Picture an Alabama dust-bowl flanked by dry creeks and a thirsty Mississippi. It’s the heart of prohibition-era Dixieland and the Circus is coming to town. Part Carnival, part Freak-show, the troupe busy themselves unloading caravans and rigging tents while the only witnesses to these real-life practicalities are the somber Appalachian mountains. What the bible-belt public will experience later that evening is measured, polished theatre of the absurd, with little or no notion of the hard work behind the greasepaint and wonders.
Through the Sparks conjure the same evocative picture. A delicate mélange
of melodrama, suspense, and excitement. Odd visions laced with just enough
grim, ironic humour to make the strangeness bearable and remind you that it’s
only play-acting. Remember that delightful moment from childhood when the realisation
dawned -- the clowns that we were promised were actually the most sinister
part of the show? This record captures that feeling nicely.
Coin Toss is a six-track EP full of quirky, eccentric melodies. Stylistically, it is unashamedly sprawling, switching easily from lo-fi acoustics to roots rock. The effect is somewhat Wilco meets Neil Young with a touch of Eels thrown in for good measure. Tooth and Nail is reminiscent of REM’s Everybody Hurts (if it‘d been on Reckoning). A curious choice for opening track, I suspect deliberately so, for it has a misbalancing effect on the listener, as though being dropped into the latter half of a full album.
The bar room shuffle of the EP’s title track is punctuated by splashes of starburst guitar while Squatters boasts the EP’s strongest chorus. Elsewhere, a gorgeous harmonica solo illuminates Under a tonka yellow sky while Wurlitzer and Hammond Organ can be found almost anywhere you bother to look. Gap in the spark feels like a Flaming
Lips take on
Here comes the sun, while the band remain in Beatles mode on closing track Home lobotomy. It's as though the fab four had tried their hand at the Radiohead twinkler No surprises before leaving it off Abbey Road.
Seemingly playful and easy on the ear, Through The Sparks reveal their teeth in the lyrics of Jody Nelson. What Nelson lacks in vocals (No high-octane falsetto or Jim Henson impressions a la Mercury Rev, Lips etc), he more than makes up for with the pen. He’s skilled and he knows it. Anyone who opens their record with "At the lonesome Chinese lunch buffet" has got some nerve but Nelson carries it off. In fact this guy seems more than able to give Beck a run for his money in the knowing humour stakes. As witnessed on Coin Toss: "I’m just trying to rest my eyes………………..on you.".
A terrific little showcase then, more mini-album than EP. Yet listen to the
forthcoming Invisible Kid (not included here but demo available on myspace),
and it might suggest that this level of quality comes with ease to Through
the Sparks and perhaps we should expect even greater things? . I’ll be watching
with some interest. Lonesome maybe, but definitely not lonely.
Stars fell on Alabama.