There's no shortage of drug references, really. "High and Hazy" has a spacey opening that puts drummer Nathan Spencer to the fore, who's often doing a lot more than just keeping time here. His pushing of the beat is much of what makes these songs so active, so blood boiling, so full of nervous energy, so aligned with lines like: "I've been so high lately/Thinking that my lies could save me/Crashed through your bedroom door." Combine all that with a recurring stalker persona and you've got Roy carving out a lot of anti-hero space. In "The Weirdest Way," one of the few songs here that's openly minor, he mines jealousy and the creepy lengths to which it can push a person: "I drove to your cousin's house/And watched you undress yourself through the window pane/In the weirdest way."
Which way is weird? The creepiness is amplified by the cool vocal effect applied by producer Jonathan Wyman at then end of words in a verse so that Roy's voice morphs into something akin to the peal of an alarm clock.
Just like Roy can take a jilted lover song like "Postcard of a Tidal Wave" and move it one step past the norm: "I'm digging through your trash/Gonna find your dirty past, and sell you out."
Somehow, though, Sparks both manage to keep these songs upbeat and a ton of fun and not belie the material. There's a realism here, a recognition that most people are fucked up and fucked-up behavior is what makes the world interesting. And they always seem so grounded, especially with the way they cling so tightly to Maine roots, referencing Route 95 and tossing off a line like "winter in Hawaii is like summertime in Maine."
They can be so sweet, too, with the "backyard romance" of "Vanities" (driven by Ben Briggs's bass) and the adolescent escapism of "Holiday" (which will certainly be some 16-year-old girl's favorite song evar!). The guest vocal from The Morning Of's Jessica Leplon on "How to Make a Heart Hollow" ought to particularly tug at the heartstrings.
These guys wear their hearts on their sleeves and make no bones about their love of songs designed for playing over and over again. And in their case design and results are one and the same.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WORST THING I'VE BEEN CURSED WITH | Released by Sparks the Rescue | with Love Via Dance Machine + Phantom Companion + MAMM SLAMM winners | at Port City Music Hall, in Portland | April 30 | facebook.com/sparkstherescue