February 14, 2007
Mark Linkous aka Sparklehorse has taken five years of hermetic exile from music since 2001’s incredible It’s a Wonderful Life. In that half-decade, he rarely updated his website and only released one or two tracks on compilation albums. The recently released Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain is pretty good, but contains the god awful single, “Don’t Take my Sunshine Away.” The new album also sees Linkous in a bit of a dry spell. That is to say he seems to be suffering from writer’s block because four of the twelve tracks are outtakes, either previously released songs or re-recorded ones, from his last album. Incidentally, those songs are also the best ones on his new record.
For the current tour Linkous has assembled a group of people who don’t even appear on Dreamt…or any of his other releases for that matter, the only exception being his drummer, Johnny Hott, who periodically shows up on a studio track. With these details in mind, Sparklehorse did not deliver the same caliber performance that they did live six years ago, but they still provided some good arrangements of certain songs as they relied heavily on material from the first album, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot.
Opening with their very first single, “Spirit Ditch,” it was apparent that the band were not as tight this time around, but they quickly recovered with striking rendition of the woeful, “Apple Bed.” In fact, most the material that they played from It’s a Wonderful Life worked well. That album is perhaps his best with its primarily down tempo and at times funereal themes and arrangements. It also helps that PJ Harvey and her drummer John Parish, Tom Waits, and Portishead’s Adrian Utley all perform on that album. How can one possibly go wrong with the assistance of that cast? The lone encore of the evening was “Gold Day,” the driving, unhit single from that record.
Other impressive moments were “Saturday” from Vivadixie…and “Pig” from the highly underrepresented Good Morning Spider. The former, a great melancholy melody that includes the typically nonsensical lines, “You are a star/You are a sea of air/I play great keyboards of horses’ teeth on Saturday.” Though I am not sure quite how, Linkous manages to make this an effectively moving piece. The latter track, contrarily, is a fast, noisy, overdriven slice of atypical Sparklehorse punk rock that works about as well as anything that he has done.
The band was still in fine form even though it may not have been Linkous at his best. It looks like next up is a full album collaboration between Sparklehorse and Dangermouse, which is already in the works. They have already appeared together in recorded form on three tracks, which are included on the most recent Sparklehorse release. We will just have to wait and see if it takes them another five years to release some new material.