Thunderheads storming across the prairie, outraged students taking to the streets, migratory herds stampeding along the tundra--any number of images could describe the grandiose scope of Red Sparowes' lush vignettes. Wielding both a master's sense of nuance and an outsider artist's unhindered expressionist zeal, the Los Angeles quintet created a catalog of haunting and hallucinatory guitar orchestrations over the course of the millennium's opening decade. With two albums, a string of split releases, multiple U.S. and European tours, and a number of line-up changes under their belt, Red Sparowes are currently poised to release their third album and most impressive creation to date, The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer.
It's tempting to describe the collaborative efforts of guitarists Andy Arahood, Bryant Clifford Meyer, Emma Ruth Rundle, bassist/pedal steel player Greg Burns and drummer David Clifford as soundtrack music. The absence of lyrical vocals and full reliance on instrumentation conjures comparisons to symphonic cinema pieces. Yet no composition in the Red Sparowes cannon feels subservient to a visual companion piece. Their music never comes across as a disembodied accompaniment, a partial representation of a larger composition. Every song is its own complete microcosm, a completely realized and contained moment of beauty.
Though Red Sparowes' music thrives unbound by narrative, the band provides a roadmap to their muse. Their 2005 debut album, At The Soundless Dawn, cast the scientific inevitability of the Sixth Extinction into a grand funeral oration, revealing the message within the individual track titles. Their second full-length, Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun (2006) likewise provided a synopsis of the Great Sparrow campaign of the Great Leap Forward, laying bare its conceptual role. And, the jabbing assertions of the titles to the Aphorisms EP (2008 digital, 2009 12" vinyl) served a thematic precursor to the next album.
Red Sparowes' latest offering, The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer, began with the larger existential pondering of truth, faith, order, causality, and the innate demand for an understanding of the larger world around us. While Red Sparowes' majesty is hardly in need of story, the provision of the larger metaphor yields a heightened depth and gravity to their work.
There has never been as pronounced of a leap in style and scope as with Red Sparowes' third full length. The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer maintains their layered arrangements and swirling amplified crescendos, Americana noir soundscapes (punctuated by the extended pedal steel on "In Every Mind"), and gloriously triumphant melodies ("Giving Birth to Imagined Saviors"). Earlier records focused on the larger scope of the album, but the new album is song-centered, with the individual tracks harboring stronger independent identities. And where previous endeavors found the band propelled by enormous walls of sound, they now temper their monolithic progressions with distinct passages of separated and soft-spoken instrumentation. Red Sparowes were suspiciously absent from the playing field over the last three years, and now it's apparent that they were busy drafting the grandest statement and finest achievement of their existence.