Early this month, the oracles at the Irish Times listed their ’50 best music acts right now’, so that we would all know who to like, at least until their next list. And in amidst the nostalgic wishful thinking (Ash) and premature overpraising (Villagers), there were a few genuine results: notably, Adrian Crowley carded a top ten finish, just behind his arch-nemesis RÃ³isÃn Murphy.
If there’s a point to such lists other than kicking off a fight in the forums, it is to acknowledge the work of people who don’t or can’t go out banging drums for themselves. These are often the most interesting artists; they’re not shouting because they’re listening. (Worse: they’re taking notes.) And over ten years, Crowley has crafted an oeuvre unlike that of anyone else, of warm, spare, chamber pop that takes five or six listens to ingrain itself and then refuses to release its hold on you.
Season of the Sparks carries on thematically where the last four albums left off: with the beauty and force of nature (In Inter Cert English, we called it Pantheism). It’s all sparrows, bees, strange birds and dreaming horses. The elements have always been a good theme for Crowley: there’s a synergy between the pastoral lyrics of -The Beekeeper’s Wife’, -Liberty Stream’ or -Season of the Sparks’ and the natural flowing rhythm of the songs. He has always taken care to surround himself with a band capable of conjuring the elemental alchemy you associate with Palace or The Bad Seeds.
For a musician who gets tarred with the serious brush too often, Crowley shows a springtime lightness of spirit on Season of the Sparks. -Squeeze Bees’ (an Ivor Cutler cover) is an odd, funny, fable about a blind man sitting up a tree waiting for the perfect woman: he’s not into looks, but she has to be able to squeeze bees. Of course she shows up: ‘And there was plenty of honey / Not as good as money / But OK’.
And the album opens with Crowley’s most overtly uplifting moment to date. -Summer Haze Parade’ takes a -Strawberry Fields’ harmonium motif and a jaunty guitar line like a walk along the canal in May, and leads into this most exquisite moment a couple of minutes in: there’s a tinkling of cymbals and a half-beat of silence, then exhilarated brass blasts out for a dozen bars, and then it’s done its job and it’s gone. It’s that rare and precious thing, a perfect expression of joy, and you can never have too many of those.