Since their 2010 formation, Spark and Whisper have established themselves as one of the foremost practioners of what is commonly referred to as roots, or Americana, music, but their work extends far beyond merely invoking rustic nostalgia. The superb playing and diverse instrumentation driving their songwriting couples itself nicely to a well-developed literary flair. The vocal chores don’t fall onto Anita Sandwina or Velvy Appleton alone and they show great instincts for understanding who can highlight individual songs better. This is a tasteful, highly disciplined and expertly produced affair that grows on you with each successive listen. Songs that are built to last sequenced in such a way on its respective album that there is no question Spark and Whisper aspire to some sort of posterity.
Much of their work is built around vocal melodies and inventive arrangements. The album’s title track will impress many with its layered orchestrations, unusual point of view, and unobtrusive rhythm section work. There’s a real rock and roll spirit, however, informing the band’s sound and the palpable energy bubbling just beneath the surface of the title song is very memorable. Some of that same rock spirit finds its way into the track “Bottom of the Well”, but the song’s ultimate success rests on Spark and Whisper’s ability to create a fluid, hybrid sound that marries the most effective rock elements, in this context, with a folk music aesthetic. It results in one of the album’s most compelling tracks, but much like the rest of the band’s work on this release, it never feels compelled to announce itself. Monument leaves its effect on you by inches and only after a few spins and subsequent reflection will you grasp the album entirely.
Classical influences find their way into the mix. Spark and Whisper uses cello on the track “Far From This World” and it perfectly complements the delicate weaving of Sandwina and Appleton’s vocals. The country music influence straining through the release as a whole makes itself a little more noticeable here, but the unique marriage of assorted elements comes off without much difficulty. The album’s second half finds them busting out of their self-designed box some and flexing their creativity muscles. This is a band of true daring in their utter lack of fear tackling soul and R&B influences on the song “A Little Bit More”, but the added thrill comes from hearing them pull off the vocals with relative ease. This is a duo with breathtakingly flexible talents. These talents get a vivid forum for expression on Spark and Whisper’s latest studio release, but Monument will also likely mark their rise to a new level of prominence. It is a superb collection from first note to last and features the sort of mature, nuanced songwriting that music devotees adore while still remaining quite direct and accessible for the widest possible audiences.
9 out of 10 stars.