Top critical review
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on 18 January 2006
Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous is one of the great underrated musicians of indie-rock. And Sparklehorse's debut album, "Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot" (try saying that five times fast) is the sound of a musical genius who hasn't quite got his footing. But the dusty, lonely, farm-gothic music is still interesting, even if not quite up to par.
The tone of "Vivadixie..." is set in the opening song, the lonely, melancholy "Homecoming Queen," which sounds like something played on a front porch during a cloudy summer evening. The remainder is a stretch of slightly surreal guitar-rockers like the rollicking "Rainmaker," the roaring "Tears on Fresh Fruit," and the dull "Hammering the Cramps."
Linkous's experimental side also comes into play. While it's not as present as in his sophomore album, there are crackly, tinkling, honking little interludes between some of the songs. Not to mention the ghostly "Spirit Ditch," ethereal "Saturday" and sparkling, textured "Cow." Linkous is at his best here, when he's spreading his artistic wings.
Linkous's voice is a bit like a ghost in a house of mirrors -- it's hidden behind the music, faint and vaguely distorted. But sometimes -- as in "Most Beautiful Widow in Town" -- he simply sounds like a guy with a guitar, playing in the backseat of his car.
His songwriting was still immature, as per "Hammering the Cramps" which mainly has the title phrase over and over. But he shows his considerable talents in songs like "Rainmaker," where he gives us the eerie vision of, "He's been known to sleep on piles of dry leaves/abandoned on October lawns/sometimes he awakens with spiders on his eyelids..."
Linkous adds a rural flair to his electric and acoustic guitars with... a banjo, Mellotron, duct tape, Echoharp and chord organ. Bob Pupe puts bass to good use in otherwise unengaging songs like "Song of a Cold Lost Marble," fuzzing and roaring, while there's also some solid percussion in the background. It's kind of hard to dissect, especially since Linkous plays all the instruments in some songs.
Mark Linkous was already a musical genius when Sparklehorse created "Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot," but he hadn't yet come into full bloom. It's a solid CD with some misses, but not quite up the heights Sparklehorse later reached.