Dividing the chores is an essential part of any marriage. Albuquerque duo Brett and Rennie Sparks split the task of songwriting between Rennie's dark, dreamlike lyrics and Brett's home-produced alt-country music and deep, resonant baritone. Imagine Edward Gorey writing lyrics for Johnny Cash. The process has served them well through seven albums, but rarely has the combination been as rich as on Last Days Of Wonder, an especially strong showcase of the Sparks' rare combination of whimsy and morbidity. Last Days' title comes from Puritan witch-hunter Cotton Mather, who constantly worried about invisible spirits pervading the world of mortals. Ghosts also haunt Last Days, though not the way Mather might have imagined. "Your Great Journey" imagines an afterlife where bodiless souls quietly wander the Earth alone, intangible and stuck in mundanity: "Automatic sinks in airports no longer see your hands."
Last Days is shot through with wry, detached scenes of people failing to connect, or not even realizing there's a connection to be made. The Sparks wonder about the strangers seen at fast-food drive-though lanes and in waiting rooms, lives glimpsed for the briefest of moments and then dismissed, since we all have our own lives to live. It's no surprise that the album's greatest expression of sympathy is for eccentric genius Nikola Tesla, whose final days are profiled in the album's best song, "Tesla's Hotel Room," a sort of gloomy answer to The Beatles' "Fool On The Hill." Last Days is easily the duo's most thematically consistent set of songs. The Sparks don't seem particularly interested in experimenting with new musical styles, but that isn't a weakness so much as an unswerving fix on what they do better than anyone else. It isn't likely to attract a new set of fans, but those receptive to The Handsome Family's spell will listen to Last Days with wonder.