Tuesday, March 09, 2010

tears on fresh fruit

Easy to say after the event, but you can see it coming with some people. Actually maybe "hear it coming" would be more accurate; just as the self-inflicted deaths (shocking though they were) of Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith were in some ways telegraphed by the tortured quality of the music they'd been putting out for the preceding few years (and, to be fair, by a couple of previous unsuccessful suicide attempts in both cases), the death (by self-inflicted gunshot) a couple of days ago of Sparklehorse frontman Mark Linkous was perhaps not totally unexpected if you were at all familiar with the albums. Actually "frontman" is a bit of a misnomer; Linkous was Sparklehorse, just parachuting in backing musicians as and when required.

The weird thing is that Linkous had already died once, for about five minutes in 1996 in a London hotel room, after an ill-advised cocktail of Valium and antidepressants (and who knows what else) caused him to collapse in the bathroom with his legs trapped under him for 14 hours. When the paramedics who eventually found him lifted him up, the release of toxins from his trapped legs caused his heart to stop. While the doctors managed to save his legs, he was obliged to wear leg braces for the rest of his life, and claimed to have spent the two years following the accident in a morphine haze.

The accident happened between the release of the two Sparklehorse albums I own, 1995's Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot and 1998's Good Morning Spider. I'm not sure you'd necessarily know that from listening to them, as they're both an eclectic mix of fuzzed-up country-pop Americana like Hammering The Cramps, Rainmaker and Happy Man and the spooked whispery folky stuff like All Night Home and Painbirds. Maybe there's a slightly higher proportion of the latter on the second album, I suppose. Great as the songs are, Linkous' genius lay in the freaky twisted production techniques he layered on top of them - distorted vocals, shortwave radio static, vinyl pop and crackle. (That last link has some embedded video in it, as does this one.) Linkous was in demand to squirt freaky oil over some other artists' output as well, notably icy Swedish temptress Nina Persson on her solo album A Camp.

Your best course of action at this point is to snap up the two albums mentioned above, which I recommend unreservedly. I can't speak for the other two official Sparklehorse albums It's A Wonderful Life and Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain, but I gather the quality levels were pretty consistent.

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