By Rob van Alstyne
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By Emily Weiss
Mike Brady really loves Sparks. Really. Just ask him. Brady is more than eager to talk about the L.A.-based musical brothers at length. In fact, the band's home page tops a list of links on Brady's new Web site, www.mrbradles.com. In the throes of happy hour on a Wednesday afternoon at the downtown Pizza Lucé, Brady continues to chatter on about Sparks' new-wavy deconstruction of classic pop forms into edgily fragmented song structures.
"I loved them before I'd even heard their music," he explains, his hushed, excited voice nearly inaudible over the ruckus from the nearby bar. "I had dreams about them. When I finally heard them, the music wasn't that good, but I knew that I'd like them."
Me, I had never heard of the genre-splicing duo until now. And normally I'd find Brady's infatuation with this peripheral band humorous. But his honest, direct gaze and carefully chosen words are so damn convincing that now I'm anxious to hear one of Sparks' numerous records myself. Brady, of course, owns them all. "No one else that I know really likes them," he admits, a grin forming beneath his Buddy Holly-style specs. "They don't know what the deal is." Brady offers to lend me a few records with the warning, "You're not going to like them."
How's that for reverse psychology? Then again, 27-year-old Brady has always brought a quirky flair to his projects on the local music scene. At first, the guitarist penned bedroom-pop anthems at the College of Visual Arts. There he formed the long-running (and recently disbanded) country group Accident Clearinghouse with friends Quillan Roe and Jeff Tranberry, decorating a breezy contemporary worldview with classic elements of Western swing.
Now, Brady has moved on to a forthcoming solo release, Cold Night, containing selections from his "pop opera" Sunlit Falls. The album was originally conceived as an offering from Brady's other musical project, the local duo Clog, but eventually Brady decided to go solo. He spent a year creating tracks in keyboard player Paul Harding's basement. Harding and drummer Danny Sigelman (of the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group) round out the Mike Brady Trio.
The musical was derived from a series of drawings Brady created with drummer Kevin Riach, his bandmate in yet another outfit, Florida. "I imagined setting it in this fictional town called Sunlit Falls," Brady explains. "Slowly a story started to develop. A young couple--she is 12--has a child, but they aren't allowed to be together." Their son eventually commits suicide. "The man still loves the woman, but she won't be with him," Brady continues.
The troubles of this dysfunctional family aren't quite as domestic as they might first appear. The musical, it seems, was not originally set on planet Earth, hence the mother's unfortunate moniker: Astronaut Jones. The Trio performs portions of the work live, but Brady is careful not to explain too much onstage, admitting to the confusion it can cause. Besides, the supporting artwork is available online, and Brady prefers Sunlit Falls to be a multimedia experience. His plans for Sunlit Falls build incrementally as our conversation continues. "My ultimate goal is to have a three-act play with different singers and musicians. People representing the characters and a narrator to help move the story along. Maybe costumes..."
What currently unfolds onstage with the trio is a solid-yet-adventurous style of guitar-based pop, complete with Moog and a head-bopping beat--all grounded in subtle humor. The trio's preview EP is capped by "You Will Have to Leave," which contains upswing drumming from Riach that's so infectiously joyful you can almost miss Brady's cryptically vengeful remarks: "I'll stay, you will have to leave/I'll make up some story to deceive/Why it's you that had to go/There are some things they will never know."
If Brady can love Sparks without liking their album, the sour sentiment above must qualify as nothing less than a valentine.