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Pippin Sparks


Out and About (2009)
Rainbow Spectrum (2009)

Pippin Sparks: Out and About (2009)

Album Score: 11

I'm listening to these songs on YouTube! It is the very first time that I've ever reviewed an album in such a fashion. This momentous occasion, I'm guessing, will one day will be turned into a factoid that's printed on Popsicle sticks. Until then, let's talk about this person who calls herself Pippin Sparks. From what I remember about her, she is a 15-year-old from the USA, and this is her 15th album. (!!!!!). She plays all the instruments herself, and she arranges them on her laptop. Really, that's impressive by itself. I'm sure that Pippin isn't the only 15-year-old to have recorded an album, but 15 of them. And the fact that the one I'm listening to is pretty darn good suggests that perhaps Pippin Sparks is somebody we'll start hearing about in music magazines one day. That is, if there were any justice in the world.

When I listen to this album, I get the impression that she doesn't always keep pristine-perfect time, and she hits a few odd notes here and there, but that's part of the charm. It sounds like she's recreating that unpolished feel of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, and I like it for that. I suppose the only thing I have to compare Out and About to is those Daniel Johnston albums from the early '80s. The experience of listening to both artists' music is similar in a way; the recording quality isn't perfect and they have their own strange, home-brewed charms. The main differences, though, is that Pippin had the foresight to live in the digital age, and she never gives me the impression that—after she finishes a song—she's going to go into the nearest closet and hang herself. This is good.

This seems to be a tribute album of sorts. We have the grungy nod to Nirvana “Never Mind,” a nod to early Pink Floyd “Opalescent,” a Pogues-like “Parlyaree,” a song called “Zeppelin Overdose” (which doesn't sound very Zeppelin-esque, but whatever!), and a song called “White Lion.” (Not White Lion the heavy metal band, but Kimba the White Lion!) Interestingly, most of these tributes are quite good. “Never Mind” has an obvious riff that recalls “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but it's a different and interesting riff in its own right. The song is essentially the riff repeated over and over, but she comes up with plenty of refreshing ways to sing over it. My favorite thing about it is that melodic electric guitar noodling around, which gives a nice contrast to the simpler vocal melodies. ...All in all, it's a fun song, and anybody should be proud to have written it!

Let's talk more about Pippin's voice, since she seemed to be a bit concerned about it when she asked that I do this review. I can guarantee that the American Idol panel wouldn't think much of it. But I ask you, what's more important? Sounding as 'popworthy' as Britney Spears, as 'rockworthy' as Rod Stewart, or like a real person who sounds like she wants to say something to the world? Pippin's voice is so unkempt at times that she sometimes seems flagrant about it. That said, she still tries to sing well... it just hits a few squeaks here and there. What I gain from listening to the album is not the squeaky voice but the fact that it sounds like she's having a blast singing her songs. Maybe she's like a more enthusiastic version of The Velvet Underground's Maureen Tucker.

Speaking of her songs, they're quite hooky! “Never Mind” caught my ear in several ways. The hand-clapping, pub-rock party-song “Parlyaree” doesn't have an extremely original melody, but it's different enough that it doesn't sound cliché, and I can readily recall its melody at any moment. “Opalescent” even manages to have ear-catching themes in it even though its primary purpose is to be an acid-trip. “Opalescent” also happens to be my favorite song of Out and About. You might say that's because I have a bit of a fetish for '60s psychedelic music, but it sounds so authentic that you could very well mistake it for music from that period. It has a spaced-out beginning, a cocaine-riddled explosion in the middle, and an unraveling end. ...Maybe the ending is a little too long. Most people will probably find it pretentious, or something. But for me, anyway, it's one of the more delightfully freaky songs I've heard. I might add that she does this 'freakiness' without sacrificing the way it sounds! It contains nicely textured, strummy guitars, interesting chord progressions, and creepy, whispering vocals.

She's not perfect yet. But already at 15, she's far more inventive than the vast majority of musicians recording music these days. If I had my way, I would give Pippin $1 million to have free-range over top-quality musical equipment, but I've lived long enough in this world to know that I rarely get my way. So I guess Pippin is going to have to wait for her big break some other way! ...Even if she never gets a big break, I think she's done well enough already to deserve a small following. ...Now, only to get people listening... Oh, be sure to check out this album on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=293153C31C1D03EB... (There's nothing like an obscure music reviewing Web site to promote an obscure album!)

Read the track reviews:
Out and About

Rainbow Spectrum (2009)

Album Score: 11

My fellow Americans, and people from the less important countries: I am a college student going on 10 years, and I am coming up at the end of what's been by far my toughest semester so far. The reason that I can be with you here today is thanks to this week-long holiday called “Thanksgiving,” which we celebrate because of something to do with Plymouth Rock and Native Americans or something, which means that I am temporarily immune from the evil college professors who have been constantly bombarding me with tests and impossible-to-do homework.

That left me with some time to remember how to breathe and how to look at the stars and everything. As I was breathing and looking at the stars, I remembered that I used to have this music blog, and I was supposed to review Pippin Sparks latest album three months ago. (In keeping with tradition, she released yet another album before I finally got around to reviewing this one. Keep releasing new albums! I'll always be one behind you!)

I know what you're thinking. “Why is any of that relevant? I hate music reviewers who dedicate a substantial paragraph to something completely unrelated to the music that's supposed to be discussed.” Pish, I say to you snobs! I'll tell you why that was relevant. As I was living my perfectly miserable life in the last three months, these songs that Pippin had up on her YouTube channel have managed to stick with me the whole time.

As I played some of these songs again for the first time in months, I could still actually remember many of them, which is somewhat rare given my poor memory. (My concrete exam proved how poor my memory is... I couldn't even remember how to...) The main reason for that is that most of these melodies are excellent, which is the #1 thing that separates great artists from ordinary artists in my book, and her songwriting style has its own distinctive personality. That sort of thing doesn't grow on trees, my friend.

By definition, her music would continue to be labeled as “lo-fi” or “homemade,” because that's literally what it is, but spiritually these songs aim to be direct descendants of Velvet Underground or straight-up psychedelic music. You know, '60s music, when everything was bright and wonderful. (Indeed, that's what most of us who weren't actually around in the '60s think of the '60s.) The instrumentation is so unpolished that it has become her own distinct style, as well as her frequently off key singing. The vast majority of listeners, I fear, will consider the instrumentation and singing style to be too weird to handle, but those of us who like weird things should definitely give this a listen.

And, honestly, if you take a close look at these songs, you might not find them to be so weird after all. “Summer Sunday” is disheveled, but it's a sunshine psychedelic pop song at its heart. It immediately reminds me of early Pink Floyd with its somewhat unsettling though warm wandering melody. “20 Years Back” is a rather toe-tapping blues number with a rather bubbly melody. The psychedelic anthem “Four Years” is by far my favorite song of the album with its melody (and back up singing!) that immediately works its way into my heart.

She has indicated that Syd Barrett is one of her main inspirations. I already mentioned a lot of songs that sound like early Pink Floyd, but “Forever Every Day,” sounds like it belongs somewhere in The Madcap Laughs. That is saying something because Pippin doesn't seem like she's done any acid! (Granted, I don't think a sane person can ever fully emulate Syd Barrett's insane/genius state, but I'd wager that Pippin gets closer to that than most people who try it.) I also like that she apparently tried to give early Rolling Stones R&B a shot with “She Likes My Songs.” I don't ordinarily care for R&B, but I like this one because of the personality.

Since the world is unkind and harsh that allows dickweeds like Clay Aiken to keep releasing albums, Pippin might never become a household name. She might never get rich, but she has a load of talent, which means she'll undoubtedly live a more fulfilling life. ...Yes, I'm auditioning to be the next Dr. Phil.

Read the track reviews:
Rainbow Spectrum

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