Frankie Sparo's debut effort (My Red Scare) was a stripped-down effort of bleak songcraft, with guitar chords that rang out like gaping wounds, and lyrics that painted a picture with just about the same amount of bleakness. In short time, he followed that up with the studio-recorded Arena Hostile EP that featured renditions of songs that he'd been working and building upon in a live setting. The result was a nice step in the progression of his sound, and this newest release Welcome Crummy Mystics continues that effort, adding even more instrumentation and experimentation to his songwriting arsenal.
Members of A Silver Mt. Zion (who provided the additional backing on the Arena Hostile EP) contribute to this new recording, as well as a whole slew of other players, including some subtle digital contributions from Ian Ilavsky (member of Re: and Constellation co-founder), ever-present Effrim, and a new, major addition in N. Moss (arrangements, pianos, keyboards, and vocals). The result is a marked step in a new direction, hopping from the dark and stark sound of the first disc to an almost flush band on most of the tracks.
One of the best examples of this new sound arrives with "Hospitalville," the first song on the release. Building slowly from low-end chimes, the track layers on strings, horns, percussion, and guitar until it has reached sort of a rambling swagger by the end. Sparo adds his raspy vocals to the beginning, setting things up for the rather dramatic instrumental closing. Likewise, "Sleds To Moderne" is built upon a rather simple melody, but it's the layering of sounds and subtle instrumentation (including some clomping background beats) that bring the track alive.
Another thing Sparo does a couple times on the release is rock out a fair amount. "Akzidenz Grotesk" stumbles along with jangly guitars and shreds of feedback while off-kilter drums add fills. Sparo himself adds dual-tracked vocals (at one point the background ones get messed up and provide an odd moment of humor), while a roughly assembled "men's choir" add another layer of haphazard-ness. If that track was a bit loose, though, it doesn't even compare to the jagged edges of "Back On Speed," in which Sparo completely abandons his usual singing style for a warbling, cracked rant while angular guitars shard off and the choir makes a re-appearence. It's an interesting diversion, but one of weaker tracks on the disc.
Some of the best newer things about the sound are the clicks and quiet programming that help provide a backdrop for the track "Camera." While it's nothing groundbreaking or amazing, the subtle electronic/organic work provides a lovely backdrop to the French lyrics (which come off much less pretentious than other groups trying their one song in another language). Even though it's not the closing track, the nearly 6-minute "City As Might Have Been" again makes a great point for the expanded instrumentation as tabla drumming mixes with strings and horns and guitars while multi-part vocals add a nice touch to the chorus. Despite a couple stumbles, the disc is just as solid as his debut. It's a slightly different sound, but for fans of his work, or others like Califone, this will be an enjoyable find.