Wednesday 8 May 2019

Sparkle - Life (Black Point in World) (2019)

Country: Iran
Style: Post Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 16 Feb 2019
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The benefits of being a one man band are that you can just get on with it, whatever it might happen to be. Parvis Shabrang from Esfahan, Iran really gets on with it. Under his performing name of Sparkle, he knocked out six full length albums last year and has already matched that feat in 2019 by the beginning of May. This one came out in February and he's released four more since! That's one album a month with two in April!

The obvious question, given this sort of pace, is whether he's any good or not and I have to say that I enjoyed Life (Black Point in World), though it sometimes has to fight to stay in the foreground. The opening track, Imagine the End, for example, is almost nine minutes of early Tangerine Dream-esque ambient keyboards. It's hard not to like it, but it doesn't have the depth of tracks in a similar style on Tangerine Dream albums like Phaedra.

Shabrang describes what he does in a few different ways: funeral doom metal, ambient post rock and atmospheric space. A few years ago, I'd have struggled to grasp that but I'm finding that some unlikely genres actually connect in surprising ways.

Imagine the End was certainly recorded wearing Sparkle's 'atmospheric space' hat, while Radiant of Void moves into post rock, with some traditional rock instruments, such as guitars and drums, conjuring up a soundscape that's a lot more overt than its predecessor on the album. I'm not sure what it aims to depict but it builds well and it's very likeable.

Never Breathe combines the two approaches rather well, the atmospheric side suggesting that we're floating, in space or underwater, perhaps like the intriguing character on the cover, but the post rock side, mostly provided by a set of periodic power chords, adds a sense of danger, which is frankly appropriate given what the very same intriguing character on the cover is doing (or is having done to it).

If there's funeral doom here, it's on Mind on the Way Back, which unfolds with a lot of church organ and adds guitar halfway through that's heavier than anything on those post rock tracks by far. It's not funeral doom as I think of it but it does play in the same ballpark for a while. If you want the heaviness of powerful funeral doom but old school Tangerine Dream bores you silly, then this album really isn't for you. I can't say whether one or more of Sparkle's many other albums won't do the job, but this one won't.

Frankly, it ought to appeal most to those old school Tangerine Dream fans. Phaedra is one of my favourite albums of all time and I dig pretty much all they did in the mid seventies, after they moved past more overt Krautrock albums to find their own sound: think Rubycon, Ricochet and Stratosfear, up to their soundtrack for Sorcerer. Sparkle is a little less playful and far more ambient in approach, which generally means that it's harder to picture what he's visualising in sound.

The closing song, Sparkle from Inside, actually looks a little further back to those Krautrock albums of Tangerine Dream and others. It's experimental in outlook, though not wildly so, channelling Krautrock into post rock and coming up with something rather interesting, if not for everyone.

And, frankly, Shabrang knows that he's out there on a particular edge. Those who like his work are going to buy a lot of it and he's prolific enough to feed that market. Those who don't like his work aren't going to last through one album like this, never mind a dozen of them. I'm in the former category. This isn't the most essential album in this style I've heard but Shabrang is good at what he does and I'm intrigued enough to listen to some more to see if this is a greater or lesser example of what he does.

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