To the Rescue
A new EP Sparks renewed interest
Young bands come and go. As Reindeer Records’ 22nd annual Reindeer Rock-Off gets set to kick off this Sunday [May, 2006], it’s important to remember that for every Jeremiah Freed or Howie Day, who make it from the finals to the major labels, there are hundreds who melt into obscurity, as high-school bands are wont to do. Still, finalists Gloria Red, Norwood, Passing Lane, Rocksmythe, and the Shams have more reason than ever to be reasonably hopeful that hard work and good songs will pay off with at least a dedicated and loyal fanbase (thanks to the power of Internet marketing), if not fame and outrageous fortune.
I am reminded of this by a great new EP by Sparks the Rescue, a band I saw as part of my judging duties at Reindeer Rock-Off 20, back when they were the three-piece band Pozer. They had matching unis, a cool banner behind them, and the bassist jumped off the top of his stack and nearly killed himself. I liked them quite a bit. But their songs were a bit lackluster, they couldn’t generate quite the sound they needed, and the vocals were a bit weak, so I didn’t put them first (nor, however, did I put in for Sammie Francis, the eventual first-female, first-solo-artist winner – I was a Stillview man).
Luckily, Pozer have addressed all of these perceived deficiencies in fine fashion in building Sparks the Rescue, a leader of Maine’s all-ages scene. Original members Toby McCallister (guitar and vocals), Ben Briggs (bass), and Nate Spencer (drums) first added vocalist/guitarist Pat O’Connell and Marty McMorrow (keys/other stuff) to fill out their sound and upgrade their vocals a bit. This worked pretty well. Their debut self-released disc (we’ll call it a full-length at seven songs), Stumbling Skyward, was an unexpected hit, selling well for the past year-plus on the local front and helping them to build a loyal following.
Since then, however, the lead vocals of Pat O’Connell and Toby McCallister have been augmented (not quite replaced) by the addition of Alex Roy, who’s simply a more polished and confident frontman. Plus, that’s all he’s got to do, leaving the guitarists to rip – especially on stage, where Sparks are known for an impressive performance, full of flailing about that’s just short of self-mutilation. The result is personified by Hey, Mr. Allure, a three-song statement that should propel the band into the ranks of Maine’s best-known bands.
Not that they’re unknown. Not by any means.
Between Myspace and PureVolume the band have more than 100,000 song listens under their belt, which isn’t exactly the same as going platinum, but is pretty impressive nonetheless and suggests success as the band embark on an east coast tour later this month that puts them in Virginia Beach, Nashville, Roseville (Michigan), Elizabethtown (Kentucky), and Glen Cove (New York), among other places, with shows likely to be added along the way. Like Killing Moon (nee Animal Suit Drive-by), among other local young bands, Sparks have utilized the ’Net’s immense power for disseminating information, paired it with good songwriting, energy, and a willingness to develop relationships with their fans, and turned it into a tangible musical career.
Two of Mr. Allure’s tracks, “Nurse! Nurse! (I’m Losing My Patience)” and “The Scene: Your Bedroom,” are featured even now on the band’s Myspace page, so purchase of the limited-run disc is as much show of support as anything. But for those who like to hear great music in full CD quality, it’s probably worth the buy even if you’ve heard the tracks five times a day for the last few months.
First of all, the band have this time enlisted the talents of Jonathan Wyman (Skyward was recorded by the able Terry Palmer at Dizzyland), and he’s employed his close-mic’ing techniques and big-sound sensibilities to create a much fuller sound, more Foo Fighters, more immediate. “Nurse! Nurse!,” too, shows off frontman Roy’s wonderfully crisp and reedy tenor, full of irony and sneer. It’s contrasted here with deranged screaming to good effect. It’s something the band feature often, and gets them past rock and roll and into a realm of emo and hardcore. On Skyward they possibly over-utilized the delivery technique, pairing it with the lead-singing like a form of harmony on many of the tracks, stripping some of the impact.
Also, the lyrics are easier to discern here, and they can be pretty good: “Oh, can we call the hospital?/ I’ve been sleeping with the nurses/ For medication.”
Later, Sparks kick off “Saco Boys Have No Class” with an old-school “let’s go” and then reach back again for the whininess that made the early Cure my high-school girlfriend’s favorite band. They employ the screaming again sparingly here, paired with some sour notes in the bridge to emphasize the pit of despair we’re meant to sympathize with. Also, they pair it with the lead vocals in the final reprise of the chorus, which is fairly stellar, but instead of harmonizing, the scream sings a different part with different lyrics entirely.
Add that kind of creativity to a song like “The Scene,” which features five of the six band members with vocal parts, and the band’s evolution is pretty evident. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be sharing 21+ stages with bands like Lost on Liftoff any time now. Which would be appropriate. Liftoff frontman Walt Craven’s old band, Goud’s Thumb, was once Illegal Jam, which, of course, performed in Reindeer Rock-Off 2, way back in 1984.
Some young bands just don’t go away.