Frankie Sparo – Welcome Crummy Mystics

Frankie Sparo
Welcome Crummy Mystics

Although most truisms seem only built around the proverbial grain of truth, whoever said that necessity was the mother of invention was probably right. Rock history itself is littered with examples, as many times innovation seems to be born from one person trying to copy another but ending up with something new because they can’t do it quite right. From Johnny Cash’s boom-chicka-boom sound coming from his guitarist muffing complicated guitar leads to the original punkers creating a genre out of their inability to play sophisticated arrangements, placing one’s self at the mercy of the winds of change has often allowed artists to pioneer sounds almost unintentionally. As he hangs out on the periphery of the Canadian experimental rock scene, collaborating with members and ideological sympathizers of bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor and The Silver Mt. Zion, Frankie Sparo might soon be in such a position.
Working within the general confines of traditional song structure, Sparo still manages to work in more than a little of the aesthetic of the experimental sound terrorists, meaning that the likelihood that he actually will create something vaguely new or interesting is much greater. Here, on his second full-length release, if he doesn’t exactly shoot revolutionary sparks into the tinderbox of creativity, he at least gives the inclination that he someday might. Right now, his experiments bring us to the precipice of darkly creeping drone jazz, delicately sentimental balladry, and fairly conventional rock arrangements. Impressively (but not surprisingly), he emerges from it all with something vaguely his own.
With the now ubiquitous N. Moss invigorating the mix with piano, keyboards, and vocals, Sparo has taken a clear step beyond the sparse solo arrangements of his debut, although the resulting sound is no less lonely. Case in point, even though the informed moody ether of the opening “Hospitalville” is saturated in a chorus of trumpets, thudding bass lines, and violins, the resulting sound is one of desolation and suffocating solitude. Turning into a disconsolate piano jazz balladeer on “My Sistr,” Sparo clearly aligns himself with Tom Waits in the category of the disenchanted crooner as he croaks axiomatic warnings over solemn piano and tentative upright bass. And for the most part, such unobtrusive gloominess sets the course of the disc, even filling up the cracks in the sun-faded lightness of the French-sung “Camera,” a song that shows Sparo spreading his artistic netting a bit wider to combine electric guitar, bells, and various electronic chirps and delays.
Although my inner critic doesn’t want to admit it, the songs that make the most immediate and lasting impact in the set are actually the most conservative, with the far-off thud and menacing fuzzed guitar line of “Akzidenz Grotesk” being the album’s obvious first single (if singles were a priority), and it’s truly unexpected chorus of “nah nah nah”s and unpredictably surreal flow creating a genuine pop triumph. Similar is “Back on Speed,” a track where Sparo vaguely recalls David Lowery with his creaking vocal delivery and unhinged guitar soloing building up to a strangely successful orchestral chorus with monkish background vocals. Even if the wisdom of putting the album’s two most propulsive tracks back to back might be questionable, the pair add considerable texture to the distinctive flow of the disc, making the more indulgent moments all the more acceptable.
At this time, Frankie Sparo still seems to be working towards mediating between the various influences in his head. As the collision of various pre-existing musical forms has generally resulted in the creation of the following generation’s innovation, Frankie Sparo, by virtue of the eclectic crowd in which he runs and his displayed willingness to experiment, is in a position to soon do something new. Whether he ultimately does will be determined by the particular nature of his artistic spirit, but Welcome Crummy Mystics is certainly a step in the right direction, offering a glimpse at an artist who could be close to erecting his own musical edifice, intentionally or not.