PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Penny & Sparrow: Wendigo

Photo: Daniel N. Johnson

Penny & Sparrow’s somber mood is still the same, but their lyrical and musical exploration bring them to their most ambitious state thus far.


Penny & Sparrow

Wendigo

Label: Independent
US Release Date: 2017-09-01
Amazon
iTunes

Austin’s Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke have remained mostly underground for about half a decade, releasing three projects independently with producer Chris Jacobie. But catching the attention of the Civil Wars’ John Paul White and Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner led to a successful 2016 marked by the release of breakthrough Let a Lover Drown You (produced with White and Tanner) and tour spots with the likes of Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.

Their raw and honest, yet paradoxically full-sounding production has created open breathing space for their intimate lyricism and gorgeous Vernon & Garfunkel harmonies. Though some have found Penny & Sparrow’s aesthetic to be a bit on the serious side, melancholy even, their grasp of elegantly simple melody and harmony is hard to deny.

Their newest effort, Wendigo, picks up where their previous release left off. Reuniting with their producer Jacobie, Penny & Sparrow’s somber mood is still the same, but their lyrical and musical exploration bring them to their most ambitious state thus far.

Writing first-person narratives from other people’s point of view is something Baxter (the main lyricist) has practiced in the past, especially on their Les Misérables homages “Valjean”, “Fantine”, “Eponine”, and on this release, “Javert”. But never has it been as much of a focus as on Wendigo.

“Javert”, which features a refreshingly lower register vocal performance, is a prayer from Victor Hugo’s antagonist admitting his inability to accept love and mercy when facts and law seem more tangible and important. At just a minute and a half, the vignette evokes such imagery from the literary classic that anything longer would seem unnecessary.

This theme runs throughout many of the tracks as Baxter uses allusion-filled lyrics to paint pictures from literary, and more specifically Biblical, sources. “There’s a Lot of Us in Here” draws from the story of a demon-possessed man encountered by Jesus as he makes the plea: “Dispossess me of all the shit that keeps possessing me.” And the following track “Salome & Saint Procula” refers to the daughter of King Herod and the wife of Pontius Pilate in a tale of how one evil choice could taint a person's entire legacy.

The most impressive narrator on the album though comes in the trilogy “Visiting”, “Smitten”, and “Moniker”, songs narrated by the personification of death, or the grim reaper. In looking at these songs, it is important to recognize Baxter and Jahnke’s Christian worldview when interpreting lines like “I’m just like you / I bend the knee” and on “Smitten”, talking to a baby Jesus, “When you’re old enough to speak / You will undo me."

Throughout this trilogy of songs, subtle French horn and slide guitar add to the sobering presence of death, a character used on the album as part of a discussion of the things our society fears, and whether or not that fear is validated. While there is plenty of talk of the fear of death, fear of change is another topic that pops up on tracks like “Kin”, a harsh reprimand from God to the church. “You’re being a coward / Only fearing your changed mind”, the narrator pronounces in haunting harmony as he critiques using religion to push others away or to align with a political party.

The creative muscles on Wendigo aren’t only flexed in the lyrical department. Because following “Kin” is a six-song medley of sorts perhaps modeled after side B of Abbey Road. With two exceptions, the songs on the back half of the record run below the two-minute mark. In fact, “Let me be crucial” is just 38 seconds. It’s not perfect. But the musical ideas here ranging from a chorale (“Well you know it ends Well”) to the waltzy verse of “Moniker” followed by a Sufjan-esque horn-filled interlude make for intriguing listening best paired with a glass of red wine and a light crackling fire.

It could be argued that Penny & Sparrow can be inaccessible, or at least hard to connect with. Their cold vocal harmonies and often cerebral lyrics can seem off-putting at times. In fact, it took this writer about four or five listens to connect to Wendigo. But as the album ends with the rushed realization, “I’m lost, I’m lost, I’m lost, I’m lost,” all the truth-seeking and brain-picking takes on meaning as you realize these two guys from Austin, like Bono, and like many of us, still haven’t found what they’re looking for. And that is what pushes their music forward.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.