One of the best movie scenes to grace my 36-inch set in awhile involves a filmmaker (Adolpho) and his apparent financeer (Joe). The film is called In the Soup, and in the scene, Adolpho has just read a few pages of a dense, incomprehensible film script (complete with side-splitting references to Neitzsche and what-not) to Joe. Upon hearing such a confused, indulgent storyline, Joe lets the following Come-to-Jesus tidbit fly: "Don't look down on the audience Adolpho; it's unartistic."
If nothing else, one thing Red Sparowes triumphantly avoid is the cheap, rubbery smell of pretension. Well, music-wise anyway. For while the quartet's sophomore full-length is touted as an instrumental concept album — come again? — and shrouded in high-minded language and historic references, the songs themselves never take the listener for granted. This is why, once again, Sparowes have succeeded in making the much-hated-on post-rock genre work for them and for us.
And let's face it: Post-rock gets a bad rap for a reason, and its progenitors never seem to learn. That's why some of us critics make an example of them. The world does NOT-NOT-NOT need this much instrumentalism! Post-rock bands have been boring the spit out of indie rockers for years now, a la Matlock or even Murder She Wrote, and every year dozens repeat the same mistakes as if nothing happened. If I sound like a broken record (see Unwed Sailor review), it's only because post-rockers have been letting the stylus slip off track.
Red Sparowes, praise 'Gwai, are one of the few bright lights of the past few years. Much like labelmates Pelican, they construct instrumental music that challenges, twists, darts, forks, and splays comfortably across the breadth of a feature-length album. They don't overthink things. They establish a mood, expand upon it, crash around for a spell, and slowly fade into the next episode. This would seem like a rote formula on the surface, and truth be told, if more groups were trusting their instincts, Red Sparowes would doubtlessly be a throbbing needle in a puffy haystack.
But as things are now, Sparowes stand out on the heels of boundless enthusiasm for different colors and shades. Throw up your devil horns when track five (these song titles are too fucking long to mention) descends into a grunt-bump-churn so reminiscent of "Mogwai Fear Satan" you can almost hear S. Braithwaite laughing in half-approval in the foreground. Close your eyes and imagine tiny elves tip-tapping on fluffy clouds while track three does its best to approximate the clip-clop of horse hooves. Smile knowingly when the troupe glean the Spanish guitar intro from "Killing Moon" and drape it overtop track four like a magic tarp. Yeah, a magic tarp, wanna fight about it?
Sure, I know what you're thinking: YOU NEED YOUR MUSIC SPOONFED TO YOU, GUMSHOE! I HATE YOU! YOU GAVE MY SHITTY POST-ROCK CD AN IGNORANT REVIEW AND NOW YOU'RE CREAMING OVER RED SPAROWES? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Well, I don't have an answer for that. Maybe it's because bassist Greg Burns puts more into his basslines than DeNiro puts into his characters. Maybe it's because every damn song on this album shivers and shines like a freshly greased prized piglet on a chilly winter evening. Maybe my dream is to one day have music chewed and spit into my mouth like the offspring of a rather nerdy indie-rock robin. Who knows? For now, all I can say is that Red Sparowes do more for me than 90% of post-rock bands, and that's a percentage I can live with until the new Explosions In The Sky comes out.
1. Great Leap Forward Poured Down Upon Us One Day Like a Mighty Storm, Suddenly and Furiously Blinding Our Senses
2. We Stood Transfixed in Blank Devotion as Our Leader Spoke to Us, Looking Down on our Mute Faces With a Great, Raging, and Unspeaking Eye
3. Like the Howling Glory of the Darkest Winds, This Voice Was Thunderous and the Words Holy, Tangling Their Way Around Our Hearts and Clutching our Innocent Awe
4. A Message of Avarice Rained Down and Carried Us Away into False Dreams of of Endless Riches
5. "Annihilate the Sparrow, That Stealer of Seed, And Our Harvests Will Abound; We Will Watch Our Wealth Flood In"
6. And by Our Own Hand Did Every Last Bird Lie Silent in Their Puddles, The Air Barren of Song as the Clouds Drifted Away.
7. Millions Starved and We Became Skinnier and Skinnier, While Our Leaders Became Fatter and Fatter
8. Finally, As That Blazing Sun Shone Down Upon Us, Did We Know That True Enemy Was the Voice of Blind Idolatry; and Only Then Did We Begin to Think For Ourselves