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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
The Early Years
Absolutely Kosher Records

Rating: 5.5/10 ?

July 19, 2005
I wonder if Jason Zumpano looks at Carl Newman's career with any envy. The two played together in the 90s in a band named after Mr. Zumpano, - aptly called, well, Zumpano - before Newman split to form The New Pornographers and embrace indie-pop success, a status cemented by his stellar 2004 solo album.

It's not really fair for me to speculate, knowing next to nothing about the circumstances of the split, if it was an amicable or torrid. Nevertheless, working in the metaphorical shadow of his former bandmate has to be somewhat hard; it's just human nature. What makes it even a bit sourer is that Zumpano's band of the past few years, Sparrow, pales in comparison to anything Newman has ever touched... but let's move away from these comparisons; they are too easy and may seem downright petty, although the background is somewhat relevant. Let's talk about Sparrow's The Early Years as an entity of its own.

Zumpano's vocals dominate the record, which easily harkens to the soft-pop sounds of current bands like The Shins and lasting influences like The Zombies. His voice is tuneful and never abrasive, but really lacks any special flavor or characteristic that makes it stand out from the crowd; truth be told, it could use a little grit. The music, based on a bed of farfisa, mellow drumming, bass work, strummed guitars and a healthy dose of horns and strings, falls into the same trap - it's entirely capable, but just not very engaging.

That's not to say the record is without moments of interest; there are several: near the end of the record, "Gone" loses the drums and propulsive pop feel of its predecessors for a swelling, floating track of layered vocals and gentle string arrangements. The title track also manages to lift the record's spirits, as Zumpano repeatedly croons an entirely infectious vocal melody over a spry, 4/4 chord progression and is backed by the lovely voice of Lucy Brain. These ruminating vocal melodies are usually the album's low points - as each song employs this particular maneuver - but at times they do inject some life into the record, as on the aforementioned song or "I Wouldn't Mind," which also features an interesting mid-song breakdown.

Ultimately, The Early Years fails, not because of any relation to prospering musicians from bands past, but because Zumpano forgets to use any spices in his cookbook of songs. In an era where so many engaging records lift their inspiration from the world of pop, Sparrow falls just short.

Reviewed by Jonah Flicker
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.

See other reviews by Jonah Flicker



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