The Handsome Family by Brandon Soder

Cult husband and wife duo The Handsome Family will release their 10th studio album ‘Unseen’ on 16 September on Loose. Available on 180g pond green vinyl, CD, download and stream. The album, with its unique mix of country instrumentation and intriguing surrealist lyricism, explores the unseen stories, people and places of the American west, where The Handsome family live – in Albuquerque, New Mexico. ‘Unseen’ shines a light on the obscure and forgotten. The album’s first single, ‘Gold’ is out now. The song is a modern classic murder ballad set against a backdrop of “wide empty streets, the air shaking with heat.” ‘Gold’ paints intense images of a protagonist, with snake tattoos, a ski mask, and gun shot wounds – all the result of feeling “hungry to do something mean”. The first track on the album – ‘Gold’ is the beginning of a journey taking the listener “past the last lights of town” – driving us into the unknown – a place familiar to The Handsome Family.

 

In 2015 Rennie and Brett Sparks saw their song ‘Far From Any Road’ about “fire ants on their drive way” picked by American actor Matthew McConaughey to be the theme tune to the HBO TV smash hit: “True Detective”.

 

Rennie Sparks describes an event that personified the band’s strange experience of being propelled into a surreal state of limbo by their post True Detective fame, when she miraculously disappeared in an airport. Rennie stated: “At the height of True Detective S1 excitement I disappeared one afternoon while waiting for a flight at O’Hare. A middle-aged businessman, McDonald’s bag in one hand, rolling-bag handle in the other — walked up to me and, without pause, turned and sat down on my lap. A second later his French fries and rolling bag were on the floor and he was sputtering apologies, insisting he’d seen an empty chair. This strange invisibility felt similar to the night Brett and I watched the series in our little house in Albuquerque, feeling oddly alone. I have learned to embrace my power to vanish. As a songwriter you have to be willing to disappear and let your songs outshine you in order to embrace points of view bigger than your own. It was great that a song written about ants in my driveway became a song about cops in Louisiana. That’s the best any songwriter can hope for. ”

 

And so Rennie happily remained invisible, even as the band became visible to millions, with Youtube counts for The Handsome Family’s ‘hit’ song climbing to twenty million and more. The song was in the top 10 in US and UK Spotify charts and spent months in the iTunes top 100 in countries as far-flung as Vietnam, South Africa, and the Ukraine.

 

‘Unseen’ continues The Handsome Family’s embrace of things beyond easy view: the slow dive of the sun, enormous bugs awakening in thorny yards, sirens and coyotes that cry out to the purple sky. ‘Unseen’, an epic western gothic masterpiece, draws from real life events. ‘Gold’ began when a bunch of twenty-dollar bills blew in Brett’s face in a parking-lot dust storm. ‘Gentlemen’, is a tribute to William Crookes who built the first vacuum tube in 1875, hoping to detect spirits from unseen dimensions. Many tracks fix around the idea that light that emanates from things we can’t see — behind “The Red Door,” in the empty hands of blackjack losers (“The Silver Light”), and amidst desert bones bleaching in the sun (“King of Dust”).

 

‘Unseen’ was recorded by Brett at his home studio at night – “with only hawk moths listening”. It features a rich tapestry of instrumentation, which conjures images of the magical landscape of the Sparks’ New Mexico surroundings. David Gutierrez plays mandolin on “Tiny Tina” and dobro on “The Silver Light.” Alex MacMahon: guitar on “The Silver Light,” baritone guitar and pedal steel on “Gold.” Jason Toth: drums throughout (except “Green Willow Valley”). Rennie wrote all the lyrics. She sang and played banjo and autoharp, but “didn’t bother to write down on which songs.”

 

The Sparks have released 10 albums since 1995’s Odessa. Their songs have been covered by countless Youtubers and well-known artists like Jeff Tweedy, Amanda Palmer, Cerys Matthews, Christy Moore and Andrew Bird (who released an entire record of HF covers). Guns ’N’ Roses used, “Far From Any Road” as stage entrance music for a South American tour, and both Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr are fans. Decades into their careers, after winning the TV theme tune jackpot — the Sparks still find their greatest reward in disappearing into new songs.

 

Unseen, the new album from The Handsome Family, will be released 16th September on Loose. Available on 180g pond green vinyl, CD and download.