In Review: Sparkling – Felonious

indieBerlin are pleased to present Felonious, the sophomore album from Danish experimental vox/synth duo Sparkling.

It’s something of an understatement to say the group prefer to take their time when writing a new record, having only released one EP and album respectively since 2002. We think it’s worth the wait, though – their latest LP is a chocolate box of weird and wonderful motifs, with the pair clearly not afraid to shy away from the zanier end of the experimental spectrum. With all songs written, performed, produced, and mixed by the band in Tunnelsyn Studio, Copenhagen, it’s safe to say that this latest work is most definitely a labour of love on their part.

Opening track and first single released from the album – Say Goodbye to the Ragged Tiger – is a charming way to set the tone for this record; there’s something about the contrast between the snappy synth sound  (courtesy of Jens Christian Madsen) and delicate falsetto of lead vocalist Carsten Mørch-Bentze that’s totally captivating. There’s enough going on to pique your interest, but not so much that it’s overwhelming or unnecessarily complex. Simplicity is key, and Sparkling have clearly got the balance between intriguing and minimalist just right. The texture is mellow and sunny, yet somehow manages to capture a curious sense of unease and melancholy.

Second track Blossom Blood is a slightly punchier number, kicking off with some deliciously 80s reverb-rich vocals. The chorus here is relentlessly catchy (prepare to hum it for the rest of the week), with a rather mesmerizing synth/guitar accompaniment – it’s so refreshing to find an artist self-described as “electronic/alternative” who are actually doing something alternative. Sparkling’s latest outing is a tentative and gritty exploration into the world of whatever-genre-you-would-define-this-as, and we’d be lying if we said we weren’t thoroughly impressed.

Followed by the slower-paced Fractions, it would appear that gnarly synth lines and haunting vocals are trademark of this duo. A slightly mellower affair, Mørch-Bentze’s voice in Fractions sounds in parts strikingly similar to that of the late king of everything David Bowie – it’s a little spooky at points, but relentlessly gorgeous with sweet lyrics and a gentle movement to the instrumentation. Texturally, it’s light and soothing, but still has an upbeat energy that keeps the pace going.

a chocolate box of weird and wonderful motifs, with the pair clearly not afraid to shy away from the zanier end of the experimental spectrum

The unexpected opening to Now I’m None catches you off guard – an eyebrow-raising ode to vintage Berlin techno, it might be argued, with fascinating production values provided by the mastering of Brian Mørk Hansen. The raw sax solo is eerie and perfectly placed; it’s rich with elements of free jazz, beautifully juxtaposed with the heavy industrial sound of Madsen’s synths. This track is a little more intense than others on the record, and you’ll emerge from it needing a brief lie-down in a dark room.

Penultimate track Flashlight Heart is a touch lighter on the deliciously bizarre electronica, with more of a focus placed on the main vocal line (which shows off Mørch-Bentze’s ability very pleasantly). The tone is a little brighter and the atmosphere less harsh – but it’s still rather snappy and dark, with a crisp drum beat and more modern accent.

Final (and title) composition Felonious is, I must admit, completely separate to the rest of the album in terms of style, but still manages to hold its own amongst a sea of alternative electro and fits in perfectly. It’s a slow builder, resulting in a sea of exquisite harmonies around 3:20 – complemented by the ethereal melody line, the texture is weaving and fluid, leaving the audience not really sure what to expect (but happy to be in that position). Naturally, there would be no other way to end this track – and album – with anything but a minute-long sax solo accompanied by delicate piano notes (provided by guest musician Jesper Løvdal).

Having listened to the album, it’s immediately clear why Sparkling take so long to release records. Each track is an event in itself, beautifully constructed, intimidatingly cool, and flawlessly produced. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too long for their next release – if Felonious is anything to go by, it’s sure to be a work of art. A European tour is soon to be announced, so keep your eyes peeled as you’d be a fool to miss it.

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