It seems like Mark Linkous has been all but completely forgotten by the young music listeners of today. There are a couple likely causes for this: Bands tagged with the ‘alternative-country’ moniker have always had a hard time connecting with younger audiences, his discography has a consistency that prevents one obvious masterpiece from standing out among the pack and his most recent release (the Danger Mouse-helmed “Dark Night of the Soul”) was an intriguing endeavor that unfortunately lacked enough replayability to encourage delving deeper.
(Photo Courtesy of Sparklehorse)
And so the sad story of Sparklehorse is one of an underappreciated mastery of song craft. Rather than culminating his career in a definitive statement, Linkous spent his life presenting his hunchback view of the world in consistent installments until his suicide in 2010. His approach to music was all-encompassing and yet extremely focused, bursting with songs so fully committed to specific styles and moods that one might think Linkous was some cocky Beckian were it not for his maddening dreariness.
“Good Morning Spider” is the closest Linkous ever came to releasing the ultimate Sparklehorse record. His love for classic chord progressions is on full display in the 1999 album, and the purposeful, stylistic flourishes from track to track make every song memorable, even with an ambitious track list of 17 songs. Every sound captured is specific to Linkous’ unique vision, a world filled to the brim with stick figures and anthropomorphic insects where the sky is always a pale grey. It can be a morose listen or a cheery one, depending on your mindset going in, but the impact these songs have cannot be understated.
There’s a push-pull nature to the arc of “Good Morning Spider,” as introduced by the opening suite of “Pig” and “Painbirds.” It’s helpful to know that most of the songs on this album came out of a crippling overdose Linkous underwent while opening for Radiohead, which left him hospitalized and then wheelchair-bound for six months. On opener “Pig,” the imprisoned Linkous fumes with seemingly limitless energy, yet by the time the second track clicks into play, he is barely able to handle the sun. His deep melancholia drenches “Painbirds” in a downtempo stroll — the likes of which Bradford Cox would imitate countless times — while muted trumpets and keyboards give the track an almost urban, rainy quality in places.
In the few songs proceeding, it seems as if Linkous found a positive outlet for his woes in the form of country rock gold-nugget, “Sick of Goodbyes,” and the ear-whispering “Sunshine.” “Sick of Goodbyes” had already been penned by Linkous and recorded by Cracker, but the dynamic shift between the howling verse and downright angry chorus lends the song the emotional heft needed to lift it from just being a solid “A.M.”-era Wilco knockoff.
From there, Linkous’ mood jumps back and forth with each passing song, from the dejected “Cruel Sun” to the sublimely lucid “All Night Home” to one brimming with hollow optimism, “Ghost of His Smile.” With each track, Linkous seems to take an immediately recognizable chord pattern and stuff in as many oddball notes as possible, lovingly sculpting each track from the past while still feeling surprising and inspired.
There’s a cover of a Daniel Johnston song called “Hey Joe” on “Good Morning Spider” that probably stands as one of the more special covers of the widely interpreted songwriter. Like Johnston, Sparklehorse’s music is that of a damaged optimist, with the aural manifestation of innocence slowly being stripped away from the universe in morbid Lemony Snicket-esqe fashion. As with Snicket’s stories, there was never a relieving finale to Linkous’ struggle with depression, only a collection of wonderful and fascinating looks into how blurry the line between hopefulness and misery can be sometimes. Linkous saw the world as a landscape lined with infinite curiosity and beauty, making the tragedy that he could never feel that warmth all the more heartbreaking.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff Writer. Sam Goldner is a junior Advertising and Political Science major and also works as the Music Director for Radio 1190. He has written for Tastemakers Magazine, hosted a radio show at WRBB in Boston, and interned at the Fox Theatre. In his free time, he enjoys watching movies, Super Smash Bros., playing guitar, riding his bike, and scouring for music.
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