Penny & Sparrow
Let A Lover Drown You
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Look no further than the title to Penny & Sparrow’s third full length to realize this is not something you’ll play to lighten your emotional load. On the contrary, these 11 melodramatic ballads will likely strip any joy or optimism you might be experiencing and replace it with tears as the melancholy melodies and passion-laden vocals rip and tear at your heartstrings.
In other words, it’s business as usual for Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke (aka Penny & Sparrow) even if this time they receive higher profile production assistance from the Civil Wars’ John Paul White (who also gets writing credits on over half the tracks) and Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner. So, if morose, meandering songs that feel as if the singer won’t be able to finish the tune without breaking down and sobbing is your thing, this’ll fit the bill and then some. Compared to Penny & Sparrow, Nick Drake sounds like a party animal.
To be fair, the duo widens their acoustic-based palette with the subtle addition of vibes, glockenspiel, sitar, sporadic strings and even Tanner’s “spaceship noises” that close out “Makeshift.” Arrangements that expand and contract like the tides provide a sense of motion that occasionally help propel these heavy-lidded tunes forward. And, the White/Turner production is clean, classy and appropriately dense or sparse depending on the tune. But a little of Penny & Sparrow’s deep, dark, often dreary introspection and affected vocals goes a long way. Even at a relatively brisk — a word used loosely since nothing is exactly hurried here — 40 minutes, the album seems twice as long. Death, guilt, unrequited love, loneliness … the list goes on, but for those looking for light at the end of the tunnel, there aren’t many bright moments in these yearning downer tracks.
Perhaps already depressed listeners might find some uplift in these songs and sporadically, as on the string-enhanced “Occasion,” a memorable melody takes hold showing the pair’s songwriting talents. Taken individually, the songs resonate better. But lumped together the effect is claustrophobic and cheerless. Many might feel plowing through this album is a sure cure for insomnia and wish the twosome better fortunes in the future to reflect some of life’s pleasures in their music, a sentiment sorely lacking in Penny & Sparrow’s painfully moody and gloomy outlook.