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Album Review

On their 2005 full-length album Spirituals, Flanger have redirected their launch into outer space into a leap off the deep end. According to their label's website: "[T]he fourth Flanger album is all about re-imagining a period when music was still playful in itself — because back then, there was just no reason to be too serious about it. Back then, people would come to call their songs Spirituals, for their inspiration to sing and play them came from above and would leave them in high spirits. Which was all the more reason to sing and play their songs." And playful it is, but instead of what Americans may think of as "Negro spirituals," traditionally a blues or gospel lament, these "spirituals" evoke the glory days of ballroom jazz and blues from Duke Ellington to Louis Armstrong to Bessie Smith to Django Reinhardt. And this is the first Flanger album to prominently feature vocals, in this case on nearly every track, courtesy of crooner Riff Pike III, coming off like the bastard son of Jamie Lidell and Freddie Mercury. In fact, one has to wonder if the vocals on this album aren't inspired as much by '20s and '30s jazz as they are by Lidell's concurrent take on soul and R&B vocals on his Multiply release of the same year. In any case, electronics are almost entirely absent, or at least not readily apparent (except on the remixes toward the end), on this album, as are the Latin jazz tendencies favored by these German multi-instrumentalists and techno-tweakers, although it was also recorded in their longstanding Chilean studio of choice. The reference points here are straight from a bygone era, from the establishment ballrooms and shady speakeasies of early 20th century jazz. There are guest instrumentalists galore, but core Flanger duo Atom Heart and Burnt Friedman contribute mainly various keyboards, "programming, editing (and) directing." "Funeral March" is just that: a gloomy dirge traipsing down a rain-sodden N'awlins avenue, with mournful horns and shuffling brushed snare. Muted trumpet and deep baritone sax counterpoint the passionate lyricism of the vocals on "Crime in the Pale Moonlight." The kinetic sax and guitar (and understated electronics) of "How Long Is the Wrong Way?" evokes frenzied Charleston dancers being swept off to the stars. "Tiny Tina" and "Music Is Our Secret Code" employ subtle sampling to add the Flanger treatment to a classic jazz raveup. But there's absolutely nothing about the standard-bearing classicism of "Peninsula," "Hope to Hear Back Soon," "Honey," or "Down the River" to suggest that they were written in the 21st century. This record is such an anomaly in the mid-2000s that its existence can only be attributed to both the forward-thinking and retro-mindedness of its creators.


Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Atom Heart's and Bernd Friedmann's Flanger project is produced by the combination of traditional jazz elements with experimental filtering and editing techniques. For the 1999 album Templates, Flanger used drums, bass, piano, and vibraphone, then put the product through their own editing process with the end product of unrecognizable instruments. The June 1999 release was hosted by the well-respected...
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Spirituals, Flanger
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