Thursday, November 30, 2006

Red Sparowes

I've had a soft spot for Neurosis and their Neurot Recordings empire that dates back to the xeroxed 'zine days of Umlaut. I've also had a soft spot for Big Wayne that dates back to the cassette dubbing days of Old Metal.

So when these two forces converge my inner Music Geek pays close attention. Recently Big Wayne recommended that I check out Neurot Recording artists Red Sparowes. So I did because he's never steered me wrong.

As a result, just when I thought my year of musical discovery was over, I got hit with something that pressed the reset button on my inner Music Geek. Long story short, I really dig the new Red Sparowes CD... It's the type of challenging guitar-driven music that appeals to my true nature. It's the type of music "normal" people won't comprehend. It's the type of music that acts as a mirror for the listener to explore whatever darkness or light resides in their own head... and that ain't hippie shit. That's art.

The other morning at around 7:45AM I was waiting at the local BART platform for my train to work. I had loaded the new Red Sparowes CD Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun onto my iPod the night before and was listening to it. The combination of the early morning hour and lack of caffeine resulted in my brain becoming locked into the mesmerizing sounds filling my ears.

I was so caught up in the music that I didn't notice that due to a BART system change, my train was arriving on the opposite side of the platform than it usually does. I was staring at the electric 3rd rail, lost in the Red Sparowes.

An inbound train was approaching and I was the only person standing on the wrong side of the platform. I must have looked foolish standing alone and staring at the empty BART tracks while the dozens of other commuters who had been paying attention prepared to board the cattle cars to the salt mines behind me.

However, I felt something on my arm... A nice woman had walked over and tapped me on the arm to point that I should move to the other side to catch the train. Wow.. I felt like a dope, but a complete stranger had my back! That gesture of kindness and the all encompassing force of the Red Sparowes music set the tone for me this week.

The next day I was walking down Spear Street towards my office when a woman in front of me dropped some money as she fumbled for something in her bag. It was only a couple of bucks, but I scooped it up, jogged to catch up with her and returned the greenbacks. Karma Bank deposit made.

As some of you know besides being a Music Geek I'm also a History Geek... and when these two forces converge I take notice. The new Red Sparowes epic was inspired by historical events.. and I, like, totally dig that.

Yeah, Umlaut digs the loud guitar music.. but damn if the loud guitar music can't be profoundly more intelligent and compelling than most of the mainstream alternative, normal crap out there.

Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun (Neurot Recordings NR045CD)

With eight songs spread across nearly 62 minutes, Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun is an epic ambient rock record best experienced in its entirety: From the opening bass volley to the closing snare hit, the members of Red Sparowes expertly navigate the hidden vibrations of what seems like a preordained trajectory—chiming, weeping, droning; gracefully descending, and then vaulting upwards, booming, scraping the orchestral firmament before spiraling softly into the inevitable comedown.

* * *

May 23, 1958: Mao Tse Tung initiates the “Great Leap Forward,” his second five-year plan for the People's Republic of China. In addition to imposing impossibly high quotas on mainland farmers (to produce both grain in their fields and shoddy steel in their backyard furnaces) the Chairman insists that the country’s “four greatest evils”—rats, mosquitoes, flies and sparrows—must be exterminated in order to maximize production. Villagers are instructed to scream and bang pots and pans to keep the sparrows in flight until the birds die of exhaustion. Soon, the sparrow population is drastically reduced, leaving no natural predator for the country’s locusts—which proceed to decimate China’s crops. The result is possibly the worst famine in human history. Between 1958 and 1961, as many as 43 million Chinese die of starvation. Meanwhile, local government authorities falsify agricultural reports in order to avoid Mao’s often senseless wrath. Soldiers are dispatched to villages to find grain that the peasants are accused of hiding. Thousands of villagers are tortured and murdered in the search for grain stores that never existed. When they run out of bark and grass to eat, peasants in some provinces resort to cannibalism.

The Chairman: Where is the grain? The people deceive their country. Relieve them of the ravages of the sparrow, and they welcome the havoc of the locust. What guidance will they accept, if not Mine? What punishment shall I mete out, if not everything at My disposal?

The Proletariat: How is it that our Leader cannot see us starving? Why do we continue to toil in vain? Is not revolution in the hearts and minds of the people? If political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, perhaps we are harvesting the wrong crops.

* * *

Red Sparowes’ second full-length release, Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun, was inspired by the foregoing events. Recorded at Louder Studios in San Francisco with producer Tim Green (Comets On Fire, The Fucking Champs, The Melvins), the album features performances from drummer Dave Clifford (formerly of Pleasure Forever and the VSS) and guitarist Andy Arahood (formerly of Angel Hair), both of whom had yet to join Red Sparowes when the band recorded their 2005 debut, At the Soundless Dawn. Clifford and Arahood join original members Cliff Meyer (guitar, also of ISIS), Greg Burns (bass/pedal steel, formerly of Halifax Pier) and Josh Graham (guitar, also of Battle Of Mice and visual comptroller for Neurosis) in weaving a skillfully layered instrumental narrative that combines the expanse of the Sparowes’ compelling live demonstrations with the incomparable fidelity and precision of studio capture.

“I definitely don't want people to think that I used all of this communist-influenced imagery because we are in any way communists—or that I just thought it ‘looked cool,’” Graham explains. “It was very deliberate and fits into a paralleled theme. We identified immediately with the story itself, and with the obvious connections to our band's namesake. First of all, it's awe-inspiring that any government could convince its people to follow such clearly ridiculous orders. Secondly, the [cover] art is a reflection of the methodic qualities used in Chinese propaganda. Whether glorifying villainous leaders or disastrous events, the art the government commissioned was always very delicate and beautiful.”

* * *

Propaganda: The interim between At the Soundless Dawn and Every Red Heart… saw Red Sparowes undertake various tours both foreign and domestic (including a US haul with Pelican, Big Business and Breather Resist), as well as the release of split LPs with Gregor Samsa and Grails (both on Robotic Empire) and, most recently, the Triad three-way split seven-inch/CD with labelmates Battle Of Mice and Made Out Of Babies.

Denouement (The Proletariat): …And so our labors bear fruit, divorced though they might be from the strictures of orthodoxy, and bereft of the voice that is used to spread untruths and subvert the will of the people. Songs tumble from the sky like supreme directives, instilled with the conviction of supernal instinct and navigated by the lodestar of imagination. Warmed by the heat of electric current, they find their receptors in the heart and mind of the collective subconscious, delivering a reminder of that which is both human and divine…