Mitchell, are also members of the Canadian post-rock instrumentalists Do Make Say Think (Though I think that Sphyr is British based?).
As a bonus, this disc is available from the fine UK label Fire Records, and if you make a stop at their website you’ll catch Stephen’s fine cover art for this package on their homepage.
Written by Jonathan Donaldson.