It's been five long years since Sparklehorse's "It's A Wonderful Life," which is probably the most "ordinary" album Mark Linkous has ever produced. But the mysterious Linkous returns to his peak with "Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain," his fourth album full of unpredictable indie-rock.
The title should show you how likely it is that we'll hear Sparklehorse on mainstream radio. And true to its name, "Dreamt For Light Years..." is like a dream -- a wild, unpredictable, sad and exquisite dream, which is sure to captivate listeners who want music to be an experience.
It opens with fuzz, blips and mellotron, and then Linkous starts singing, "Your face is like the sun/sinking into the ocean/your face is like watching flowers/growing in fast motion..." The grimy guitar and swelling strings kick in, for a charmingly upbeat little song that lulls you into the right frame of mind for the remaining songs. Of course, it's not really upbeat -- it's all about Linkous pleading with his lover not to leave him.
Having lulled you into the Linkous Zone, the album gets stranger and more appealing as it progresses -- the shimmering folk "Shade and Honey," meditative folk, classic indie-rock, and jagged lo-fi rockers. This is weird, wonderful music, with the pleading love son It finishes with the title track, a ten-minute piano instrumental full of sadness and exquisite beauty.
Though "It's A Wonderful Life" was the last Sparklehorse album, this one owes a lot more to his masterpiece "Good Morning Spider." Okay, the album is apparently not about near-death experiences, but Linkous still sounds sad and surreal here, with no nods to convention. Even when he tries to be upbeat, he sounds like his heart is breaking.
He also doesn't mess with the instruments that work: grimy lo-fi guitar and folky indierock, with some charming harmonies, smooth strings and some electroblips, courtesy of Danger Mouse, and Flaming Lips drummer Steven Drozd. At first glance you'd think that they would overwhelm Linkous, but their additions are more like putting a pretty frame around a masterpiece.
His vocals haven't changed either -- falsetto and very despairing, and even when he's doing Flaming Lips-style harmonies, he sounds despairing. The lyrics match up with this -- there's a childlike simplicity to Linkous's emotions, but they are wrapped up in poetic lyrics and peculiar imagery.
It's been five years, but Mark Linkous has not lost even a little bit of his magic touch -- in a year flooded with many wretched albums, this quietly downbeat album is a triumph.