The Sharp Things
A Moveable Feast
It is the third LP from The Sharp Things, possibly the only symphonic pop band in their native city of New York, a group led by songwriter/vocalist/pianist Perry Serpa. It was recorded in 4 months, traversing 3 of the 5 boroughs of NYC by piecing together sound bites on a laptop. Considering indie economics, The Sharp Things could have limited themselves. Instead, they went for broke. The result is an undeniably big pop record.
In addition to tracking the 10 members of The Sharp Things in their rehearsal spaces, living rooms and basements, the band recorded their friends- Broadway luminary, Michael Cerveris (Sweeney Todd, Love Musik, Tommy, etc), in his living room, Franz Nicolay, the curiously mustachioed accordionist/keyboardist of the Hold Steady in his kitchen (you can hear the clicks of his nails on the keys) and a 40 piece orchestra in their concert hall, among other cool stuff.
When put under the nose of Bar/None label-head Glenn Morrow, he exclaimed, “This is like a classic Burt Bacharach album if Burt could actually sing!” Soon after, Morrow heard a rough demo for a song called “Cruel Thing,” a soul-tinged track the group hadn’t intended to put on the new album. Convinced he heard a hit single for the summer, Morrow urged the band back into the studio to record it. They entered Brooklyn’s Truth And Soul, once an outpost for the Dap Kings, with producer Prince Polo and a perfect pop tune flew out the other end a day later.
At the end of the day, we have a record that is hard not to enjoy, or at least marvel at. The first step is in the listening, though, so go to it!
Foxes and Hounds
"The whole concept was a reactionary thing," explains Perry Serpa, leading man/head warbler/tunesmith/ivory tickler in NYC's symphonic pop ensemble The Sharp Things. "It was 'anti-rock band.' And instead of getting up in front of a microphone and screaming like a jackass, I suddenly realized that I wanted to write real songs."
And so it began...
The monolith, as it has inarguably become, started as most do...very, very small. A seed, perhaps -- back in 1995, hardly foreshadowing the massive and practically impossible to manage sprawl that it is now -- the original scenario being Serpa and Steve Gonzalez. The two made a demo and took to the streets of Manhattan, just within earshot of where they both grew up in Queens. Serpa played an acoustic guitar (earnestly but badly), sweating through protest songs of love and trains as Gonzalez played drums.
Today, it's a whole different ball o'wax...
Having soon after its inception recruited crackerjack guitarist Jim Santo, The Sharp Things would become a band complete with a handful of gigs, an agenda, creative differences, a van, and...oh, Jesus. Here we go again.
The next few years would see a revolving door of NYC musicians probably tallying in at close to 40 cronies, disciples, insurgents and drifters, most with something useful to add. Now the group boasts 10 (or so) core members who have crowded stages like New York's Bowery Ballroom and Joe's Pub and Montreal's Cabaret, opening for artists and groups as diverse as Tahiti 80, Tindersticks, Broken Social Scene and Evan Dando.
For all its sonic sophistication, much of the band's debut record, Here Comes the Sharp Things (released in 2003 on their own Dive Records, and on Setanta Records in the UK in 2004), was recorded in just two sessions. The record was given the big thumbs-up by the press on both sides of the Atlantic, Flaunt calling Serpa "a balladeer with Nick Cave's sense of drama and Jarvis Cocker's world-weariness," and the New Musical Express proclaiming, "Your summer album has arrived!"
The collective's current offering is a chronicle of ambition and audacity that calls itself Foxes & Hounds and has been lauded by Under The Radar as "... 14 songs of string, piano, and horn brilliance." The album was unleashed upon the waking world by longstanding Hoboken outpost, Bar/None Records in May 2005 and prompted near-sold-out shows at the Knitting Factory and Joe's Pub. Not to mention a West Coast jaunt in September.
There's also chatter about a live EP; and there are certainly enough tunes for Album Number Three. And almost enough musicians.