Court & Spark Hearts

There’s something very special about San Francisco’s the Court & Spark, yet they have managed to fly under the radar for the past six years. Fortunately they haven’t seemed to take it personally, continuing to record some of Absolutely Kosher’s finest albums whilst evolving into a force to be reckoned with. Their fourth album, Hearts, is the first they’ve recorded in their own studio, something that appears to put them at ease because they sound more relaxed than they have previously in the studio. Hearts lacks the immediacy that some of the band’s earlier albums had, yet that turns out to be one of its real strengths. The lyrics are wilfully obscure and cryptic, as if songwriter M.C. Taylor really doesn’t want to give too much away. Musically, they’ve continued to shift away from their obvious alt-country roots and embrace a more varied sound that touches upon folk and Southern rock too. Like fellow musical alchemists Lambchop, a band who they bear more than a passing resemblance to, they play with genres — sometimes more successfully than other times — yet their experiments are always intriguing. That is particularly true of the four instrumental tracks that act as transitions — another ten minutes worth of songs might have been preferable, but they do provide some of the album’s most interesting moments. At this precise moment in time, Hearts is not quite the band’s best album, but that could change. It is a darned good record, but its subtleties mean that it takes some time for its real quality to shine through. Give it enough time and it could even turn out to be one of this year’s finest. (Absolutely Kosher)