Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Favorite Things

What would be the point of having your own blog if you couldn't try and brainwash people now and then? With that (your brain) in mind, each month I will be doing a feature on nothing more than just a band I love. Today it is Sparklehorse.

Sparklehorse? Never heard of em' right? Don't feel bad, they're one of the best kept secrets in modern music. Here are the basics - the band is mostly the brainchild of Mark Linkous, an evil-mad-genius/country-bumpkin from the mountains of North Carolina. In 1996 Linkous, who is the first person in his family not to be a coal miner, toured with friggin' Radiohead, and half-way through the tour, overdosed on painkillers and passed out with his legs pinned underneath him for 14-hours. He suffered all kinds of damage and was in a wheelchair for 6 months. He even wrote a song on the album, Good Morning Spider, about one of the nurses in the hospital who treated him kindly. At one point he tried moving out to L.A. but missed his pastoral setting and went back to N.C. to a farmhouse where bears sometimes block the road and make it hard to get into town to buy groceries.

Compelling enough, but what's the music sound like? Well, ever wandered around a field in the middle of nowhere in October listening to the leaves rattle, the creek trickle, a train somewhere off in the distance humming down the track? It's kind of like that sometimes and at other times it's as though that train off in the distance has come roaring off the tracks right at you and the only thing you have to defend yourself is a chainsaw. Yeah sure, the chainsaw's not going to protect you, but it's going to sound awesome.

Linkous' vocals are often quiet - almost whispery at times - singing about finding bear teeth on the ground, or fiery pianos washing up on foggy coasts. He sounds like a naturalist philosopher, home-schooled and whiskey drunk. The music is sparse - banjos, tinkling badly tuned pianos, barely strummed guitars. At other times he's downright punk rock, his voice seething amid a summer squall of storms and electric guitars on the horizon - although he's still singing about carburetors and farm animals.

All this is not to suggest that there is anything terribly challenging about listening to Sparklehorse. You will immediately notice the influence of bands as ubiquitous as The Beatles and The Pixies at times, it's just that those influences have been filtered down through the Appalachian Mountains. To his credit, Linkous has worked with some of the absolute big names of big names in the music industry including: Tom Waits (his closest soul mate), PJ Harvey, Danger Mouse, Daniel Johnston, Frank Black, Beck, Bright Eyes, and the aforementioned, Radiohead. His music has also been featured in movies such as Laurel Canyon, Lords of Dogtown, Dandelion, Dawn of the Dead, and All the Real Girls.

His latest project was a collaboration between himself and Danger Mouse called The Dark Night of the Soul, in which they teamed up with David Lynch who listened to each song they wrote and took pictures for an accompanying book. Each song Linkous and Mouse wrote was then passed down to another musician (Iggy Pop, The Flaming Lips, The Shins, The Strokes, to name a few) to sing. The only problem is, because of Danger Mouse's run-ins with his record company over the Jay-Z/Beatles mix, The Grey Album, Dark Night of the Soul is being held up by the record company and its release, for the moment, seems dubious.

Album to check out first: Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot -yep that's how it's spelled. If you like it, my next suggestion is the woozy masterpiece, It's a Wonderful Life, followed by (post wheelchair/overdose album) Good Morning Spider and then his latest, and in my opinion, least consistent album, Slept for Light years in the Belly of a Mountain.

Check the video below for a Sparklehorse sampler:

No comments:

Post a Comment