Release Date: Jun 13, 2006
Record label: Carrot Top
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Songs of weirdness and wonder, set in a half wild, half urban, entirely mysterious place where trees that grow in small squares of dirt hide man-eating boars. All this will be no surprise to fans of the Americana duo's last six albums, all home made, this time in their New Mexico garage, its lo-tech instruments (banjo, steel guitar, Mellotron, bowed saw) recorded on a Mac. Nothing sums up Brett and Rennie Sparks' feelings on the flick of a switch separating ancient and modern, dark and light, nature and civilisation as well as Tesla's Hotel Room, a dusty country waltz about the invention of electricity.
The Handsome Family (Rennie and Brett Sparks) can't ever seem to find it in them to pair lyrics like "When automatic sinks in airports no longer see your hands/Your great journey has begun" with music that reflects their desperate urban majesty. Last Days of Wonder, their seventh full-length collection of Midwest gothic country songs, does push the envelope a tad further than their previous six releases, as Brett has invented a myriad of new ways to manipulate his trusty home computer into a limitless extension of his own creativity, but even a musical saw can lose its backwoods luster when it's being hauled on the caboose of a three-chord train to midtempo Americanaville. That said, the Handsome Family's adherence to highly literate contemporary heartbreak within an old-timey framework is what made them stand out from the crowded sea of young Gram Parsons converts in the first place -- actually, they've always seemed more late-period Johnny Cash than Parsons -- so they've more than earned the right to rest on their laurels a bit, but one can't help but think that just a little bit more spice might have elevated all of these beautiful ideas out of the trappings of their now painfully insular song structures.
"When automatic sinks in airports, no longer see your hands… your greatest journey has begun." Polite country trimmings aside, The Handsome Family's Brett Sparks reveals himself to be a bit of a spiritual close-talker. Nearly oblivious to his own presence, Sparks (who sings the words of band mate Rennie Sparks) stands in near and warbles the truths we all know but perhaps would rather not hear. The listener is so often confronted with these moments of loss and downfall, it's difficult not to check oneself for a pulse from time to time.