photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
with the advent of modern social media and the internet as the central focus of commerce and our economy writ large, its always interesting to see how major retailers attempt to catch out attention and pique our interest. instrument and music products retailer REVERB.COM a few years back came up with the YOUTUBE series SYNTH SOUNDS OF as a means of drawing attention to the keyboards, sequencers and various software, both vintage and contemporary, they have on offer.
the series showcases musician / producer WILLIAM KIRK who guides the audience through the compositional ingenuity and sonic experimentalism at play in classic songs primarily from the 1970s and 1980s FUNK, NEW WAVE, DISCO and SYNTH POP catalogue. im talking about acts such as TEARS FOR FEARS, PRINCE, DEPECHE MODE, TOTO, GIORGIO MORODER, HALL & OATES, TALKING HEADS, PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC, MADONNA, TALK TALK and even recent acolytes like BRUNO MARS and FRANK OCEAN. i originally found the series when researching what the vintage SEQUENCIAL CIRCUITS PROPHET 5 our studio had inherited from my cousin was capable of.
KIRK is knowledgeable, personable and absolutely ridiculous (i still cant handle those MEMBERS ONLY jackets!), which makes this series fun and engaging. he seems to get the feel of the period and is respectful without being too reverential in the process. SYNTH SOUNDS OF may have failed in getting me to buy anything, but it has beyond succeeded in making me more conscious of the artistry involved in the use of electronic keyboards, pads, triggers and vintage analog synths.
and it made me dance. so there.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
my introduction to SPARKS was through an early 2000s message board where someone posted that JIMMY EURINGER of MINDLESS SELF INDULGENCE had the falsetto voice somewhere between SPARKS and TINY TIM. i remember thinking "who the hell is SPARKS" and then proceeding to dip my toes into their impressively vast multi-genre catalogue.
getting into SPARKS is sort of like navigating through the avant-garde THE RESIDENTS discography in that their music is CONCEPTUALLY COMPLEX, almost to the point of being OPAQUE. its apparent none of their work is done at face value and requires intellectual effort on behalf of the listener, which is probably why they are very much a cult band 50 years after their debut. its pretty remarkable that they are still a continuing relevant entity some half century later.
the documentary THE SPARKS BROTHERS (FOCUS FEATURES, 2020) is long overdue and gets at the heart of the relationship and ever-developing and deepening artistic collaboration between brothers RUSSELL and RON MAEL. the film includes notable interviews with producers GIORGIO MORODER, TODD RUNDGREN and TONY VISCONTI, former members of their various lineups and peers/admirers like STEVE JONES (SEX PISTOLS), ANDY BELL & VINCE CLARKE (ERASURE), BECK, STEPHEN MORRIS & GILLIAN GILBERT (NEW ORDER/JOY DIVISION), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), NICK RHODES & JOHN TAYLOR (DURAN DURAN), "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC, and FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS) among many others.
the film clocks at more than 2 hours and attempts to get at the sheer size of their prolific catalogue and make sense of the genre-defying EXPERIMENTATION that comes to define their career. what comes across is that despite any commercial peaks and valleys in their career, the focus was always on the music and what was coming next. an example is in the late 1970s when PUNK exploded, their reaction was to collaborate with GIORGIO MORODER and make a pop record with sequencers and synthesizers. this obviously predated what followed subsequently in the 1980s. and then when that ran its course they moved on in a more BAROQUE, orchestrated direction. i am having a hard time thinking of a band that went through as many seamless variations with such sudden disparity while maintaining such a quality product. its pretty astounding.
it also makes sense that such jarring right turns limited their commercial prospects as it takes a fairly SOPHISTICATED and NICHE audience to welcome such progression and sharp right turns. thus it makes sense why they have a dedicated audience in EUROPE, so much so that before this documentary i am ashamed to say that i thought they were EUROPEAN. they arent. they are from SANTA MONICA, literraly less than an hour from my childhood in home in SOUTHERN CALIIFORNIA. its a fact i find pretty humorous. but it goes to show how much their music speaks for itself in that it transports its listeners to an alternate aural reality where anything is possible.
and that is also why its interesting to see where they go next. 50 years in and people are still looking forward to what they have to offer. if that isnt a testament to SPARKS, then i dont know what is. definitely cant say that about PAUL MCCARTNEY or any other legacy artist. ok, maybe NEIL YOUNG.