Alt-music one-man-band Sparklehorse veers between rock, punk and who-knows-what in "Good Morning Spider." In the sophomore album, Mark Linkous crafts a sonic extravaganza of brilliant music, strange and surreal and enticingly dark.
It starts off small in the opening minute of "Pig," then explodes into a rollicking staticky rocker. Following up are mournful laments like "Painbird" and "Sunshine," almost inaudible ballads "Saint Mary" and the funereal "Come On In," steady rock-outs like "Cruel Sun," and eerie panoramic sweeps "Good Morning Spider" and both halves of "Box of Stars." One of the strangest tracks is "Chaos of the Galaxy/Happy Man," which languishes in static for a few minutes before blossoming into a solid rock song.
Near-death experiences tend to change a person's life. In Linkous's case, it changed his music -- "Good Morning Spider" is warped by a near-death experience that almost killed him, and left him paralyzed for quite some time. So don't expect happy, perky music -- rather, Linkous seems to be exorcising his demons and experiences all in one swoop.
Like Neutral Milk Hotel, Sparklehorse makes the most of staticky guitars. It has a contemplative lo-fi sound, but is tinged with a few other things -- the bass, gravelly guitar and percussion are joined by violins, cello and organ, along with sweeps of static that give a surreal feel to this textured music. At times it's smooth, at times it's rough, but never ordinary.
His near-death experience shines through Linkous's songwriting, with lines like, "My bones wish to escape," the funeral tone of the children's-prayer-like "Come On In," and the wistful announcement that "All I want is to be a happy man." Even aside from the morbid beauty of these songs, his writing is evocative and entrancing: "A beautiful woman she rose/from the smoking waters of the lake/with a candle that burned in each palm..."
Rarely are so many beautiful songs linked together, and rarely is such raw emotion put into music. Sparklehorse's "Good Morning Spider" is a rare and treasured rock album, and deserves to be a classic.