"It's hard not to get lost in both the poetic and personal leanings of Monk Parker's crushingly beautiful new record, Crown Of Sparrows. Shaped by the characters and charades that play out in the hidden shadows of America, all the rough and smooth, grim and pretty, the record is a striking document, the swelling, rich instrumentation as pertinent and enveloping as Parker's own gravelled voice and captivating turn of phrase...
The record was crafted with the help of more than thirty musical acquaintances, including members of Okkervil River, The Polyphonic Spree, Heavy Trash, and Swans, but despite that swathe of talent, Crown Of Sparrows still feels defiantly individual, thanks in no small part to Parker's antiquated voice, which sits as the seasoned protagonist across every moment of the record, occasionally leaping into life - see the epic closing track 'Drowned Men' - or scaled back to reveal something altogether more raw and tender, such as on the burned-out wonder of 'Night Market'.
A beautifully-detailed, gorgeously delivered piece of brass-led, melodramatic pop music that offers up the kind of landscape that you can so easily get lost in... a record that doesn't just lay it all out on the line, but one that invites us and you, the listeners, into its weary, rain-soaked world, offering solace and warmth, voice and vision, as it rolls through six compositions that will fill the space around you and linger for long after the last of its light has been extinguished.
A compelling and beautiful record from start-to-finish, Parker continues to push the boundaries of country music as it exists right now."
"A beautiful, magisterial piece of work that's destined to end in sadness... the kind of album that radiates a pain so powerful and all consuming that you just assume the entire band was crying in the studio... reminiscent of Phosphorescent at its most narcotic; think Wolves backed by Matthew E. White's big band. Billowing pedal steel and slow-flowing reverb fill and fog the space, while Monk croons over the ether, guided by the tick-tacking of a drum machine."
"Beautiful, languid... an overwhelming piece of horn- filled country melancholy... a melancholy clash of acoustic guitars and soft horns, held together by Parker's heartbroken, well-whiskey vocals... Country slide guitars arch into trumpet fanfares with Parker's voice pitched up into a stark delicacy. Had Jeff Mangum written a follow-up to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea while sitting half-drunk at an empty bar twenty miles outside of Austin, this could have been its centerpiece, fixation & all. "How could you miss me / Sitting here with this pale girl and my clear-as-gin halo," Parker sings. "Don't you know my whole drunken world Is a gaudy frame / For a picture-perfect girl"
"Monk Parker's How The Spark Loves The Tinder is Fall music - languid, heart-wrenching, suggesting pangs of transition. Singing unhurried minor-key songs burnished with horns, weeping organs, and steel guitar, Parker traffics in a twilit Americana, drifting between Phosphorescent's sun-drunk aphorisms and Castanets' moonlit chill... Parker's lyrics read like poetry, with images of floating stars and nighttime winds and endless skies... the arrangements are rich in color and nuance: opener & lead single 'Sadly Yes" builds from a dirge to a big, brassy climax over nearly six minutes, achieving hard-fought catharsis. A mournful, elegant suite of clarinet and strings opens 'I Am A Gun' before it segues into a kind of chamber-country waltz. There's an extended moment in the middle of 'The Happy Hours', a song ostensibly about existential dread in Rapid City, Iowa, where horns and strings assume a density as vast and uplifting as an orchestra. For all of this life-affirming beauty, the album's operative emotional state is resignation... Far from depressing, the exquisite dejection of How The Spark Loves The Tinder is almost celebratory." RATING: 7.7
"Like werewolves mutating, feedback drips from freshly exposed fangs; then suddenly they return to us, playing pretty, remorseful songs about the carnage caused. Fans of My Morning Jacket & Sparklehorse will weep with joy... Wonderfully raw, simultaneously visual and classic, it sounds like the Fifties hit Earth Angel, if only that could be broadcast across a vast desert skyline... But what really pushes the album into must-have territory is the way singer Monk Parker is able to evoke the same pained, tremolo vocal style that defined Chris Isaak's masculine mystique, ultimately situating himself next to the literate, depressed greats like Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo, and Magnetic Fields."
"Monstrously sad and brilliantly anachronistic... a swirling, majestic debut. The music comes gently drifting in, accompanied by the distant, high voice of Monk Parker, sounding like it's being beamed across from the other end of the universe. It paints a thousand beautiful pictures of loneliness and longing. As the floating galaxies start to unravel, you'll see that there's a warm, beating heart at the center of all this. It's undoubtedly a cracked heart, one that seems to have bounded through solar systems and returned to report that 'There's no such thing as perfect days, no such thing as days that sparkle & sway & are so, so lovely & glowing'. The happy adjectives belie the sad thrust of the meaning, and like a soap bubble drifting in air you fear that these songs are so tenuous and fragile they could disappear from existence at any moment. Then from out of nowhere a wash of drums and feedback comes crashing in and you see clearly for a few moments that there is real substance to all this beauty."
"Viscerally raw, and poetic in it's intensity... Monk Parker astounds with the extent to which one album can be so considered and yet sound so uncontrived. Comparisons with Sparklehorse and early Velvet Underground seem a given; it's the lyricism evident in all three that is the true nexus of Parker's wares. His words, knifelike in their concentration, would steal all attention if it were not for the expertly restrained instrumentation surrounding them. Overall: perfect, just perfect."
"Venomously confessional... one of the most voyeuristic & tragic musical projects in recent memory. Parker has shaved his observations on failed romance into lyrics so concise, they reach haiku-like proportions of succinctness, & he delivers them in one of the most perfectly lilting vocal styles that I've heard in some time. It's melancholy, yet hopeful... a beautifully melded combination of Galaxie 500 & Mazzy Star. They've succeeded in capturing an extra- ordinarily elusive human experience. The only thing that'll keep you from riding the repeat button is the fact that each new track is as striking as the music that came before it. Forget the world outside your stereo... Fire On The Bright Sky holds enough musical and emotional depth to keep you entertained throughout the foreboding seasons ahead of us."
"Downright tragic... hauntingly beautiful... a gorgeous tapestry of unhealthy glamour. Farfisa trills, unearthly guitar work & heavily reverbed voices, with just a hint of country embedded in the pedal steel... yet it all feels far darker and more glamorous than this might suggest. Spiders are eating flies and wolves are eating dogs, love is doomed and nights go on forever here. There's an unhealthy, up-too-long gleam in everyone's eyes. Still, by the end, No Such Thing As Sara Jane shuffles triumphantly, almost joyfully, forward, embellished by brass, while The Russian Ending builds from talk-sung reveries to dizzying, fever-pitch swells. As so often in life, the low lows lead inevitably to the high highs, a maelstrom of intense drama, beauty & mood emerging out of darkness".
"It's a Coney Island of the mind to be reckoned with, a surreal psychic ride between sweet nostalgia and brutal reality, the superficial and the sublime... the time is somewhere between 1960 and the future, in a world of late-night subway rides and neon cock- tail signs, smoke-filled motel rooms, glaring airport terminals, streaks of landscape through the windows of a moving car. The lyrics tell the story cryptically, with a precise, poetic minimalism that says little and suggests everything, painting a radiant and desperate, slow-rolling panorama of unflinching extremes... the band's new album confirms that they've done well to follow their instincts into deeper explorations of romance in glamorous ruin."
"A masterpiece of heartbreak songs, simultaneously vintage and futuristic, glittery and morose. Parker sings with the blank melancholy of a downtown fashion model who appeals to the Wizard of Oz for a heart, then is utterly unsurprised when it arrives pre-broken... The group draws from influences like the Walker Brothers and M. Ward to concoct an entrancingly lo-fi pop noir that could very well be the sound David Lynch hears in his head when he falls asleep high."
"Super-slow ballad style... transcendentally melancholy expression... Monk Parker brings back the apple-buttered makeout music of the 50's that rock n roll was never able to destroy. Like the better films of David Lynch, his art doesn't wallow in gooey nostalgia so much as it's the natural product of an anachronistic environment, worried not at all about being out-of-step with it's time. There's something definitely Lynchian about the blasé pop-art narcosis purveyed by the Low Lows... Though Parker's lyrics can get as poisonous as you please, the music sounds downright lovely... Each song on the latest album feels like it's going to be the last one. It's a long, blissful denouement of slow, sultry make-out ballads."
"Monk Parker may have been born 20 years too late... Dreamy music that calls to mind Zombies- influenced dream-pop bands of the 60's & 70's. He sings sweet, sad melodies over slow-swirling harmonic themes & melodic melancholia, & his steel guitar whines tremulously, producing a sound that resembles surf music played at the wrong RPM... Very few bands attempting to kick over the metro- nome and play out their measures in jumbo slices actually succeed. The Velvet Underground is responsible for originally tilling the field, but it's hard to deny the variety of fruit the patch has yielded — Low, the American Analog Set, the Cowboy Junkies — and now... this."
"Singer Monk Parker's delivery is somewhat reminiscent of a 3am taxi dispatcher singing into the radio to stay awake... this is the sound of time wanting to go but not wanting to leave, the dragging of the feet of the soul. Perfect listening for those cold nights, with it's Yo La Tengo-esque atmospherics, hushed haunting vocals, and other mood music surprises."
"Hazily nocturnal and lyrically barbed, cast in shadows and sadness. I've listened to this record a dozen times and I still don't understand them, and still get lost in it every time. They have patience, and they have grace, and a knack for exploring passion in all it's forms — evocative, detailed, compelling, half-dreamed, wild & haunting. The perfectly ringing organ tones, the oak- thick reverb on the vocals, like they've been wrapped in a blanket... On a humid night with lingering chill, it reminds me what it feels like to want to be warm."
"A suite of slow-burning, lo-fi wonder, this record is a must for anyone who has ever lost themselves in early Willard Grant Conspiracy, Yo La Tengo, Tindersticks, Sparklehorse or Grandaddy. Fire On The Bright Sky immediately sounds like a classic from that genre and will compete with the best work from any of the bands just name-checked. Monk Parker, songwriter & vocalist, sets off his material with a fractured and fragile voice that seems to creep out out of under the speakers, drawing the bleached & scorched musical back- ground into focus with lyrics at once perfectly congruous and oddly disparate one from the next. Our regular readers will all have heard records like this, but seldom will they have heard one so beautiful to listen to, yet so painful to absorb."
"Beautiful, hypnotic noise... a symphony for the lonely and desolate. It's the prom moment you never had (and never could)... slow, lusty, dark; padded with wurlitzers, acoustic guitars, & voices like molasses. Paradoxically (but predictably, as any Monk Parker fan will tell you) these heavy, sexy songs rotate around a center of infidelity, of physical and emotional journey, of the intense fretting that accompanies intense love. Think of the Swans doing Iron & Wine songs. The dusky, moody harmonies call to mind a slow dance in taffeta in a humid high school gym circa 1956... Pleasingly woozy in an ambient wash of reverb, old organs and pianos, and transmittal-from-a- distant-star vocals. The plaintive, rising & falling notes of Parker's steel guitar ultimately ground the album in spooky, lonesome beauty, that would make any Twin Peaks devotee weak in the knees. Delicate yet powerful, with eerie half-sung, half- spoken vocal from Monk Parker that could make the hair stand up on a bald eagle, this is labyrinthine music, easier to get into than out of. One listen and you'll never sleep soundly again."
"Stellar... Parker's refinement of his low-key, noirish sound reaches it's apex here. A poetic vision from it's opening dissonance to it's haunting denouement... Moody, often mesmerizing songs cooly face disillusion- ment and resignation head on without succumbing to anything approaching despair. Frankly I think it's a work of art... all terrifying pulses and dark corners. What with each monumentally pretty song being followed by another similarly colorful and swelling jewel of a slow burn, one could easily mistake them for the diseased, Morricone-influenced baby brothers of Low, but this would be to miss the point entirely. Where the Sparhawks have the pleading stance of wronged innocents, Monk Parker knows exactly what's wrong. He just can't do anything about it. It's Parker's voice that carries a large portion of the record, such is the relative restraint of the arrangements below him. And it is this restraint that allows the barely- intelligible word to become unerringly prevalent. When he wails about "Poor Georgia Girls", it is difficult to know what he means, but thunderously easy to know that he means it. The start-stop slapdash of 'No Such Thing As Sara Jane' is expertly paced, with an ending so impec- cably woven through with viscous horns and strings that the satisfaction is not so much guaranteed as gospel- intoned. The pacing throughout is monumentally slow, but this does nothing to stifle the enjoyment. It isn't hard to get comfortable with the gradual downward spiral that reaches it's lowest ebb on the final spoken-word and organ bluster of 'The Russian Ending'. The beauty is never *not* entirely at the forefront on this most mourn- ful of records.
"Simply amazing... Welcome the sadness, the pathos, the noise. Behind the screeching (howling!) feedback, the aleatoric piano, the farfisa organ, the tremolo on nearly everything, is a genuine opening of the human heart, dark and thrashy, yet strangely calm and soothing. Their music rises out like an ocean, erratic & turbulent over the hagged rocks... but if you look deeper down, underneath all the surface mayhem you'll find that all is still and content. The album takes it's time so listeners can enjoy every sonic paper cut. This was released back in September and people are only catching on to how great this band is. Come on people, keep up!"