Charles Spearin’s My City of Starlings follows its own flights of fancy.
The thought of watching a twelve-hour-long animated video for a 2:44-minute song may not be your first choice to while away half a day, but the concepts behind the video for Charles Spearin’s “Portrait Of An Artists As A Thursday” has got me thinking. In a press release announcing both the looping video by animator Jared Sales and Spearin’s album, My City of Starlings, the multi-instrumentalist composer and long-standing member of Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think makes some intriguing points. “Days are still divided into groups of seven. Isn’t that odd?” he asks, suggesting that we could all do ourselves a solid by taking an as-yet-unnamed day to do nothing. “One that isn’t even on the calendar. One where nobody expects anything to be done. Where we are like birds, unconcerned with the compartmentalizing and labelling of moments.”
Similarly, My City of Starlings uses its running time to disassociate itself from Spearin’s past musical credits, from genre-specific constraints, and occasionally from the continuum of time itself. The album originated from a song-a-day recording club of friends and peers from around the world. In the “before times,” such an endeavour might be considered indulgent by those who were slaves to the clock and the grind; imagine having the time, flexibility, and wherewithal to record a song a day! With that kind of time, I too (were I, like Spearin, a highly accomplished and innovative composer) could craft as jaunty and jubilant a jam as “Rutting Season.” Who wouldn’t want to spend a day exploring the jazzy inflections of the album’s title track, blending field recordings of “chattering starlings” with a multi-movement arrangement that slowly reveals itself as an anthem to the act of just being present in the here and now?
Like his last solo album, 2009’s The Happiness Project, My City of Starlings isn’t easy to fit into any single stylistic box. “Sometimes It Hurts To Be Alive” flirts with BSS’s indie-rock template, while the aforementioned “Portrait of the Artist as a Thursday” feels more in line with Spearin’s work in Do Make Say Think, as does “The Morning Dew Lay Heavy on the Grass”. But just as Spearin suggests that we all need to be like birds and get away from compartmentalizing and labelling, My City of Starlings follows its own flights of fancy. Cohesively solid while individually compelling, Spearin’s compositions have enough texture and dynamics to stand apart from the whole. I could think of worse ways of spending a half or whole of a day than exploring My City of Starlings. Lately, though, I can’t think of a better way.