Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Whistling Dixie at the beginning of the song "The Loneliness of Magnets," Handsome Family lead singer Brett Sparks sounds like the quaint and seductive flapping of two bird hearts introducing themselves to one another, kicking up specks of dirt and dead leaves in all of the excitement. He ends the song the same way, while in the middle parts he takes us into the darkened areas of the souls, where loneliness is really the subject working the welcome wagon, offering its sweaty handshake. He and his wife, Rennie Sparks, take us to a weird place almost every time they open their mouths. It's a place where they sing about schools of fish and thousands of buzzing, busy bees and almost always come close to making it feel as if we're going to get an altogether lovely ode to draining honeycombs, or the reflection of yellow sunlight banging off of a dripping drop of the sweetness, but they turn the tables so subtly, putting us face-to-face with the stinger at the last second. They are sharp and distinctly abstract portraits of the twists and corkscrews that a wandering mind can bend itself into. They are dark moments of rational thoughts turned into venomous vipers, hissing and peering with dangerous, inky eyes. Brett Sparks sings, "Think of me when you drift away into the mist of silver dreams/And I'll find you in the darkness, where the water turns to steam," on the aforementioned song and it's as if we're transported to a spot in the forest that bubbles with hot springs and terrycloth towels handed out by little, accommodating satans, as if there's going to be a price to pay for the R&R and the dryness that the towels will offer. We're not to trust those little red creatures and yet they seem to be more puppy dog than devil when they're being presented by the Sparks'. They allow pristine episodes of natural beauty and outdoorsy appreciations to be latched onto by their imaginations and perhaps a pessimistic squeamishness that sees things more in rain showers than the clearest blues. The songs on the band's latest full-length - "Honey Moon" - are the kinds of domesticated animals that people talk about in hushed tones, following a bloody attack that leaves a young child with an unrecognizable face, with the mauling taking half of it with it. They say things like, "Dempsey never raised a paw to nobody before that day. Even when he was provoked, he kept his emotions in check. That there dog loved kids. Something must have set him off. I didn't have any choice. I had took him behind the shed and put him down when the kids had got oftta bed." These are the quirks and the exceptions that Sparks finds amusing in his writing and he gives them even more life with such charismatic volume and energy, giving the words real voltage. He sings in a way that makes you so wonderfully uncomfortable at times, the kind of voice and verve that you just cannot bring yourself to break from. It's outspoken and dark and it gives the songs something like a cross between gallows humor and a purist's remorse. It's a stunning statement, everything that he sings and then when he writes something like, "Darling, my darling, your snapping fangs don't scare me/I'll leap on your spine and love you," you get the chills all over again. It's the magic bullet that he fires one more time to approval of the dull roar.
The Handsome Family Official Site
Carrot Top Records