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Hogarth judge

February 2018



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Hogarth judge

Review: "Singing Bones" from the Handsome Family

Rennie Sparks is the Gabriel Garcia Marquez of alt-country. (And her fishnet wrap, red dress and spider pin in the band photo say "One of us! One of us!" so very eloquently.)

What else can I say? Her lyrics contrast visionary, sometimes somewhat morbid settings with closely observed, incongruous detail. My favourite narrative from this record is "Song of a Hundred Toads," in which a string of disasters ---

Round a hairpin turn
The wagon tumbled o'er
And down the jagged rocks
Bill fell with all I owned.

--- leaves a man stranded in a desert, only as his final night falls to be greeted by the epiphany of the title: the song of a hundred toads.

"The Bottomless Hole" strikes an H. P. Lovecraft note, but Lovecraft with a difference: it seems it's *useful* to have a bottomless pit behind your barn, even if you end up obsessed with the urge to explore it.

Her lyrics are stronger here than I can recall; while they've always been interesting, here they are in places _perfect_. "The Forgotten Lake" begins by evoking:

. . . covered wagons and the wings of missing planes
Float between blind fish underneath the velvet waves. . .

a perfect juxtaposition of ancient and modern fears, pacified by the dark waters. It gets better:

Girls in white nightgowns wander barefoot in their sleep
And the vapors of dreams wind in circles round their feet. . .

. . .
In dark water the grey veil falls away
We'll see with closed eyes and drift softly in the rain
Like dragonflies in love we'll dance across the silver waves. . .

This is from "Far from Any Road":

Then rise with me forever
Across the silent sand
And the stars will be your eyes
And the wind will be my hands.

--- a song that's easily as evocative as Nick Cave's "Lovely Creature," and accomplishes its work without all of Cave's apparatus.

Moving to New Mexico seems to have added some new, somewhat more upbeat "western" seeming rhythms and chord changes to Brett's music. There are occasional touches of Spanish guitars, and on one song even a trumpet. The musical saw on "24 Hour Store" is another instrumental highlight.


Gabe: Yeah, it kinda grows on you after while.
Andy: Oh dear, is it doing that again? (brushes him off)