Published Jul 01, 2006As the Handsome Family, husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks have traversed the alt-country explosion of the last decade and come out the other side with an album that proves they are light years beyond any fickle genre fad. With their seventh disc, the Sparks couple have grown more experimental musically and more tender lyrically. Bretts impeccable arrangements, meticulously crafted in his Albuquerque garage-cum-recording-studio, frame Rennies most darkly beautiful poetry yet. Theres plenty of the usual morbidly amusing Handsome Family fare: corpses and graveyards and deadly swamps harbouring human skulls. But the album also travels through strip malls, airports and claustrophobic hotel rooms places that seemed quotidian until Brett and Rennie paid them a visit and demonstrated just how enchanting they can be. The quavering instrumentation (which includes chiming bells, a saw and samples of a glass harmonica supplemented by real bowed crystal wineglasses) is grounded by Bretts warm, earthy baritone. A truly magical album. If you listen closely enough, it might just inspire you to dance in your underwear on the golf course at three a.m.
Thematically this album is more uplifting than your previous ones. Why the change in perspective? Rennie: For a long time I couldnt really see too much wonder in the world. Im starting to see little glimpses out of the corner of my eye, though, even as the world itself gets really scary. These days its really extreme, the difference between beauty and ugliness. Things arent as grey as they used to be. Maybe in response Im starting to see all the little things that I didnt realise were beautiful before.
What response do you hope to provoke in your listeners with the songs on this album? I would love people to feel a sense of mystery and wonder, to feel that life is interesting and worth experiencing. Were barraged, especially in America, with a constant voice of brainwashing on TV and the radio and the billboards about this certain mood were supposed to have: a vaguely positive but not too exuberant attitude towards shopping and work and family. Its all very lacking in any kind of introspection. I think that leaves you with a very stale existence. Its crucial to remind yourself that there are other experiences out there besides the ones that have been marketed to us. Even when youre on the highway or in a shopping mall or on a bus, there are moments that can transport you. Mystery and meaning can be found anywhere. (Carrot Top)