Sparks the Rescue get back to basics

Do they cut and run? Nah.
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  September 5, 2012

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LINING UP FOR A REGROUPED RELEASE Sparks the Rescue.

You know you're doing something right when you launch a Kickstarter campaign for $6K and wind up with $12,570 with which to make your first post-label recording project. Such is the place in which Sparks the Rescue find themselves, back in the land of the independents, their two albums with Fearless Records in the rearview mirror, and the winding road of a relentlessly touring band ahead of them.

It can be rocky out there. Frontman Alex Roy found that out the hard way down at Webster Hall in NYC, taking a bass headstock to the back of his head and passing out on stage with a stream of blood coming down his neck. No worries, though. He was back at it, if a little subdued, the next night in Towson, Maryland.

There's no place for feeling sorry for yourself and licking your wounds in the music biz. If things don't go your way, you've got to simply make more music and hope the fans keep coming out. Sparks have delivered that with a new six-song EP, self-titled in a classic nod to retrenching, regrouping, and reinventing.

Except this sounds more like a band getting back to basics than launching off in some new direction. Even the old bite of screamo is back, teased in the opening "Intro" and making a full-fledged appearance in the last choruses of the searing "Disaster," the album's clear single and an aggressive piece of indictment, full of Mike Naran's ripping guitar solo and Roy's trademark sneer: "You couldn't keep a secret/So you've got nothing to show."

This is an aggressiveness we haven't heard since 2006's Hey, Mr. Allure, and it's welcome, something that feels like a band groping for honesty. Of course, only guitarist Toby McAllister remains from the original group that debuted as Sparks the Rescue back in the early 2000s, and bassist David Pait and drummer Dylan Taylor are brand-new for this album, so there is no choice but to go forward.

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How to meld the pop-infused radio rock with the heavier inclinations? That's the journey. "Last Chance for Romance" is reminiscent of the very good, but very poppy, "We Love Like Vampires," with a Maine shout-out and some classic Alex Roy lilts. Really, Roy may not be a classically full-timbred vocalist, but he can lilt with the best of them: "I'd rather look in your eyes than watch the television/Tell me things I don't want to hear."

The chorus here is hyper-catchy, something they honed well on the last two records. "Do we cut and run?," Roy wonders before the song quiets for the bridge, and chunked chords and breathy vocals give way to handclaps, a digitized vocal hiccough, and a coda that's a tad saccharine: "We're both afraid to love."

And while it's tempting to see "Phoenix" as a metaphor for their own band's new life, when the opening fingerpicked acoustic piece moves into the full band section it sounds like the band caught a 24-hour case of Bieber fever at some point this spring. Naran's elegant electric guitar backing is a nice touch, though, where other bands would have been tempted to insert a manufactured string section. An electric guitar is a string, right?

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