Tuesday, November 5, 2019


Some might say I am, again, entirely missing the point of this theme, submitting posts around arcane or unknown musicians, rather than jolly japes around the spirit world that befit the feast of St Michael (Myers). So be it, my defence arguably resting on the deceased nature of the musicians concerned. In this case, rather than the takentoosoon of cancer, this time it was the at least as ghastly act of suicide that took Mark Linkous, singer, songwriter and, in reality, the end-all and be-all of Sparklehorse.

Spirit Ditch

I would expect most readers of this site to know the name, even if little known in the civilian world of charts and videos. His band, which lasted between 1995 and his death, 15 years later, gave us 6 albums, including collaborations. These are a scatter shot of styles and influences, possibly denoting the scatter shot status of his brain waves, he having been no stranger to the use of mind-altering drugs, not least in their life-changing capabilities. And not in a good way, as you may below follow. They're good records, though. Spirit Ditch is from the first, vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, and is as good a place as any to get to grips with his impossibly fraught vocals, a whispered scream of frailty. With stream of consciousness lyrics, it is hard to say quite what it is about, but the lifted transcript from a(n actual) phone call with his mother, she talking of a bad dream he had described her, gives a clue to the mindset. I like what I see as a lyrical nod to After the Goldrush: "I woke up in a burnt out basement", sensing some psychological kinship with Neil Young. Having said, he is just as capable, like Young, of a raucous wig-out like Someday I Will Treat You Good.

I first came across the band for their second outing, having read of the horrendous incident that pre-ceded its release, widely felt to preface much of the material. This was later denied by Linkous, saying it had already been written. (Musicians traditionally always deny any obvious inspirations to their muse, whether Bob Dylan or Nick Cave, mind.....) But I am drawn to such, and found the slightly more synth embellished textures of Good Morning Spider being to my taste. (Below I shoehorn in a track, later covered by Susanna Hoffs, if unreleased, in a lame attempt to fit in with the theme.)

Ghost of His Smile

Next album, the was it ironically entitled It's a Wonderful Life, is said to be more straight ahead, made without added stimulants (or downers). Ditching any firm concept of a band, it is rammed full with collaborations, from PJ Harvey and Nina Persson, to, Linkous' hero, Tom Waits. Whilst some of these extra voices add to the overall, largely I feel they detract, the earlier shambolic being key to my enjoyment. These songs are just too conventional. (Don't get me wrong, they're fine, it's the comparison. And the Waits' one is shit.)

Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, the now big name influential game changer for Michael Kiwanuka and Karen O, and electronic ambient artist Fennesz now entered Linkous' orbit, both and/or either intrinsically involved with the rest of the Sparklehorse canon. Firstly with Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, which comes across as a bit of a muddle, with tracks redolent of each of their stylistic tropes, together with a leftover or two from the earlier album. Again, don't ignore it, just don't seek it first.

Getting it Wrong(?)

Chronologically the next should be In the Fishtank, Vol. 15, jointly credited with Fennesz, but delayed in release until after his death. I guess you have to be in the mood, but it smacks to me of too much self-indulgence. It looks a whole lot better live. So I will move swiftly to the last, this time a direct 3 way credit with both Danger Mouse and with David Lynch, the film maker, for his photography. Too many egos?  I don't know, but legal difficulties delayed the release by a year, during which Linkous took his own life. Designed as a feature for songs Linkous felt uncomfortable singing himself, this features an array of bussed in vocalists, some of whom work better than others.
I would prefer it to have been Linkous, personally, and, thankfully, he features on a couple. It works best when similar voices are used, like Grandaddy's Jason Lyttle, less when a different atmosphere is sought, like with Iggy Pop. A sum less of its parts, it features the song below, almost clairvoyant in mood, featuring vocals shared with Linkous and, again, Nina Persson. Because, all too soon, he was.

Daddy's Gone

Here's his obituary.

Finally, back to where I began, with the realisation of his talent bearing fruit, here is a remarkable cover version of Spirit Ditch, made by Nadine Khouri, the up and coming UK based melancholist.

Spirit Ditch

Spirit Ditch here, or, with and in respect to the relative newness of the cover version, AND here.

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