Four albums in, its some kind of revelation that Sparklehorse remains strictly a cult phenomenon. The record-making vehicle of Virginia-born Mark Linkous, Sparklehorse music settles into the subconscious as surely as sediment on the seabed. And Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain is prima facie evidence.
It could be that the favouring of minor-chords and the most subtle of changes precludes any Flaming Lips-style breakthrough. Despite the hopes of Parlophone, one suspects that somewhere up in the North Carolina hinterlands this suits Mark Linkous just fine.
Five years on from the David Fridmann produced It’s A Wonderful Life, there are no earth-shattering changes to Linkous’ studio-warped rock ‘n’ roll pastoralism. As there was nothing broken on previous Sparklehorse outings, there is little in need of fixing.
There are filtered rockers ( Ghost In The Sky, It’s Not So Hard) gentle subterranean melancholy (Morning Hollow, Getting It Wrong) and bruised, yearning pop Sparklehorse specialities like Some Sweet Day and Knives Of Summertime.
The only discernible difference is that Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain thankfully lacks the odd distraction that made Good Morning Spider and Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (whew!) such difficult records to maintain concentration through. In the time-honoured phrase, DFLYITBOAM is all killer and no filler.
What also remains are Sparklehorse’s gallery of supporting players. Scattered over DFLYITBOAM are Tom Waits, Sophie Michalitsianos (AKA Sol Seppy), Stephen Drozd, (The ‘Lips again), and the weirdly omnipresent Danger Mouse. But ultimately, this record is the product of Linkous’ vision alone.
Though routinely accused of miserablism, Linkous variously wraps the Sparklehorse sound in such delicate distortion (the faster numbers) and sanguine twinkling (the slower ones) that the prevailing mood of DFLYITBOAM is one of cautious rapture.
Unlike, say Calexico or Tindersticks, Linkous is never weighed down by, or in love with his own capacity for rueful introspection. Having once been pronounced dead and temporarily losing the use of his legs, slivers of quiet optimism are easy to discern even through the dewy requiem of the protracted titular finale.
Defiantly in the key of low, Shade And Honey remains tender and devotional. Similarly, Return To Me radiates a grace and warmth that belies the despondent travails of the singer. To underline that this is no one-trick pony, those aforementioned rock-outs have enough cojones to fill out these horse latitudes. Like Graham Coxon, without the sound of someone trying too hard.
Though it’s something of barrier to true greatness, Linkous manages to wield his influences firmly in the service of the Sparklehorse aesthetic, rather than let his influences rule him. For example, there are refracted Beatles harmonics all over Don’t Take My Sunshine Away and Ghost In The Sky like a psychedelic peppery rash.
There’s also a glimmer of suspicion that, as with the earlier Sad & Beautiful World, Linkous wants to rewrite the final two Velvet Underground albums. Thankfully, Linkous is far too much the technician to let Sparklehorse go the way of other camp followers. DFLYITBOAM is a recording that belongs firmly in the 21st Century.
Sometimes being on the outside looking in is the best place to be. If it takes Linkous another few light years to dream up the next Sparklehorse show, it’ll be worth the wait.