Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sparklehorse-It's a Wonderful Life (2001)

Because I'm having a shitty day, here's some shitty day music.

Many thanks to Radiobutt over at

"Well, is it a wonderful life?

It's mighty suspicious when a melancholic figure like Mark Linkous, the creative force behind Sparklehorse, christens his third album It's A Wonderful Life. Thankfully, he hasn't abandoned his idiosyncratic brand of surreal Southern Gothic futurism to turn his frown upside down. Nor is he peddling cheap irony, as in "It's a wonderful life, wink wink, I want to kill myself, ha ha ha." As with many of the delights on this record, the meaning is much subtler.

The lyrics of the leadoff track do indeed declare life wonderful, but this statement is surrounded by baroque, hallucinatory images of ghostly bees, bloody roosters that fly like doves, and swamps filled with poisoned frogs. It seems that life is full of wonders, sadness, mixed blessings — sometimes dread — but it's a strange enough place that it's worth sticking around and exploring.

Life lacks some Sparklehorse staples. It's less stylistically eclectic than previous outings. It has a narrower dynamic range, less of a country-folk flavor, and no irresistible anthem co-penned by David Lowery ("Rainmaker" and "Sick Of Goodbyes" on the first and second records, respectively). Instead, It's A Wondeful Life is a cohesive, atmospheric listen that rides along on mid-tempo drum-machine grooves, layers of keyboards and strings and Linkous' brittle voice narrating his haunted ballads.

The mood is broken up in a few places, notably the scorching full-tilt rocker "King Of Nails" and the itchy plod-stomp of Tom Waits' cameo "Dog Door," which would find happier company on an actual Waits album. More felicitous contributions by Polly Jean Harvey and Cardigans chanteuse Nina Persson add harmony without diverting the path of the 'Horse.

The overall result is similar to an Eels album, with imagistic lyricism — skeleton kisses, diamond rain, babies on the sun — substituted for bittersweet vignettes and an air of mystery in place of cosmic punch lines. The songs' cinematic texture provides a soundtrack that seems to suspend the world around the listener in poignant slo-mo. Strange, sublime and beautiful, the wonders of Life reward patience and repeated listens."

Everything's so goddamn wonderful


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mark Linkous took his own life on 6th March. He was