Review Summary: While competent, this album proves Red Sparowes are a band capable of more than they achieve.
Given their personnel, one would be hard pressed to argue that Red Sparowes
aren't one of the most capable bands within the sphere of post-rock. Following from their previous two albums, The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Solution
is their first full-length release since the departure of guitarist Josh Graham (A Storm of Light
, Battle of Mice
). Given that they have always had a reputation for being highly literate, what is first most notable is that Red Sparowes have ditched their ridiculously long song titles. Previously, each title would form a line or stanza of a poem. The approach here appears to be the same; just with shorter titles. The approach to titling their songs is not particularly innovative but where many similar groups employ seemingly purposeless, pretentious titles of gargantuan length, Red Sparowes use it as a fresh method of adding meaning to their music. This sort of slight and interesting embellishment on post-rock clichÃ© is, in my mind, the defining element of Red Sparowes as a group. They're not revolutionary, but revolutionary isn't always what's needed and Red Sparowes have consistently demonstrated good execution of their chosen genre.
The Fear is Excruciating...
, then, is a slightly disappointing release and at first it would appear that they've slipped back ever so slightly into the narrow confinements of their genre. But this is not the case at all because Red Sparowes have always been a band that flirted with post-rock conventions without embracing them fully. This release continues that pattern, it's just that some of the embellishments that previously made their releases interesting are scaled back or at least not foregrounded. In large part, this is perhaps due to Josh Graham's departure. Graham's textural guitar work was a big part of the group's first two albums and without the atmosphere aroused by his playing, the pieces of The Fear is Excruciating...
feel flat, despite the good ideas contained within almost every track. The pedal steel guitar has always been a prominent part of the group's sound but without Graham's textures, the interesting sounds have to take a more active role in the music and thus the interactions are much more fluid, soft and far less jarring. The interaction of the instruments creates more unifying feeling, but the more interesting sounds that the group has become known for are swept into the background.
I've always felt that Red Sparowes are a band capable of more than they achieve. As it stands they are one of their more interesting bands in their genre that are simply lacking a certain x-factor to tip them over the edge. I can't say what would do it though, and despite everything I've said, this is an extremely competent release with good musicianship and interesting parts. Fans of the genre will likely find it to be one of the better releases of the year. It seems that Red Sparowes, though, are missing a special part of their sound and it's holding them back from becoming the band they could be and indeed, may well be with a future release.