Local Wire

Red Sparowes

This is not an album that will translate into catchy ring tones or make you bounce in your car seat, bang your head, shake your booty with friends, or write angry/gushy diary entries about your recent ex. It's thinking (wo)man's music, a sweeping soundscape that re-creates a horrible moment in human history as a metaphor for intellectual and spiritual liberation. Listeners have to sit down and spend some time with it, because the music's not exactly "catchy." There are no individual track listings on the CD, and every 7- to 10-minute composition is complex, progressive, and sweeping in scope — not surprising when you consider that the band includes members of lauded experimental rock groups Isis, Neurosis, and Halifax Pier.

Without lyrics, Red Sparowes tell the story of the Great Leap Forward, a disastrous plan for economic growth that the Chinese government inflicted upon its people from 1958 to 1962. One failed part of this multi-phase plan included killing millions of seed-eating sparrows to improve crop growth. The ensuing floods and famine killed millions of people. What does a heartbreaking history lesson like that sound like? Well, it sounds huge, first of all, with giant distortion, elaborate rhythms, and tsunami-size crescendos. Even in their quiet moments, when all seems sparkling guitar and soft melodies, the compositions brim with layer after layer of instrumental ornamentation, including winsome pedal steel guitar. The sound is often breathtaking and always atmospheric, and the CD liner notes read like folk poetry: "And by our own hand did every last bird lie silent in their puddles, the air barren of song as the clouds drifted away . . ."