Spark Sparkle / Crank 

This album strikes me as timeless, despite being two decades old and resonating with the echoes of three. I think that’s because the person behind it was responsible for productions that were way ahead of their time. Completely unique. Copied on countless occaisons, but possessing a quality that others never quite reached. There`s that Orson Welles` quote about “the confidence of ignorance”,  used to self-depreciatingly explain an inventiveness that didn’t even know where the rule book was. 

For me the twelve tracks on Spark Sparkle`s Crank fall into a couple camps, some blurring the boundary in between. Each set bearing hallmarks of folks that its auteur, Hugo Nicolson, famously “ably assisted”. First there are the Las Vegas big band meet big beat of David Holmes` crossover, mainstream hits. In particular, Holmer`s suitably speedy scores for Steven Soderbergh`s all-star Ocean`s romps. Chemical crazed Arthur Lyman / Martin Denny tiki-lounge exotica. Beefed-up rumbas. Saturated in South Pacific strings, and further coloured by the screech and squawk of synthesized tropical fauna. Tempered by twisted, sardonic, Tindersticks-esque torch songs. Words that describe love, excess and regret.

“It`s the morning after the night before, I’ve felt worse, but I’ve definitely felt better.”

Updates of classic 60s pop punctuated by bold brass punches and mad Moog wigged-outs. Recited by British Beat Invasion girls or a in ratted Rat-Pack baritone croon. Bond themes with theremins. Lost in Frank Comstock`s orchestral approximations of outer space. 

Then there are the tunes that ring with damn fine detail – aural experimentation – that hark back to Screamadelica and Hugo`s stellar studio partnership with Andrew Weatherall. Shining like stars perceived on inner flights. Where Joe Meek – another producer who dispensed with any kind of rules – is an undoubtable touchstone. Electronic psyche that puts Pierre Henri with Syd Barrett, via Nick Nicely. Warped walls of sound that are Phil Specter via Sonic Boom. Spiralling Baba O`Reilly sequences back bubblegum. Duane Eddy’s twang meets Miles` Kind Of Blue horn on brushed drum, and contra-bass-ed come-downs. Roy Budd-like Hallucinations.

Spark Sparkle Hugo Nicolson Art

Hugo Nicolson recorded Crank, under the Spark Sparkle alias, in 1999, but it was never released. Then last week, Hugo very kindly hosted an on-line Q&A with The Flightpath Estate – a Facebook-based community dedicated to all things Andrew Weatherall-related – and upon learning of the album’s existence my fellow obsessives convinced Hugo to give Bandcamp a shot. So thanks to those “Flightpathers” you can purchase a copy here. While you’re at it have a listen to Hugo`s sublime score for Katharine O’Brien`s Lost Transmissions. 

hugo nicolson lost transmissions

Don’t forget that today is the last day that Bandcamp is waiving its fees. 

Reference Links

Ocean’s Eleven

Arthur Lyman

Martin Denny

South Pacific

Tindersticks

Frank Comstock

Shine Like Stars

Inner Flight

Joe Meek

Pierre Henry

Syd Barrett

Nick Nicely

Sonic Boom

Baba O`Reilly

Dwane Eddy

Kind Of Blue

Hallucinations

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