September 19, 2005

Sparrow "The Early Years"

Because it’s raining and cold outside and it’s kinda feelin’ like England, I find myself in a Sixties 'retro' mindset. Who better to spend time with than Jason Zumpano, the man who created some great bubblegum-pop records in the mid 1990s? True, The New Pornographers’ Carl Newman was in the band, and he gets a lot of the attention these days, but Zumpano’s not to be written off easily as an also-ran.The Early Years (not actually a collection of early tracks, it’s all new material) is just as sunny and as bright as Zumpano’s other work, even if it’s not as crunchy or as ornate. There’s a definite mid-60s British invasion feel to the record (more Kinks, less Beatles), but The Early Years isn’t particularly ‘retro,’ either.

Instead, what we’ve got here is a batch of sunny pop songs that simply shimmer. Personal favorite? I’m a sucker for “The Early Years,” with its upbeat tempo and Zumpano’s lackadaisical chorus of “How do I get from heeeeeeeerrrreeeeeee?” that’s tempered with a really nice mixture of strings and trumpet. But I’m also a sucker for the boy/girl harmonies throughout the record, which are provided courtesy of Lucy Brain. Take, for instance, “I’m Just Not There.” Before listening to it, it’s hard not to think of “She’s Not There,” and yeah, the vocal tag reminds a little bit of that classic Zombie tune, but it’s not a rip-off or anything like that. There’s plenty of strings and brass but not too much; The Early Years’ songs are not heavy duty baroque pop, it’s just a guy havin’ a good time making music that sounds like the records he likes.

I guess that’s what makes The Early Years’s retro-pop stylings so nice; they’re sugary and sweet and they don’t sound like a damn rip-off of someone else. Plus, any band that uses a damn trumpet is a-okay in my book!

--Joseph Kyle

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