The Austin Chronicle

Phases and Stages

Reviewed by Greg Beets, July 15, 2005, Music


Jalopy Pop

Making a grandiose pop statement is an iffy proposition. In the quest to be universal, it's easy to overreach and wind up with nicely arranged irrelevance. Sparkwood sidesteps this pitfall by tempering its pop aspirations with a healthy dose of ginger. To that end, the Austin ensemble kicks off its second album with the geek-cheeky preflight instrumental "Checklist" before proceeding headlong into the radiant Badfinger/Fountains of Wayne cross-up "Miles Away." Unlike the guitar-driven masses dominating this field, bandleader Bart Padar is predisposed toward the piano, giving his songs a fleshy, Anglophonic sentimentality uncommon to power chords alone. Sparkwood's wash of piano, Mellotron, and synthesizer melts away knee-jerk aversions to unabashed expressions of romance. Taken with the band's close harmonies and Padar's ability to reach the vocal altitude of Cheap Trick's Robin Zander, a wistful ballad like "Cruel World" takes you back to those first chlorine-scented whiffs of love and misery. The more hopeful "In Your Lovin' Arms" is an indie recitation of ELO and Love You-era Beach Boys, while "Where She Ought to Be" recalls the latter's flirtations with heavier rock and R&B during Brian Wilson's sabbatical. Despite its shoestring pedigree, Jalopy Pop encapsulates Padar's far-reaching carnival of melodies with abounding efficacy.


Category:Album Review

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