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Wisdom without Words

music_RedSparowesRed Sparowes give history lessons through instrumental music
Post-rock is challenging music. It’s not exactly jazz, and it doesn’t take the same kind of abstract understanding to wrap one’s head around; but still, instrumental music can often initially be outside of the comfort zone of many rock faithful who eventually gravitate from the softer croons of Death Cab towards the drifting soundscapes and sludgy guitars of acts like Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky.

Moreover, there’s the confusing issue of how music without lyrics is used to express specific thematic elements that a vocalist might directly address. If Explosions’ “Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean” is about a sunken Russian Submarine, do specific movements in the song correlate to specific happenings on board? Or is it a more general inspiration?

While drummer and founding member Dave Clifford might not be able to speak for the rest of the genre, luckily he can provide some insight into the work of his own hard-rocking instrumental band, Red Sparowes. The 7-year-old five-piece from Los Angeles will play rare back-to-back nights at the Crepe Place this Wednesday and Thursday, May 5 and May 6, bringing plenty of crunchy distortion, pedal steel guitar, and slow-burning arrangements.

“The music itself is not necessarily written to fit exactly to the concept,” explains Clifford, thus blowing up many people’s preconceived notions of post-rock. “We’ve never picked a theme and then written songs to be kind of like the specific soundtrack to that phrase that the song title is.”

Learning that the sounds on a record don’t exactly fit with the stories they purport to express is something of a revelation. However, for a band which has taken on some really heady song and album titles—their newest is last month’s LP, The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer—there must be some sort of self-expression going on, right?

“It’s kind of more like this ethereal suggestion,” says Clifford of bridging the gap between music and story. “It’s pretty abstract, I think. It’s not extremely tied per song, of how [music and themes] relate.”

The best way to think about the storytelling elements within Red Sparowes’ music is in terms of poetry. While their overall concepts are in the back of the band’s collective mind throughout recording—as in the theme of China’s Mao Zedong era on their second album, Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun—there’s no direct analog between song and narrative. However, there is very much a story told within song titles, which read like poetry. For instance, The Fear is Excruciating contains an insert which serves as an accompaniment to those titles, explicating the album’s themes of “wrong ideas” in human history.

“It’s tied to the entire concept,” explains Clifford. “You could kind of—if you wanted to—you could listen to any of [our] albums and read the song titles and kind of imagine in your mind the cinematic experience of what is happening. Or you could listen to it and not know what the song titles are at all, and imagine something else. There are basically two separate things that we have tied together as suggestion to people to see what they can get out of it.”

But beyond trying to understand the relationship between muse and music, the overall aesthetic that a band like Red Sparowes creates is not necessarily the most accessible; abrasive guitar work and songs can top the 10-minute mark. Bands like Russian Circles, Isis, and Pelican may share undeniable bloodlines with Red Sparowes in terms of similarity of sound, but many speculate the genre as a whole may have hit its popularity peak earlier this decade. Or maybe it’s just transforming into something else.

“As with every genre, it kind of usually starts out with a couple bands that you can describe as something, and it seems fitting,” explains Clifford. “But over time it really evolves into some bigger murk of all kinds of really different bands. It’s hard to really fit anywhere.”


Red Sparowes perform at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 5 and Thursday, May 6, at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12/adv, $15/door. For more information, call 429-6994.

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Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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