The Spinners

The Master Spinner Pays Tribute to Mark Linkous (1962-2010)

In Alternative Rock, American, Ayn Marie Dimaya, Electronica, Richard Bolisay, The Master Spinner Spins on April 21, 2010 at 9:02 am

Death pours like rain nowadays. Mark Linkous, more known musically as Sparklehorse, did away with himself a month ago, leaving six albums of mixed woes and lows, as well as noteworthy collaborations with many artists from all over the musical world.

Two of our Spinners—DJ Ayn and DJ Chard—invite you to listen to some of his records, and reminisce along with them memories they are more than willing to share.

Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (Sparklehorse, 1995)

Mark Linkous knows sad and makes it sadder. But the sadness he scatters—the melancholy occasions of Gloomy Sundays—relates as much as it nails the feeling, particularly how in pursuit of unhappiness he earns love and admiration. His debut under his musical name Sparklehorse isn’t so much about its title being too quirky but the look and sound of it describing youth, the youth of the underground, that is. Moments are there when he wallows in the dumps—”Homecoming Queen”, “Weird Sisters”, “Sad and Beautiful World”—but when he is cheery, he is downright cheery. In “Rainmaker”, “Most Beautiful Widow in Town”, and “Someday I Will Treat You Good”, his spirit soars, set free to tumble uncaringly wild. The result is uneven, for sure, but it’s just how discoveries become exciting and unforgettable: the embrace of things familiar and obscure at the same time. Only when Linkous and his heart have decided to end it all—when “the wind is weeping with sorrowful tears”— he has chosen to commiserate with his sadder songs, in a sea of air.

– Richard Bolisay

Good Morning Spider (Sparklehorse, 1998)

There is a line between noise and music that Sparklehorse straddles marvelously. Not many artists would dare turn a pretty tune into ugly and do it repeatedly (which is probably why he never became popular). It’s this statement—this world view—that renders his work more poignant and, in the light of his constant battle with depression and eventual suicide, more haunting. If we strip his songs, they can only be described as depressingly sad. But Mark Linkous interrupts this melancholy with noise and static, destroying his dismal misery with bursts of rage; and yet, while doing that, he also maintains its fascinatingly beautiful quality. True, that can also be said to any of his albums or songs; but if any album can be called bipolar, this would probably be it: the surprise of the first song, “Pig”, that begins with soft strumming and suddenly transforms into loud angry guitars and then quickly dissolves into the next song, the slower ballad “Painbirds”. These sudden shifts of emotion are carried throughout the record and are demonstrated perfectly in perhaps the album’s definitive song: “Chaos of the Galaxy/Happy Man”. It starts with his signature dreamy distortions and fuzzy vocals and then hovers chaotically, becoming almost inaudible until all the confusing noise is stripped away and it turns into a catchy rock tune. All I want is to be a happy man, he sings. Oh, but if you were, we wouldn’t have this.

– Ayn Marie Dimaya

It’s A Wonderful Life (Sparklehorse, 2001)

The first Sparklehorse album whose recording allowed Linkous to move out of his shell and try his hands on collaborating, here with Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Nina Persson, and Vic Chesnutt among others. Take that title track—“It’s A Wonderful Life”—which, judging by its title alone, seems so apt, so filled with many things to relate to Linkous’ life, especially when he utters each of these words and whispers them faintly. He sings like he whimpers, his voice swimming against the drone. There is character in the album’s unevenness and heaps of grace in its depressing somber mood that pull the pensive lever, the imageries in his lyrics and the way they are fuzzily arranged give off a vibe of levity. Almost everything is bleary except when Tom Waits brings on the husky, and when Nina Persson, PJ Harvey, or Sol Seppy’s voice sneaks in, pulling Linkous’ hands and dragging him out into the open. Making surgeries on the specifics won’t do the record any justice, for they elude proper description. Only a handful of words can be said aside from it having a warm distance, and amid everything lonely, indeed, having a warmer embrace.

– Richard Bolisay

♪ Don’t Take My Sunshine Away (Sparklehorse, 2006) ♪

Download “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away”

You never forget the first time—that first time you hear something new and exciting and just simmering with possibility of becoming something more than just a temporary fancy. After all, isn’t music a love affair? Between the creator and the creation, between the artist and the fan—if the air between doesn’t sizzle with love as the sound waves pass, then what the hell is it worth?

I write this now because the first time I heard Sparklehorse, a couple was breaking up on screen and all I could think about was the song playing in the scene, echoing a lover’s desperate plea. Please don’t take my sunshine away. It was strange and it was beautiful and it was the beginning. And I write this now because with the recent death of Mark Linkous (the man behind Sparklehorse), I am left sitting alone in a half-empty cafeteria, with a broken love affair, and a strange and beautiful and sad and wonderful song, whispering softly, please don’t take my sunshine away.

– Ayn Marie Dimaya

Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (Sparklehorse, 2006)

A sun made of honey, a lake of fire, grounded fireflies turning into dying stars . . . this is the world that Sparklehorse invites you to explore, filled with horses and bears and witches and ghosts. This is his fairy tale—dark and fragile and haunting—both dream and nightmare, both heartbreaking and empowering, like the best fairy tales are. As in all his other albums, he finds a balance between the bitter and the sweet, perhaps more perfectly in this album than the others, for it is more accessible if a little less interesting. But only a little. Because by the album’s last song, the title instrumental track, you might have become so immersed in his dreams you’d never want to wake up again.

– Ayn Marie Dimaya

Interesting is that when one lonely finds another lonely, the result is far from lonely. It can even be called happy, for goodness’ sake, for that connection between the two brings a different kind of feeling—a companionship brewed by distance, a conversation nurtured by the unspoken.

Despair gets another point in Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, as every trace of alcohol, drugs, and depression that Mark Linkous faced before and after making this record is shared through his voice, through the strumming of his guitar, and through the wayward stride of his arrangements. Transparency is always something to admire, especially when the attempts soar high—”Don’t Take My Sunshine Away”, “Shade and Honey”, “See The Light”, “Ghost in the Sky”, and “It’s Not So Hard”—or when he digs his way down and wants to be left alone—”Morning Hollow”, “Knives of Summertime”, and the serene ten-minute title track. The loveliness of “Some Sweet Day” tugs the heart, how Linkous’ words sound so hopeful, his face so bright, his chances so infinite. It’s strange to call it inspiring, but this album really is. It’s the sun that moves the dark clouds apart, the light that shines through, one sweet and lonely day.

– Richard Bolisay

In The Fishtank 15 (Sparklehorse + Fennesz, 2009)

Imagine, if you will, being given two days to create a masterpiece. Such is the challenge of Konkurrent, an independent music distributor in the Netherlands, that invite musicians and give them the freedom to record whatever they like in the span of two days. Their 15th installment is a collaboration between electronic musician Christian Fennesz and Sparklehorse, a match made in heaven, it seems, for dreamy atmospheric acoustics layered with white noise distortions have never sounded better, complementing each other’s strengths so much that even their respective guitar solos sound like the other could have made it too. Like most experimentations, this is not an album easily listened to but will always hold something interesting to those who stick through it. Each piece holds its own wondrous imagery, a brave new world. All you have to do is open your ears and step through.

– Ayn Marie Dimaya

To be singular it can never be. Together, Sparklehorse and Fennesz smash that thought. And what they come up with can only be sparse, sporadic, and unspectacular.

For instance, the chimes in “Music Box of Snakes” and the drone of chafed noise in “Goodnight Sweetheart” and “Shai-Hulud” inflict stabs that are invisible—or one big stab that stings—but wounding nevertheless. When the words jump in—especially with these two artists’ way of gliding the unconventional on their own records—they don’t really jump in. They jump in but also stay where they are, like being in two places in one. Even in the presence of Sparklehorse’s voice it doesn’t seem at all comforting, how his words turn into something like Fennesz’s electropopfixtures, removed and elsewhere. The vocals in “Goodnight Sweetheart” and “If My Heart” give the songs a strange recall, and albeit muffled they don’t escape memory. Fennesz, on his part, always has something in his stash that he hasn’t given before—fresh familiar layers, pieces that are prude if not polarizing—but sadly he decides to end unremarkably with his guitar piece. Sparklehorse offers a better piece as interlude, simply called “Mark’s Guitar Piece”, which is longer and more indulgent.

But to be fair with these guys, for two days’ amount of work, and with something like “NC Bongo Buddy” to boot, the choking ambience and careless distortions aside, In The Fishtank 15 will always hold its interest like the cross that marks Linkous’ grave. The mood is committed to stay.

– Richard Bolisay

Dark Night of the Soul (Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, 2009)

There is music that is cultural, that you and everyone listen to because the whole world tells you and everyone to listen. And then there is music that becomes personal, that speaks to you like no other and grabs you and just won’t let go, the music that one part of you wants to share with the world, but the other part, the selfish part, just wants to clutch it close to your chest like a greedy little hobbit—it’s yours, it’s precious. It could be both, of course, but Sparklehorse seems distinctly the latter. I admit having a bias for things that are melancholy, and when I first discovered Sparklehorse, it seemed distinctly made for me. Especially this, the aptly titled Dark Night of the Soul, an über-collaboration with Danger Mouse and David Lynch, not to mention Iggy Pop and Wayne Coyne and Julian Casablancas and so many others. The first time I wrote about this album, I said it was love at first note. And writing about it now, it still is, though probably some notes are loved more than others. David Lynch sums it up perfectly in the final song: it’s a dark, dream world, he sings. Mark Linkous is gone, finally lost to his own soul’s dark night. But with this album, come near and hear his echoes.

– Ayn Marie Dimaya

Danger Mouse, Sparklehorse, David Lynch, and eleven other artists are so lethal a combination that it seems to summon Dream and Death to come while listening to the record. Personally, I haven’t tried playing Dark of the Night Soul on a pleasant day for fear of losing its magic; night is its best friend, and it seems to be the most fitting atmosphere for its stories that walk from mundane to ghastly, narrated and sung by some of the industry’s beautiful voices, and I will have to name them all because they deserve the space: Wayne Coyne, Gruff Rhys, Jason Lytle, Julian Casablancas, Black Francis, Iggy Pop, James Mercer, Nina Persson, Suzanne Vega, Vic Chesnutt, Mark Linkous, and David Lynch.

The title of the album and the track names imply a certain gloom and doom, but there’s a stream of affection that comes of it too. In fact, that’s what makes it endearing, almost close to falling in love, that despite the alternation of different voices and arrangement—a man and a woman, stripped acoustic and hard rock, clear singing and muffled noises—the warmth stays to spread its hands in embrace. A hug so comforting, coming from these creatures of the night, a friendly, reassuring gift wrapped in tender trappings of rapture, that welcomes companionship between two different worlds.

DJ Ayn fondly calls it Love At First Note. For me it’s Love At Last Breath.

– Richard Bolisay

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