Monday Culture Club - Sparklehorse

The Daily Cardinal used to throw around this weekly feature called "Culture Club." It was a collective of music-minded Cardinal writers who would meet each week to discuss and write short blurbs about albums of yore that deserve re-evaluation. We even had an awesome graphic (which I'll try to track down because it was sweet). We covered Paul Simon's Graceland (called it the modern equivalent to Pet Sounds) and Combat Rock (heck, possibly an even more apt equivalent to Pet Sounds), and just when we were about to go into MC5's Kick Out the Jams we pulled the plug. Everybody laughed at us, nobody took us seriously, and they made us feel bad about ourselves so we did what any sensible group would do: We curled up and died. And then I brought it to my desktop and took a defibrillator to it and now we have this.

The inaugural album in these parts is none other than Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain by the late, great Sparklehorse. The product of multi-instrumentalist Mark Linkous, Sparklehorse borrowed loosely from the guitar arrangements of Big Star, electric buzz of Grandaddy and the pop-minded melodrama of Elliott Smith.


Linkous struggled with depression and drug addiction for the majority of his life, but what set him apart from Smith and any other run-of-the-mill folk instrumentalist was his tongue-in-cheek self-evaluation. The wry perspective in his songs lends a duality to his self-deprecation in that it can just as easily be engulfing than ignored for the grander pop sensibilities.


The second installment of Nitsuh Adebe's "Why We Fight" columns over at Pitchfork (which is more than worth a read and can be located here) discusses a view not entirely dissimilar from one I've expressed in which strains of music can either be novel and outside familiarity (in his case an amphibian outside of the water, in mine simply chaos) while others are familiar, albeit comforting (in his case an underwater uncle, in mine simply perfectly formulated conventions). The crux is that operating within established norms (that is, underwater or in peaceful organization) is considerably more difficult because you're swimming upstream and competing with a plethora of similar-sounding artists. However, on that same token, the more novel or chaotic "amphibians" of bands tend to carry flaws—however negligible—because they could not reasonably have perfected an unconquered sonic territory. And thus it follows that the fish that tend to make it to the front of their pack are generally far more enjoyable because they—by necessity—are much more perfect entities. So while Linkous' commentary is refreshing, what makes this album so important is not what new ground it paved or what new doors it opened for new artists. Rather, it's important because—like most else of Sparklehorse's discography—it is near perfect.

Dreamt For Light Years was released in 2006.

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