Category Archives: sparklehorse

S&B Spotify Playlist: March 2010

It’s been a bi-polar kind of month for me, half of which was spent in Manchester, superconnected and the other half, cut-off from the rest of the world in an wi-fi-free Fermanagh (also without my hard drive). It’s funny how quickly I’ve become reliant on my computer and the internet for music. I guess it’s sad, really. I’ve fallen out of the habit of buying cds, granted for financial reasons, but if I were to make a quarter year resolution, then it would be to start up again.
Quarter of a year. It’s not long passing. And this year, I think, has been exceptionally top-loaded with great albums and it’s only going to get better. I had the privilege of interviewing The National yesterday for The Skinny. It’s ahead of the new album, High Violet, which is excellent. I think it’s too early to say whether it’s as good as Alligator or Boxer, given that they were both immensely slow-burning albums, but so far so good. In anticipation, I’ve included Fake Empire from their 2007 classic.

I’ve also been hammering David Thomas Broughton’s album, The Complete Guide to Insufficiency, pretty hard. I see it as a halfway house between Panda Bear and Nick Drake. His subject matter tends to be a tad maudlin, but his voice is overflowing with emotion – as powerful as Antony Hegarty’s. What amazes me is that his debut set was recorded in one take. If you listen to it, you’ll know what I mean. It was recorded in a church, which I think adds a sense of potency or reverence to the sound quality that’s even palpable without knowing where it was laid down. The Complete Guide is five years old now and he’s due to follow it up this year.

I’d never heard of Kath Bloom before this month, when I saw her recommended on a message board, but she’s been releasing records since the 70s. My personal highlight from her new album is here. When I heard this track, I fell in love with her voice. It reminds me of Johnny Cash’s the older he got, in the sense that it’s weary, slightly out of tune at times, but somehow conveys infinite wisdom.

In keeping with the comeback, I’ve included my own highlight from Gil Scott-Heron’s return, the title track from I’m New Here. It’s a cover of a Smog song and when I first heard he was doing that, I was confused and wary: I’m a huge Bill Callahan fan. But it sounds great, and when Gil sings the chorus, his voice doesn’t sound a million miles away from Callahan’s.

Since I’ve spent half the month cut off, I’ve had to make do with the contents of my mp3 player (it’s not very big). I’ve been listening to lots of Electrelane and their first two albums in particular. I think it’s fair to say they got more accessible as they went along. The Valleys, from the Power Out, is the best thing they’ve ever recorded. It’s an operatic choral number that kinda comes out of nowhere. What impresses me most, is how the girls from the band manage to hold their own with the choir. I always thought the vocals on Electrelane tracks were relatively weak. How wrong I was.

There are a few newish tracks here, but most of it is mined from the archives. I wrote about the tragic death of Mark Linkous earlier this month so I won’t do it again. I’ve included a few of my favourite Sparklehorse tracks in the mix too.

Enjoy: Scrawls & Bawls March 2010 Playlist

1. David Thomas Broughton – Unmarked Grave
2. Sparklehorse – Eyepennies
3. Kath Bloom – Like This
4. Jason Lytle – Yours Truly, The Commuter
5. Tindersticks – The Organist Entertains
6. The Unwinding Hours – Solstice
7. Sam Amidon – 1842
8. J. Tillman – Steel on Steel
9. Sparklehorse – Saturday
10. The National – Fake Empire
11. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
12. Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Action
13. The Mountain Goats – This Year
14. Uncle Tupelo – Screen Door
15. Local Natives – Wide Eyes
16. Electrelane – The Valleys
17. Sparklehorse – Wish You Were Here

Rest In Peace Sparklehorse – A Tribute to Mark Linkous

This is the third time I’ve sat down to write this post since I heard the news that Mark Linkous – to all intents and purposes, Sparklehorse – shot himself in the heart over the weekend. It seems as though every time I switch on the radio or television, every time I visit the BBC News website, every time I pick up a newspaper, there’s another tragedy. Global disaster after disaster rain in on us and in the age of Rupert Murdoch, RSS feeds and incessant tweeting, death is big business. The reaper seems to loom ever larger, and for that reason, I’ve become sadly desensitized. Life’s only inevitability, the act of dying, has become less than human as we find ourselves inundated with death lists, tolls and updates. People have become statistics. That is tragic in itself.

This morning, though, the news of Linkous’ suicide left my head spinning and it hasn’t come to rest all day. The strange thing is, I can’t help but think I shouldn’t be all that surprised. After all, this is the same guy that overdosed on Valium and anti-depressants whilst on tour with Radiohead in the 90s. He spent the next six months in a wheelchair after collapsing with his legs pinned underneath him for fourteen hours. The potassium buildup in his legs made his heart stop for five minutes. By rights, Sparklehorse should have been gone over ten years ago.

But he survived. Lately, he has spoken about how productive he’s been. His services as a producer have been in demand. Reportedly, he was close to completing another Sparklehorse record. When I interviewed Daniel Johnston last year, he spoke of how he hoped to work with his friend again and they had discussed another collaboration. Like Johnston, Linkous had been plagued with mental health issues and depression for many years. Johnston spoke of him in glowing terms as a friend and a musician. He told me he was one of the most gentle and kind people he had ever met. This sentiment, for me, has always been apparent in Sparklehorse’s music. There’s such a delicate, vulnerable, human quality to it that starts with his fragile, high pitched voice and seeps into the lyrics and the subtleties of the melodies. I’ve read it written today that Linkous was “too fragile for this world”. It’s a statement that’s constantly wheeled out whenever a tragedy like this befalls us, but in this case, I can’t help but agree.

The first time I heard the music of Sparklehorse was a collaboration with members of Radiohead, a cover version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here from the Lords of Dogtown soundtrack. I immediately fell in love with it. Today, I still think it betters the original. From then, I sought out his albums and my love affair with his music deepened. Despite most of his later records garnering greater critical praise, I think his first album as Sparklehorse, the catchily titled Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, is his best. It’s one of the most underrated albums of the past couple of decades. My favourite Sparklehorse song is on this record, Saturday, which has one of the most gorgeous arpeggios you’ll find on a contemporary, indie track (as mentioned in previous posts, I use the term “indie” loosely. If asked to be more specific with my taxonomy, I would probably call Sparklehorse, and particularly Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot alt-country).

For a couple of months at the end of 2008, I revisited Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot. I’d gotten myself into It’s A Wonderful Life and Good Morning Spider and had neglected his debut slightly. I had just moved out of a flat I was sharing with five mates and into a single room in a flatshare. I guess I must have been pretty lonely. I played the album relentlessly and it became a comfort. It is a crying shame that Linkous palpably struggled to find the same solace in his music that I, and I’m sure countless others did. He and Sparklehorse will be sorely missed. The internet is littered with tributes to him today, with everyone from Radiohead to Death Cab to The Flaming Lips paying their respects. In death, here’s hoping Sparklehorse’s music may have the chance to reach the wider audience it deserved in his lifetime.

Video: Sparklehorse – Saturday

Video: Sparklehorse and Radiohead – Wish You Were Here

Danny Don’t Rapp

Daniel Johnston’s childlike singing voice and propensity for using amateurish recording methods and basic instrumentation puts many people off his music. It’s no coincidence though, that so many artists have taken his songs and covered them. At the heart of each one is an overwhelming melody, and when delivered in a more conventional method, they can be enjoyed by millions of others. This month, we’ve tracked down our five favourite Johnston covers that you can listen to for free. But believe us, this handful of tracks is really only scratching the surface.
Eddie Vedder – Walking the Cow

Kurt Cobain may have been the grunge superstar who propelled Johnston to fame by donning one of his idiosyncratic designs on a t-shirt, but his influence extended to another giant of the Seattle scene in Eddie Vedder. His solo cover of Walking the Cow is a fragile beauty.

Download here

The Pastels – Speeding Motorcycle

This one has been covered by everyone from Yo La Tengo to Mary Lou Lord, but it’s The Pastels’ version from 1991 that stands out for us. Simple, tuneful and easy to hum along to – all traits the Glasgow band shares with Johnston, so it’s no surprise that their take on one of his best tracks works so well.

Download here

The Twilight Sad – Some Things Last a Long Time

Beck, Built to Spill and Beach House have all tried their hands at this one, but The Twilight Sad’s take on a Johnston classic is untouchable. As the ominous drone wells up throughout, James Graham bellowing: “I still think about you…” is nigh on heartbreaking. Johnston has since requested a copy of this particular cover from us.

Download here

Sparklehorse – My Yoke is Heavy

Sparklehorse frontman Mark Linkous is a close friend of Johnston’s and has toured extensively with him in the past. This camaraderie is unsurprising, considering the pair have more in common than music, having both experienced severe depression. Linkous has covered more than one Johnston track, but this is our favourite: the yoke in question, being the burden of melancholy shared by both men.

Download here

Beck – True Love Will Find You in the End

This is perhaps Johnston’s most famous song and Beck’s harmonica-led reworking gives it more polish and force. For many Johnston fans, the beauty of his music lies in its lo-fi simplistic quality. Whilst few of these covers replicate this, they provide a worthy tribute to a man who otherwise may well have flown under the radar.

Download here

Written for The Skinny