Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Handsome Family- dead girls and other fun things

"Our first drummer quit because he said that all our songs were about dead girls," Rennie Sparks revealed at a recent NYC gig. Normally, drummers aren't known for their smarts (unless they're Neil Peart) but this guy was onto something. When you sit through a set of Handsome Family songs, you notice a theme. Drowning, bottomless holes, getting lost, dying, getting killed- these all come up as themes. If they didn't happen to be a great husband-and-wife alt-country duo, the Handsome Family might be the morose goth band you've ever heard. Luckily, Brett Sparks' sounds like he's channeling Johnny Cash (though sometimes too self-consciously) more than say the Cure's Robert Smith.

With a musically low-key group like HF, you can't really expect many sparks from the Sparks. Instead, you enjoy one good song after another. And while I couldn't appreciate their latest record, Last Days of Wonder (Carrot Top), as much as their earlier records (which were at least more upbeat musically), their show helped to set me straight: what they're great at is being low-key, at least on the surface. What that means is that Brett's tunes have found an even keel with Rennie's dark lyrics. Luckily, she doesn't just wallow in gloom (again, compare the goths) but finds interesting things there, especially in the details: Nicola Tesla's dwelling, frozen yogurt at airports, throwing TV's off a cliff, shooting bears, spray-painting tree-stumps, getting sentimental over dented cars and getting a small bag of onion rings at the drive-through. She makes Brett's gloomy songs sound down-right homey when you bear down on them and they deserve the attention. If she gets the inkling, a great career in prose fiction awaits her.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at that Mercury Lounge show. Very terrific. I first saw them about five years ago, at a Maxwell's gig where the entire band was the Sparks and a drum machine. *That* was a low key show (but nonetheless an excellent one). The full band show of two weeks ago might have been low on bombast, but it was quite propulsive in comparison to the drum-machine-in-Hoboken date half a decade before.

5:21 PM  

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