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Arena Hostile

Frankie Sparo
Arena Hostile EP

There are times when I was listening to this new release when I felt like it was some sort of twisted science experiment to test the boundaries of sickness during a recording process. I'd read in a couple different places that Sparo got sick on tour last year, and this release was recorded for the VPRO Radio Sessions during the worst part of it (he even lists "horrible fever" as one of the accompanying members in the liner notes). There are moments during the recording when his already fragile voice seems like it's going to crack and he's just going to pass out cold, and at one point during the second track, he stifles a cough and valiantly continues singing mid-breath.

That said, the effects of that sickness add another sort of eerie element to the already dark compositions. The four-track EP is comprised of 3 tracks from last years My Red Scare, as well as one Rolling Stones cover. It runs almost 20 minutes long, and although it's still fairly stark, the additions of Thierry and Sophie from Godspeed You Black Emperor add some nice stringed instrumentation to help fill things out a touch more.

The release opens up with some wheezing electronics on "Diminish Me NYC" and the pulse drones throughout the song as Sparo slowly strums and strains his way through the song. Sounding as if the weight of singing is going to crush him, you wonder if he's even going to make it to the next track, as a swirling layer of feedback drifts through. The middle two tracks on the release are where things really shine. "The Night That We Stayed In" and "Here Comes The Future" both have a very nice addition of strings that give the tracks a bit more of a lush feel. The latter closes out with an awesome guitar/violin duet over the plodding electronic sounds before Sparo takes on The Stones' "I Am Waiting" with only his guitar and all the strength he can muster.

On a par with Cat Power's excellent stripped-down cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" from her The Covers Record, the song makes you realize that the group could actually right songs at one point and makes you forgive them a little for recent work. In the end, whether you like the release or not boils down to whether you like his last release. It's nice to hear the re-workings of the tracks and the cover, but it's not going to sway anyone over who didn't like him before (and why should it). If you're a fan, though, this is a no brainer. Another excellent little release with nice packaging (as always) from Constellation. Plus, it's very inexpensive, so go buy one you cheapskate.

Rating: 7.25