Music

Mark Sandman: Sandbox: The Music of Mark Sandman

Seth Limmer

My name is Mark Sandman. Music for us is the most important thing. The songs are written about women, how to gain her, how to lose her, and the danger of being human. Each song has its own life, and we try to play each song as it exists by itself.


Mark Sandman

Sandbox: the Music of Mark Sandman

Label: High-N-Dry
US Release Date: 2004-11-16
UK Release Date: 2005-02-21
Amazon
iTunes

"Me llamo Mark Sandman. Musica para nosotros es la cosa mas importante... el dinero no importe nada... importe muy poco, un poco.... Los canciones son escritos sobre la mujer y para perder, para ganar, y el peligrosodel ser humano. Cada cancion tiene su propria vida, y nos tratamos tocar cada cancion como existe solo. Entiende?"

It was not always easy to understand Mark Sandman. Understated to the point of muted, laconic way past the borders of ironic, the frontman for Morphine and Treat Her Right constantly defied easy comprehension, demanding from his audience a more focused, more participatory involvement in his music. "I leave room to think about things that aren't said in words" is the way Sandman described his own brand of lyricism that not only left room for, but demanded interpretation. Classic Morphine songs like "Empty Box" and "The Jury", over a decade after their initial release, still swim openly in endless seas of meaning.

"Have patience / Give it just a little more time" might at first be Sandman's plea to his listeners who constantly demanded simple explanation of his music. But heard as the harrowing chorus of "Patience" on the new release Sandbox: The Music of Mark Sandman, it instead is a eulogy and epitaph. In the saddest rock 'n' roll death that wasn't Otis Redding's, Mark Sandman collapsed on stage of a heart attack while playing with his band Morphine in Palestrina, Italy. And in painful comparison to the fact that Redding never saw his "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" posthumously rise to the top of the pop charts, Sandman never lived to sit on his back porch and drink red wine on 9/9/99, despite his aspirations in "French Fries with Pepper".

Last July marked five years since Sandman's untimely passing, and his close friends and musical companions Billy Conway and Dana Colley -- who, in 2000, marked Sandman's death with the Morphine's posthumous The Night -- now come forward to help pay homage to Mark's life with Sandbox. A ceaseless collaborator and constant creator of new music, Mark spent his life finding new partners with whom to create music of meaning. Mostly in the Boston bars he haunted, Sandman found friends first and then turned them into bandmates whose trials by fire were on weekly display at Cambridge's famous Plough and Stars and the Middle East. With names like Hipnosonic, Candy Bar, Treat Her Orange, and Super Group, along with the well-known Treat Her Right, the better-known Morphine, and the best-named Pale Bros., Sandman left behind an incredible testament to one man's insistence on finding what is good in music.

That dedication, that inspiration, and Sandman's singular talent are what make Sandbox such a strong success. Unlike so many records rushed out in the wake of an artist's untimely passing, this two-disc set (packaged with a wonderful DVD that includes the above-quoted interview from Galician TV) is hardly a pastiche of half-baked, undercooked songs: Sandbox holds up as a complete album to anything ever bearing Sandman's name released in his lifetime. While there are certainly a few weak tracks (a rambling post-kidnapping confession of a war correspondent entitled "Middle East" takes that prize here), they are mostly buried at the end of the package (not unlike the lesser "Free Love" and "Hanging On a Curtain", put near the close of classic Morphine records). For the most part, from start to finish, this thoughtful collage of Mark's material comes off as incredibly cohesive and entirely moving.

As the subtitle suggests, this collection is to be understood as "The Music of Mark Sandman". While band names and bandmates are given credit, it is as an entirety, and not track-by-track. The result prevents the listener from hacking the material up into segments of time and space, instead allowing the music to be heard more fluently. A clearly later track "I Can Do That" juxtaposes nicely with "Tomorrow" which, to my ear at least, seems to be earlier material. (Even in death, Sandman keeps us guessing.) The low-rock sounds made famous by Morphine flow into guitar-driven material which sounds, surprisingly, rather trebly. Despite making his name playing a two-string slide bass in a band that was all about baritone, Sandman -- who claimed guitar was his favorite instrument, just not the right one for Morphine -- masters a variety of sounds and tones in the 31 varieties scooped into Sandbox.

Women -- losing them, gaining them, and the time spent in between -- are the focus of the songs on the set. Like all Sandman's other material (and as promised above in Spanish), here each song is given its own life. "Bathtub" contains not only the reflections of the singer while sitting there soaking, but also captures the feel of an echo-filled, tiled chamber. A song about bragging, "I Can Do That", uses the music to prove the singer's bravado; ethereal harmonics create the dreamy soundscape for an "Imaginary Song". And as for women, they're all over the place: shaking things up like "Mona's Sister", breaking things up like "Doreen", and wreaking divine vengeance in "Goddess". Mark's muse remains unchanged.

"I spent all day yesterday / Watching the grass grow / And what I learned is / The grass really grows slow" makes it seem as if Sandman thought life laid out endlessly before him. "Have patience / Give it just a little time / And everything will work out fine" is a cruel and ironic epitaph to leave the posthumous lips of a good man gone too soon. But perhaps Sandman's message, like his music, is the healing balm that now, after time, comes to remind us that while life is not fair, it is life nonetheless. It is life to make our own, whether learning from the growing grass, making magic with dear friends, or fulfilling the heights of potential within. If life is short, but life is full, the rewards remain. At the very least, from the terse and oblique symbolism that is now Mark Sandman's life, that is the message I can construct today.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.