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Sparklehorse

Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain

(Astralwerks; US: 26 Sep 2006; UK: 25 Sep 2006)

Five years after his fourth record, It’s A Wonderful Life, Mark Linkous returns with the obtusely titled Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain; and the intervening time has, on the whole, been a positive force for the volatile leader of Sparklehorse.


You have to be in the right frame of mind to tackle a Sparklehorse album. Linkous’ fractured sensibility informs a fractious music; it cracks into fuzzy guitar rhythms, sparkles with big sky atmospherics, or settles into a depressive gloom without much indication which is most comfortable for the musician. Taking in the tenor of his work as a whole, it’s the latter that echoes strongest—it covers many of his songs in a layer of gloom, but also a slow-penetrating kind of beauty.


This placid demeanor belies a fine-tuned, well worked out musicianship. Linkous uses long-held notes in the bass and treble to create a sense of continuity, and they are generally effective at creating a haunting quality. “Morning Hollow”, which features Tom Waits on piano, probably illustrated this best. The song is full of space, and the best part about it is that silence exists as an integral part of the song—a soft-hit synth, a rattle of drum, and silence; perfect accompaniment for the melancholy story of loneliness.


Mark Linkous is now based in North Carolina, and his throbbing, minimal folk seems to suit that pastoral, conservative geography perfectly. Gently pulsing instrumentals fuel his most serene compositions, from the hypnotic closing cut (also the title song) to the gentle synth repetitions of “Getting It Wrong”. One of the album’s best songs, “Return to Me”, rocks like a desolate sea shanty; when Linkous sings “Return to me, my love”, the simple melody is completely entrancing. His imagery is hewn from the land, too—mountains, rocks, grass, insects form a natural mechanism for Sparklehorse’s poetry.


But what may get lost in all this effect and craft is that at their base, many of Linkous’ songs are remarkably standard rock-song constructions. “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” opens with a simple arpeggio that makes up the backbone of the song; emphasized by guitar flourishes at the end of each line, they sound like an acoustic “My Iron Lung”. And the more jagged rock songs, “It’s Not So Hard” and “Ghosts in the Sky”, reveal a conventional folk-tuned rock sensibility, the kind of tune Bright Eyes might write at his most electric.


These out of place elements that interrupt these songs here and there will probably continue to keep Sparklehorse from reaching a larger audience. Two and a half minutes into opener “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away”, the serenity of the song is momentarily interrupted by fuzz, out-of-time glitches; just as suddenly this interlude drops away, but the listener’s left disoriented, and the rest of the song can’t achieve the same peaceful beauty. Similarly, wobbly effects and fuzzy glissanndi intrude on “Knives of Summertime”, overtaking the steady chugging ballad completely at its end. When Sparklehorse isn’t pursuing tangents, though, the band’s introspective beauty is an understated but valuable gift.

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Dan Raper has been writing about music for PopMatters since 2005. Prior to that he did the same thing for his college newspaper and for his school newspaper before that. Of course he also writes fiction, though his only published work is entitled "Gamma-secretase exists on the plasma membrane as an intact complex that accepts substrates and effects intramembrane cleavage". He is currently studying medicine at the University of Sydney, Australia.


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7 Mar 2010
We celebrate the life and work of singer-songwriter and Sparklehorse frontman Mark Linkous, who will be remembered as one of the most earnest, distinctive American songwriters of his generation. Truly, he will be missed.
30 Aug 2007
It's almost as if Sparklehorse mastermind Mark Linkous would rather be hiding under the horse head that features so prominently in his lyrics and album art.
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