The Spinners

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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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Sunshine Barato (Mosquitos, 2004)

In American, Bossa Nova, Electronica, Indie Pop, Romina Mislang, Summer Albums on April 16, 2010 at 8:18 am

Sunshine Barato starts slowly with the opening track “Flood”, bare guitar sounds hinting on a bouncy tune as vocalist Chris Root sings about the coming of rain. From the second stanza onwards, Mosquitos up the ante but slow down from time to time, playing various tunes that bring a great aural background for a laidback summer on the beach. Their bossa-inspired indie pop sound with snatches of electronica, rock and kiddie pop—along with John Marshall Smith’s keyboard work, Chris Root’s dissonant English-singing, and JuJu Stulbach’s dreamy girl-from-Ipanema-like ramblings—conjure images of palm trees, a wide expanse of fine white sand, and blue waters as far as the eye can reach.

Although the lyrics are forgettable, you’d want to pop the record onto your player again and again; or in this age of iPods, every time you’re looking for a good sunshiney upper, you can always press Repeat. The tempo is just right whenever you feel like dancing in your breeziest summer outfit, to the beat of “Xixizinho no Oceano” or the title track “Sunshine Barato”. Coming next is “Blue Heart”, which lets you release that crazy energy as the song hints on the band’s rock influences. “Love Remix” has a recurring opening riff, expounding on an uncertainty as Root sings about his attraction (or romance?) with Stulbach. “Shooting Stars” feels like swaying with the trees as the wind blows, as “Avocado” continues the upbeat summer mood. Raunchy pop blends with rock-inspired riffs in “Domesticada” before the tempo gradually slows down, as the summer day wears on.

The record ends with “27 Degrees”, a slow but thoughtful tune, complementing a relaxing but almost nostalgic atmosphere under the stars—a perfect ending to a great beachside summer. Summer’s over but we’re not going anywhere, the band laments upon closing, but no matter what happens, this romance with summer will last forever. We’re just waiting for the sunshine to come back again, and so am I (even if the heat, at times, is too hot for comfort). This goes so well with summer as tomato is to pasta, so while spending the long days of crazy heat, just listen to the Mosquitos’ Sunshine Barato. You’d wish summer were here sooner.

– Romina Mislang

♪ Back in Time (Clazziquai, 2009) ♪

In Electronica, South Korean, Summer Songs, Thor Balanon, Track Reviews on April 13, 2010 at 9:40 am

Summer’s got nothing on me. I don’t do crowds so I rarely hit the beach. I don’t drive so road trips are nothing much more than a slightly gay, a little suicidal fantasy. Still, in those rare afternoons when it’s too hot to complain about the heat, I play Clazziquai’s “Back in Time”. Summer’s when I get down with sloth, and the track’s lazy trance, with a whiff of the salty Ibiza riff but held back by Alex’s syrupy Korean-English mumbling, is perfectly indifferent. The house beats threaten to burst, always a second shy from exploding. A static promise. Not excitable but giddy, the possibility more promising than what can possibly happen.

– Thor Balanon

Download “Back in Time”

Psychic Chasms (Neon Indian, 2009)

In American, Electronica, Richard Bolisay, Summer Albums on April 13, 2010 at 9:36 am

If your idea of a summer getaway is sprawling yourself on the beach, island hopping, or attending pool parties, but you don’t want to experience any of it—just an idea like I said—then Psychic Chasms is for you. Alan Palomo of Neon Indian borrows the fun of all those summer activities without letting a trickle of sweat roll down on your forehead. So refreshing an album that it quenches, that looking out of your window, glancing at the silence of midday, and wishing nothing but cool air, it feels enough as company, a perfect record for people who would rather stay home than stay out.

All useless thinking happens in summer, especially when the heat starts to turn everyone into monsters, melting wits like melting ice. The tracks in Psychic Chasms offer relief amid all of that. Absorbing the breeze of rhythms and painful distortions, they arouse the senses after your mind decides to have a breather. Listening to “Deadbeat Summer” and “Terminally Chill” is addictive—their catchiness remains despite the colorful laziness of their arrangement, touching the core of pop without a trifle of compromise. As pleasingly lazy as them are “Should have taken acid with you” and “Mind, Drips”, for reasons that they make the trippy first half sustain interest with fairly similar nuances. Repetitive the vibe may be, it’s never tiring. Hooks are everywhere, from the lyrics down to the effects that adorn each song. The beats, albeit recognizable from one another, flow fluidly and stop when they want to. Like being in a party and the spinner decides to take a leak, the magic returns when he spins the record again.

But what is more impressive is that the fillers don’t feel like fillers. “Laughing Gas” and “If I knew I’d tell you” complement the longer tracks as much as they provide hazy transitions, the same way “(AM)” and “7000 (Reprise)” set the mood for opening and closing the spill of groove, melodic even in their sparseness. So infectious the euphoria Psychic Chasms brings that the wooziness becomes oozy—sweaty palms, twitchy pelvis, and spaced-out mind as side effects—and before you know it, summer has already come and gone.

– Richard Bolisay

Exit (Shugo Tokumaru, 2007)

In Electronica, Folk, Japanese, Pop, Rex Baylon on April 12, 2010 at 5:48 am

Although flooded with all sorts of pop acts, the Japanese music industry has very few artists that can claim both critical and mass appeal. Labeled by many as the only Japanese musician that mattered in the Aughts, Shugo Tokumaru’s experimental style bridges the gap between avant-garde and confectionary pop. As a multi-instrumentalist, Tokumaru embraces the disparate elements of folk, rock, electronica, and pop; and melds them into something that sounds wholly familiar but still retains the spirit of re-invention.

In his third album, Exit, Tokumaru takes on the task of being a fifty-man band and accomplishes the impossible: he creates a pop masterpiece. One can’t help but smile while listening to Exit. The album is not some dour avant-garde exercise but rather a Pollyanna-ish concerto divided into ten separate orchestral pieces. Tokumaru steps into Brian Wilson’s shoes and experiments with the symphonic sensibilities of the pop song by punctuating each track with the commonplace sounds of the everyday; and in the process, he infuses the songs with a life of their own.

Each of the ten tracks in Exit breathes with its own unique idiosyncrasies, as though each song continues to play as the next track begins. Also, what’s refreshing about Tokumaru’s style is that although many in the American press have compared him to a Japanese Sufjan Stevens or Owen Pallett, Tokumaru’s music eschews the cliché arguments of Western vs. Asian musical influences. He is not some Japanese artist clumsily trying some Western style. Tokumaru’s music transcends such limiting definitions; like all good music, his songs obliterate cultural boundaries.

Although many listeners may be turned off by the fact that all the songs are written in Japanese, I suggest that these people should get over their biases. Exit is one of a handful of albums released during the Aughts that will outlive the social milieu that gave birth to it. Shugo Tokumaru is an unparalleled genius and those who ignore his contributions are doing so at their own peril.

– Rex Baylon

Flowers (Asuna, 2009)

In Ambient, Electronica, Japanese, Rex Baylon on April 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

I don’t really know what to call it. The only category that comes to mind when describing the sound is ambient noise pop, but such reductive categorizing doesn’t do justice to the music of Asuna. From the information I could gather on the Internet I can tell you that Japanese musician Asuna has been producing experimental music since 1999. And although I couldn’t tell you how many albums he has already put out, his latest record, Flowers, was released about a year ago.

The album is lo-fi not only in terms of production but also of theme. Many of the tracks clock in at a little over a minute long, some just two and a half minutes, which gives many of the songs an unfinished rough-hewn veneer. It’s as if Asuna is rushing from one auditory idea to another, offering only pencil sketch blueprints for his songs and letting the listener fill in the rest.

If one had to pluck out a concept for Flowers it would have to be a lazy afternoon. While listening to every one of the twelve tracks in the album, I can’t shake the image of sitting aimlessly under the shade. Songs blur into each other and one can easily lose track of the time as well as one’s train of thought. The constant repetition of sounds, whether instrumental or ambient noise, has a metronomic effect on the listener. The trancelike spell cast by Flowers will have one’s heart rate and pulse synchronized to the rhythm of each track. While many mainstream musicians aim to grab hold of their audience’s attention, Asuna is content with turning the ordinary into a quiet soundtrack for anyone to spend the day with.

– Rex Baylon

♪ Clark Gable (The Postal Service, 2003) ♪

In American, Dodo Dayao, Electronica, Indie Pop on February 4, 2010 at 6:40 am

I’ve been waiting since birth to find a love that would look and sound like a movie. . . goes Ben on the first verse. Movie love is perfect love, freak love, impossible love. But I think Ben knows that. At some point he sings . . .do you ever get the fear, that your perfect verse is just a lie you tell yourself to help you get by? He knows the bubble will burst over time. But he also knows there’s a kind of comfort in keeping it afloat regardless. Having no one to settle for leaves you aiming for the ideal. That’s some kind of ecstatic in and of itself. That’s why he rents a camera and a van and gets his ex to pretend she’s still in love with him then kisses her in a way Clark Gable would’ve thought classic. That’s why he makes a movie out of the imperfect love he once had and wants back but can’t have anymore—to bottle it, seal its juices in, have it to hold. “Clark Gable” is like a wishful regret.

– Dodo Dayao

♪ You Are The Blood (Sufjan Stevens, 2009) ♪

In Compilation, Electronica, Folk, Richard Bolisay, Track Reviews on January 26, 2010 at 10:22 am

Sufjan’s version is more than twice the length of the Castanets original—the longest in the RHO’s compilation album, Dark Was The Night, in fact—but that doesn’t mean he’s just showing off. He’s done the same ‘horsing around’ before, and quite majestically I must say: his version of “A Free Man in Paris” may have baffled and delighted Joni Mitchell, and I’m sure Bob Dylan, if he had the time to listen to I’m Not There’s soundtrack, would be pleased with his charming orchestration of “Ring Them Bells”. Sufjan continues to outdo himself—taking projects left and right, helping co-artists, contributing to wonderful compilations such as this—and with “You Are The Blood” he stays with the same subtle interest; his music never fails to stir our hearts and imagination. Listening to the crazy ornamentation, the elaborate alternation of instruments, the meticulous arrangement—not to mention his alto voice that is rather horrifying—I think the man just deserves our warmest hug for all he did last year. I hope he goes back to being cheerful.

– Richard Bolisay

Animal (Ke$ha, 2009)

In American, Ayn Marie Dimaya, Dance, Electronica, Pop on January 20, 2010 at 11:06 am

Ever since the beginning of the pop-driven world, artists have manufactured themselves as “unique” in order to sell albums. After all, there’s no other way to be noticed in an environment so crowded. And there’s nothing wrong with fun, shallow music. The songs are catchy, yes. And danceable. And very, very addictive. My problem is that in the midst of developing their image, these artists, most of them arguably talented, somehow lose the soul that does make them unique. Or in this case, confuse the soul with $wagga. What angers me more is the whole point (or pointlessness) of Ke$ha being obvious. It’s written smack in the middle of her name in the form of an oh-it’s-so-uniquely-candid dollar sign. Money makes the world go round and people are eagerly buying her product. Never mind the mind-numbing inanity of it all.

– Ayn Marie Dimaya

Manners (Passion Pit, 2009)

In American, Electronica, Indie Pop, Kate Pedroso on January 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Chances are, your very first exposure to Passion Pit would be to their insanely addictive and repetitive “Sleepyhead”—or at least for me it was, when it was sampled on an episode of British teen drama Skins last season. Without a doubt, it’s the most memorable bit off the 11-track album—a quirky mix of nearly-impossible-to-decipher vocals so insanely warped they sound like midgets singing into your ear, only the thing is addictive and rather clever, and perhaps your reaction to this track is likely to define your relationship with Passion Pit’s music altogether.

And I’m going to come right out with it first thing: I have loved them since discovering them in July 2009, and have never stopped since.

So, everybody needs something to dance to every now and then, and one day you chance upon something like Passion Pit’s Manners, definitely one of my favorite music discoveries in 2009 (if not my absolute favoritest, as it is). “Sleepyhead” can push you to the limit with its shrill vocals that don’t really mean anything, but then it can also grab you and never let you go, as it has done to me.

The track starts with and everything’s going to the beat, and everything’s going to the beat, before accordingly dripping into the most hypnotizing first 30-seconds of anything I’ve ever heard, and all the while they’re saying something that only sounds vaguely like, Please let me hold you. Not to mention it stands out with some interesting writing as well: like fire around the brim / burning solid / burning thin the burning rim is a quick favorite, as it just makes me want to sit back and light something illegal up for ingestion (metaphorically, of course).

And it’s not like Sleepyhead is the only track worth listening to in the album (but then, I’ve been listening to it X times in a row now—as I’ve said, addictive). Easy next favorites are “Little Secrets” (let this be our little secret / no one needs to know we’re feeling / higher and higher and higher), which really makes me want to stand up and throw my hands up in the air or something similarly embarrassing when in public, if only because it sounds like a shout-out to lost youth; and the mellower “Eyes as Candles” (my world is stirring sickly / spits out our voices singing, / “sha la la, oh, no no,” / to kingdom come so slightly), whose somewhat religious undertones are not lost on me at all; and “To Kingdom Come”, which is also laid-back and only very slightly heartbreak-tinged.

Also deserving mention is “The Reeling,” whose delicious intro reminds me of bonfires on beaches, and “Let Your Love Grow Tall,” which is sure to make you go “woo-hoo-woo-hoo” for the rest of the day like you’ve just been properly infected or something.

In all, I would totally bring it to (1) house parties with friends where I can go crazy improvising dance moves with on the spot and not get disowned, (2) back home from the office, and (3) where I can dance the stress of the day away in private. Just the perfect album to do these things with.

– Kate Pedroso