Red Sparowes– The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer

(Conspiracy Records, 2010)

by Paul Stephenson

The chances are that if you are reading this site you’re the kind of obsessive music geek who programs their mp3 player that little bit differently for when they are about to go on a train journey, or they have to do the washing up, or cook some food. For every conceivable task you can do, if you’re anything like me, you will have a different set of bands to do them to, to provide your day with a nicely distracting soundtrack. For the last few years Red Sparowes have to me been one of a select group of bands that I think of as ‘writing’ bands. As in, if I have to sit down at a keyboard and summon forth a torrent of badly thought through shit for you, our loyal readers, then automatically my eye goes to Red Sparowes alongside the likes of Pelican or Mogwai.

The reason is pretty self evident, of course. All of these bands share a distinct lack of vocals, and it’s a lot easier to focus on writing words when you don’t have to listen to an oversized American man in baggy shorts shouting different words at you as hard as he can. But as well as the lack of distracting vocals, the other thing that is so useful about Red Sparowes in particular is that it’s highly ignorable. I can listen to two albums worth of their stuff, without for one second taking any of it in. But while I do that, it washes over me, all calm and pretty and occasionally rifftastic. So basically what I am doing is keeping the idiot part of my brain calm, distracting it as you would a kitten with a large ball of string. If I didn’t, and instead decided to listen to Converge, my idiot brain would spend all the time I was supposed to be using to write to drum on the desk at full tilt, or air guitaring like a poor man wanking in a porn theatre because he can’t afford the internet.

But then the new Red Sparowes album comes through the post, and excitedly I stick it on my mp3 player, on the way to work. I know I’m going to have to review it, so I make sure that I pay attention to it, as I walk to work. Except that by the time I get to work I realise I haven’t listened to it at all. Instead, I spent the whole time mentally writing up something else. Hmm. So I listen to it at work, one headphone in so I can still hear the phone. After three more full runs through, I am still no closer to determining if I have any opinion on it. I like it, I know that, but other than that, I have no idea.

This is in no way the band’s fault. They have gone about creating yet another album of top notch instrumental rock, tonally positioned about halfway between the fragility of Mogwai and the ballast and blunder of Pelican, and the sense of theatre that Godspeed You Black Emperor! managed from time to time, when they weren’t too busy making sure every song was at least twenty minutes long. All of this wrapped up with lashings of icy guitar that owes more to Arcade Fire than anyone else. It’s my fault. I have trained my brain not to listen to them. I go back and listen to their old albums, which I know I love and have listened to on many occasions, and yet afterwards I can’t remember any of it. It’s rather disconcerting actually.

Then, just when I think that I am going to have to check myself into Bootham Hospital, I am in the middle of doing the washing up when suddenly my ear kicks back in on the final track, ‘As Each End Looms And Subsides’ and I can hear it all perfectly. I circle straight back to the beginning again and listen anew, and fuck me if this isn’t a staggeringly good album. It rises and falls in great sweeping arcs, until finally the final track builds to a crescendo that is haunting and urgent. This is the sort of music that could soundtrack Michael Mann films if he wasn’t so bloody focused on the wiers stuff he already uses. I don’t know if part of my enthusiasm is simple relief, but I’ll take it.




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