Quick Quotes....

Album Of The Week
4 Stars - The Independent

"the Handsomes are making vintage magic in a world of their own"
4 Stars - The Independent

"Last Days Of Wonder might just be the duo's finest hour"
5 Stars - The Sun

"an unqualified triumph - Americana Album Of The Month"
4 Stars - Uncut

Mark Radcliffe - Radio 2

"beautifully eerie - a wonderful album"
Daily Telegraph

"songs of weirdness and wonder, set in a half wild, half urban, entirely
mysterious place"
4 Stars - The Guardian

"a collection of mini masterpieces"
4 Stars - The Independent On Sunday

"these are engrossing short stories as much as they are songs and deserve
the attention their stillness demands"
4 Stars - Mail On Sunday

"a strange delight"
4 Stars - The Sunday Times

"they imply the wild things at civilisation's edge - brilliant!"
4 Stars - Mojo

Read a big article about the band in Minneapolis's City Pages

Here's a particularly eloquent review from Canada:

Lyricist Rennie Sparks found inspiration for this album from 1890s inventor Nicola Tesla whose encounters with electrical power moved him to retreat from modern life. One line in "Tesla's Hotel Room" suggests a space where the Handsome Family makes music: "In the last days of wonder/When spirits still flew/Where we sat holding hands/In half-darkened rooms."

From this half-darkened room comes Brett Sparks' vintage soundscapes and Rennie's magical realism, twisted together in tunes that are both past and present, literary and carnal. Here, people neogtiate the power of nature and human technologies on earth and in the afterlife. Old-time music's dark view of human existence fuels the album; life is imperfect, bones get broken, but people survive. In this world termites whisper, Tesla nurses sick pigeons, planes crash, and people dance on golf courses in grass-stained underwear.

The sound is vast as the title, from the eerie but gentle textures of saw, pedal steel and bowed wine glasses to the surreal patches of electronic rock and mellotron voices. As always, guitar, banjo, and Brett's baritone provide the band's old-time acoustic backbone. Their irresistable musical carnival is as creepy and delicously distinct as ever.--Katy June-Friesen

Beginning with an image of cosmic apocalypse and ending with a cosmic joke about going nowhere (yet always having somewhere else to be), Brett and Rennie Sparks use their first album in three years, and their most beautiful and accessible since Through the Trees, to explore the magical and disturbing intersections between the human, natural, and spiritual worlds. Recorded at home in Albuquerque, the album unfolds like a country-folk operetta (mostly composed by Rennie) set in idyllic and mysterious locales: haunted suburbia, peaceful but slightly malevolent strip malls, confession-inspiring bowling alleys, and lovesick airports. When they move to the exotic location of a shipwrecked island on "After We Shot the Grizzly," they borrow from Bob Dylan's cryptic "Isis," and make the random, mythic violence their own. Small moments of ennui, whether feeding pigeons in New York or watching kids paint graffiti, reveal unpredictable and unsettling dreams, and the delicate Americana instrumentation only sounds quaint on the surface. French horns, droning bass notes, clippity-clop drums, pedal steel (from Stephen Dorocke of Freakwater), and musical saw (from David Coulter, who has worked with Tom Waits) give even the most macabre songs--not to mention Brett Sparks' Johnny-Cash-on-Thorazine vocals--a light, playful air of discovery and wonder. --Roy Kasten



  "Last Days of Wonder"
 By Andy Gill
 Published: 26 May 2006, The Independent, United Kingdom

 In the mesmerising 2003 album Singing Bones, Brett and Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family grappled with the way that mythic intimations of mortality obtrude into the everyday - hearing ghosts calling down office corridors and supermarket aisles, and quietly marking the parallels between the besieged wagon-trains of pioneer settlers and the plummeting terror of a modern air disaster.

 That continues through parts of Last Days of Wonder, but with a greater focus on the blunt details of contemporary life. In "Your Great Journey", the protagonist - the listener, in the song's unusual second-person narrative - senses he has "begun to dance the ghost dance" when the world starts ignoring him. As lift doors close upon him as if he's not there and buses drive past his stop, he realises he is literally fading from existence. Perhaps he is the ghostly apparition glimpsed by the tormented narrator of "All the Time in Airports", doomed to see his lost love everywhere: "I see you sitting on your suitcase, I see you sleeping in a chair, but each time I get too close, you always disappear". One is brought up short by the aptness of the transient location.

Even when no ghosts are there, the ability to invest the mundane with a spiritual energy is sustained, drawing on traditional folk-tale forms. In the tragic sea-shanty "After We Shot the Grizzly", the last survivor of a disaster-strewn expedition floats on a raft, waiting to meet his love in the afterlife. The fate of the deer stalker in "Hunter Green" echoes that of the doomed protagonist of some traditional folk song: confused when the deer he's shot and the fish he's caught both magically seem to transform into his true love, he holds fire when confronted with a wild boar and is gored to death.

In The Handsome Family's hands, the most mundane of events can be imbued with a numinous intensity, as in the recollection of a graveyard assignation in "White Lights", where banal memories quiver with energy: "There was mystery singing from everything - the strip mall, the highway, the boarded-up skating rink". This could serve as the duo's manifesto. Even songs of more earthbound account, like the mad-scientist tribute of "Tesla's Hotel Room", are lent added depth and resonance, as if they too were stations of some peculiar cross, gestures in a ritual beyond our understanding.

Set to unfussy arrangements of pedal steel, banjo, organ and guitar, with a few details provided by poignant horns or bowed saw, these songs are deceptively undemonstrative, returning to American country music some of its spiritual mystery.

The Handsome Family, Last Days of Wonder
Sylvie Simmons
Friday May 26, 2006
The Guardian, United Kingdom

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.

With less Southern gothic (Bowling Alley Bar is classic country; These Golden Jewels is like Tom Waits; Somewhere Else To Be is a honky-tonk weepie) Brett's baritone gets to sound more than sombrely Old Testament. Rennie's lyrics are thought-provoking, whether on the urban-rural overlap or why automatic toilets refuse to work.


The Handsome Family
Last Days Of Wonder
(Carrot Top)
Reviewed by Christopher Bahn <http://www.avclub.com/content/author/cbahn>
July 5th, 2006

Dividing the chores is an essential part of any marriage. Albuquerque duo Brett and Rennie Sparks split the task of songwriting between Rennie's dark, dreamlike lyrics and Brett's home-produced alt-country music and deep, resonant baritone. Imagine Edward Gorey writing lyrics for Johnny Cash. The process has served them well through seven albums, but rarely has the combination been as rich as on Last Days Of Wonder, an especially strong showcase of the Sparks' rare combination of whimsy and morbidity. Last Days' title comes from Puritan witch-hunter Cotton Mather, who constantly worried about invisible spirits pervading the world of mortals. Ghosts also haunt Last Days, though not the way Mather might have imagined. "Your Great Journey" imagines an afterlife where bodiless souls quietly wander the Earth alone, intangible and stuck in mundanity: "Automatic sinks in airports no longer see your hands."

Last Days is shot through with wry, detached scenes of people failing to connect, or not even realizing there's a connection to be made. The Sparks wonder about the strangers seen at fast-food drive-though lanes and in waiting rooms, lives glimpsed for the briefest of moments and then dismissed, since we all have our own lives to live. It's no surprise that the album's greatest expression of sympathy is for eccentric genius Nikola Tesla, whose final days are profiled in the album's best song, "Tesla's Hotel Room," a sort of gloomy answer to The Beatles' "Fool On The Hill." Last Days is easily the duo's most thematically consistent set of songs. The Sparks don't seem particularly interested in experimenting with new musical styles, but that isn't a weakness so much as an unswerving fix on what they do better than anyone else. It isn't likely to attract a new set of fans, but those receptive to The Handsome Family's spell will listen to Last Days with wonder.

A.V. Club Rating: A-


The Handsome Family
Last Days of Wonder, 2006
 Carrot Top

 Over the course of their six full length albums, the Handsome Family's husband/wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks have carved a niche for themselves as exquisite purveyors of American Gothic folk and that string remains intact on the pair's seventh album.

 Rennie's dark and cryptically obvious short-story lyrics are still the Handsomes' centerpiece, lovingly spotlit by Brett's eerily appropriate musical accompaniment. "These Golden Jewels" is Teutonic bluegrass, like a cross between Tom Waits and R. Crumb, in the service of a love letter best left unsent ("I drove circles in the meadow, threw TVs off a cliff/I scattered dirty needles in a grassy ditch..."), while "After We Shot the Grizzly" tells the tale of a doomed expedition in gruesome detail ("The captain caught a fever, we tied him to a tree/We stared into the fire and tried not to hear his screams...") while lilting along on a gentle Western swing groove. It is that incredible tension between message and delivery, balancing the feel of ancient murder ballads and the reality of disaffected contemporary life, that has distinguished the Handsome Family's work over the past decade. Brett and Rennie Sparks hone that difference to a razor's edge here, the best Handsome Family set to date.
 - Brian Baker

Terrell's Tune-Up, 06/23/2006 - Handsome and twisted
Refocused on the family: Brett and Rennie Sparks
By Steve Terrell | The New Mexican
June 23, 2006
The thing I like best about The Handsome Family is how they create these deceptively sweet country melodies that invite you to drift along — but somewhere along the line, the lyrics take unexpected twists and lead you into strange realms.
A vibrant but alien spirit world will be uncovered, gurgling just below mundane surfaces. Ancient myths are re-enacted by helpless mortals. Or sometimes the song turns into a tale in which humans behave bizarrely, sometimes atrociously.
This holds true with the Albuquerque couple’s latest album, Last Days of Wonder. Not only is Rennie Sparks’ songwriting as mysterious and funny as ever, but this album also might just be the group’s strongest musically. Brett Sparks’ baritone, as always, is the perfect narrative vehicle for his wife’s lyrics. (I once wrote that he sings like you’d imagine Abe Lincoln would.) But the instrumentation makes for one sonically pleasing experience. Most of it is done by Brett, but some is supplied by members of Albuquerque’s Rivet Gang, which includes Brett’s brother Darrell Sparks.
The record starts off with a slow, cowboysounding tune called “Your Great Journey.” This is basically a poetic rewrite of Louis Jordan’s “Jack, You Dead.”
“When automatic sinks in airports/no longer see your hands/and elevator doors close on you/when buses drive right past./When the only voice that answers/is the whir of a ceiling fan/your great journey has begun.”
There’s “Tesla’s Hotel Room,” a biographical ode to the inventor and engineer who discovered alternating current and who died impoverished in 1943. The Wikipedia entry on Nikola Tesla says, “In his later years, Tesla was regarded as a mad scientist and became noted for making bizarre claims about possible scientific developments. ... Many of his achievements have been used, with some controversy, to support various pseudosciences, UFO theories, and New Age occultism.”
But The Handsome Family is kinder, calling Tesla’s final days “the last days of wonder/when spirits still flew round bubbling test tubes in half-darkened rooms.” They show Tesla eating only saltines, nursing sick pigeons, and “dreaming of God as an X-ray machine.”
There’s “Flapping Your Broken Wings,” a song that, as Brett told me in an interview last year, is about “golf course vandalism.” The first line is a classic: “I can still see you there/in your grass-stained underwear/Dancing crooked circles across the golf course green.” It’s a happy tune about a drunken couple trespassing on a golf course at 3 a.m. just for a crazy frolic.
By the last verse, consequences portend: “Like jewels on your green dress, my lady of the golf course/running in your underwear to greet the cops who’d driven up.” (I don’t think this song is autobiographical, but the Sparkses do live near a nine-hole golf course.)
Probably the prettiest song here is “Beautiful William,” where Brett’s guitar is accompanied by ghostly synths. It’s about a man who mysteriously disappears: “Was he given a package by a man on a train?/We found his car by the roadside later that day.” But even more mysterious is the reaction of William’s friends. “Rose smashed his windows till the glass/was all gone. Polly broke the back door/and she screamed down the hall./But no answer sounded but the wind flying/through as we tore up the green lawn/and torched all the rooms.”
“Hunter Green,” one of the rare songs on which Rennie sings lead, alludes to Celtic mythology and William Butler Yeats. A hunter kills a deer that turns into “my true love ... in a dress of darkest green” and then reverts back into a deer.
My favorite here is “After We Shot the Grizzly,” a breezy little tune with dark lyrics about castaways. But this ain’t Gilligan’s Island. “We built a raft from skin and bones./Only five could safely float. The others stood/upon the shore. They screamed and threw sharp stones ...”
Whether they’re singing of legendary seas, sad little forgotten graveyards, bowling alleys, golf courses, airports, or drive-in restaurants, The Handsome Family leads their listeners to magic. Are these not still the days of wonder? (www.handsomefamily.com)