With Sacramento talent in the spotlight, can Sparks Across Darkness’ debut album break big?
Sacramento’s music scene has had a good year.
In May, rapper-singer the Philharmonik scored radio host Sway Calloway’s attention at a South By Southwest rap cypher in Austin, recently getting an interview with the MTV News executive producer on his satellite radio show, Sway in the Morning.
That same month, doom-rockers Chrch released its EP Light Will Consume Us All on Neurot Recordings, an indie label run by Neurosis—one of the most influential avante-garde metal bands in the world. In July, Blues-man Michael Ray opened for ZZ Top and George Thorogood. And there’s Hobo Johnson, who went viral with his song “Peach Scone” and performed at Outside Lands last Sunday.
Anthony Giovanini says he can feel the recent wave of success around him. It makes the emcee, known onstage as Sparks Across Darkness, excited about the future.
And after recently being featured on the cover of Submerge, the Sacramento music and art magazine, Sparks says he’s also anxiety-ridden. His debut album, Obscura, drops Saturday.
“People are looking at our scene like, ’Who’s the next person that’s going to come out of it and do something?’” Giovanini says.
Obscura is Giovanini’s “curiosity cabinet,” as he puts it, those windowed furniture pieces that act as a home museum for odd treasures. While one might put family photos and tourist trinkets in it, Giovanini’s curio holds 10 art-rap tunes inspired by his darkest moments.
“I’ve been daydreaming about monsters during snow season, for no reason,” he rhymes in the album’s first track “Monsters and Thieves,” his voice a colorful brand of monotone and hyper-articulate, spat with precision over an eight-bit melody. Sparks raps through a wide soundscape that recalls everything from MF Doom to Radiohead, using orchestral strings, eerily soft synth and clean guitar.
That inner darkness first inspired the album four years ago. Giovanini had been unemployed for several months, and then his friend died. Two weeks later, his grandmother, who suffered from dementia, passed away.
“She was one of my favorite people, and towards the end of her life, we kind of grew distant because the dementia ran its course and she said a lot of horrible shit about me,” Giovanini says. “That still kind of sits with me and makes me feel bad, because she was one of those people that always picked me up and made me feel good, and then it was like she was doing the opposite.”
Obscura remained Sparks’ way to express himself and reflect, and in the music, he hopes listeners can see themselves.
“My biggest focus was to make it relatable and accessible, and leave myself a little more open and vulnerable,” he says.
But like Giovanini today, the album reaches a happier moment in time by the end. The track “Nice to Meet You,” sings like a boastful rap hit as Sparks picks up on a stranger with playful, addictively positive energy. In “Tada,” Sparks brags with hilarious contradiction, going from, “I’m David Blaine, watch me work magic,” to repeating in the chorus, “I ain’t shit.”
“It’s one of those things like … watch me be cool for a minute, even though I’m going through all this bullshit,” he laughed.
And like rising tide that lifts all boats, Sparks features a neighborhood of local talent, including the electronic one-woman band SpaceWalker and heavyweight emcees Chuuwee and Charlie Muscle, Alex Salveson, Tip Vicious and Hobo Johnson. In the song “No Toast,” the two rap about feeling like metaphorical peanut butter without the bread.
The featured artists are that tidal wave Giovanini sees himself helping create.
“[Sacramento’s] a good breeding ground, and I think the thing that makes it so awesome is how diverse it is,” he says. “There’s Charlie Muscle and there’s Hobo Johnson, and both of those guys are completely different form one another, but they’re both from the same town.”