Sparklehorse

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This morning, via twitter, I was made aware of the sad fact that it has now been 3 years since the death of Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse.

Sparklehorse made 4 albums of sad, angry but above all beautiful music. Whenever I return to their 1995 debut LP, the tongue twister titled ‘Vivadixiesubmarrinetransmissionplot’, I come away with the realisation that it might be one of my favourite albums of the 90’s. From the aching lullaby waltz of opener ‘Homecoming Queen’ to the tape hiss laden ‘Gasoline Horseys’ it’s a record I can never imagine tiring off, one of those special albums where I find something new or different sounding to appreciate every time I listen.

The lyrics of Sparklehorse are a surreal mix of inventive images, a rich tapestry of fairytale phrases, pop culture references and self referential wordplay that beg to be explored, examined and interpreted. For the most part they’re delivered in an awkward and brittle voice, barely rising above a soul bearing confessional whisper. A voice which could make something as inane as “Pretty girl, milking a cow, oh yeah” sound like the most heartbreakingly melancholy thing you’ve ever heard.

Mark Linkous’ greatness was perhaps most recognised amongst his peers and the long list of musicians who appeared on Sparklehorse albums (Thom Yorke, PJ Harvey, Tom Waits to name a few) and who participated in his final work, the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ collaborative project with David Lynch and Dangermouse, are testament to how highly regarded and respected he was.

It’s been touching to see so many tributes paid to Mark Linkous and Sparklehorse today. They are a band I hold very dearly. There appears to be a film on Mark in works and the people who are making it have started a crowdsourcing campaign to fund its development. I really hope they’re successful in getting it made, not just for my own enjoyment, but also so more people can be introduced to such a wonderful and special band.

Music Diary 2012 – Sunday

Next to no music today. I listened to a bit of The Weeknd’s ‘House of Balloons’ mix tape whilst walking to my parents and back. I’m really quite taken with this guy and can’t wait to see him live next month in Porto.

The Weeknd – House of Ballons (MP3) – Hi-Fi

I never listened to anything the rest of the day though I did watch ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘City of God’, both of which, in addition to being amazing films, have excellent soundtracks. ‘Trainspotting’ in particular has one of the most iconic and recognisable soundtracks of the modern era. It’s best known for its use of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ and Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’ both of which were invigorated with a new lease of life and popularity amongst a younger generation on account of their inspired placement in the film as well as Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’. The rest of the film is littered with inspired musical selections; from Eno’s ‘Deep Blue Day’ which accompanies Renton’s bizarre toilet swimming scene to Pulp’s ‘Mile End’ which encapsulates the bleakness of Renton’s London apartment beautifully. I also totally forgot about how good the Blur track ‘Sing’ is. ‘City of God’ has a great and very fitting soundtrack as well although most of it I don’t know.

I then went and watched the football.

Music Diary 2012 – Saturday

Not much music on Saturday. Well, that’s not necessarily true but most of the music I heard, or put on, was of a purely functional background nature.

I the morning I headed out to the Indian supermarket. On the bus there and back I listened to Deerhunter – Rhapsody Originals. As I mentioned earlier in the week I’ve been on a bit of a Deerhunter binge recently and this live session has been blowing me away. Unfortunately I never managed to catch the band on their most recent tour and the session is mostly drawn from ‘Halcyon Digest’. ‘Desire Lines’ is as epic as one would imagine and is bookended with a ripping run through of ‘Hazel Street’. The highlight of the set is an epic rendition of ‘He Would Have Laughed’ which surpasses the studio version and powerfully demonstrates that when this band is on form they’re as good as anyone going.

Deerhunter – Rhapsody Original (MP3) – Headphones

In the evening some friends came over for dinner. They’re not really too into music so I just had stuff playing on in the background on the Sonos.

 

Pantha Du Prince – The Bliss (lossless) – Sonos

Beastie Boys – Pauls Boutique (lossless) – Sonos

The Knife – Silent Shout (lossless) – Sonos

Music Diary 2012 – Friday

Morning commute

Isis – Oceanic (Spotify) – Headphones

I missed the whole movement of metal bands integrating a Post-Rock ambiance and mentality into their music because it seemed to happen at a point when I’d become adverse to anything that got called Post-Rock. Isis seem to be the pick of the bunch though and I’ve really enjoyed the two or three albums of theirs I’ve bought.

Commute home

Gizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Spotify) – Headphones

After listening to Daniel Rossen’s EP earlier in the week I’d been craving some Gizzly Bear. They’ve promised a new album this year and if it’s anywhere near the quality of ‘Vekatimest’, which I’m sure it will be, it’ll be guaranteed regular rotation by me.

Evening listening

Silver Jews – Starlite Walker (Vinyl) – Hi-Fi

Random choice, as with all the LP’s this evening. I tried to pick out stuff I haven’t heard in a while. I have a few Silver Jews albums. I really enjoyed the first one I bought ‘American Water’ and picked up a few more on the back of that. Their debut ‘Starlite Walker’ has emerged as my favourite. Probably the most Stephen Malkmus (Pavement) heavy of the ones I’ve listened to.

Belle and Sebastian – If You’re Feelings Sinister (Vinyl) – Hi-Fi

I hadn’t listened to this in years. Listening to it I was surprised by how much the aped the rockier ‘Foggie Notion’ side of the Velvets almost as much as the twee ‘Stephanie Says’ sound.

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker (Vinyl) Hi-Fi

Another one I haven’t heard in years. I’ve always through Ryan Adams has as classic LP in him but he’s never really fulfilled that potential for me. ‘Heartbreaker is as close as he got.

Elliot Smith live bootleg (CD) – Hi-Fi

Elliot Smith covers of ‘Don’t Think Twice’ (Dylan), ‘For No One’ (The Beatles), ‘These Days’ (Nico) and ‘Supersonic’ (Oasis) – (MP3) – Hi-Fi

The melancholy of Heartbreaker resulted in my listening to a beautiful Elliot Smith bootleg that I have from just before he killed himself. It’s always tragic to hear music that so clearly prefigures a death and many of the songs in the set, most of which later came out on the posthumous release ‘From a Basement on the Hill’, are haunting in how autobiographical they are. ‘Twlight’ in particular is a harrowing, close to the bone portrait of drug addiction, depression and how even a bit of hope and potential can sometimes not be enough for someone to find a will to survive. After listening to the bootleg I browsed around a folder I have of Elliot Smith covering various other bands and artists ranging from obvious artistic kinship’s like Dylan, The Beatles and Nico to surprise choices like Oasis ‘Supersonic’ which he introduces with the a plea to the audience asking no one to be pissed off for him playing it.

Music Diary 2012 – Thursday

The release of the long awaited My Bloody Valentine remasters was bound to dominate the listening of many people participating in music diary 2012 and it’s a testament to how much of a touchstone they continue to be for so many that this week has basically been one big Valentine’s love fest. I had the remasters on pre-order since they were given a genuine release date a few months ago but decided to cancel my order at the last minute on account of Kevin Shields remarks in a recent Pitchfork interview that he expected vinyl issues to be out within a “couple of months” (though by now I should know better that to trust Shields’ time frames on anything). I listened to ‘Loveless’ in its entirety on Sunday night along with the first few tracks on ‘Isn’t Anything’ and a few off the EP’s. This morning on the journey to work I decided to go back to ‘Isn’t Anything’ and give it a full listen. I must admit that throughout the years I’ve been guilty of neglecting it. Whenever I’ve had the urge to listen to MBV it’s usually been ‘Loveless’ and if not that then the ‘Tremolo’, ‘Glider’ or ‘You Made Me Realise’ EP’s. Listening to ’Isn’t Anything’ this morning I was reminded of just how gobsmacked I was on discovering the band so many years ago. It’s a shame that its destined to forever live in the shadow of ‘Loveless’ because it’s a great album in its own right and it was a joy to rediscover it. So this morning as I made my way through the pouring rain I was reminded of how wonderfully menacing that guitar squall that opens ‘Cupid Comes’ is, that the beginning of ‘No More Sorry’ is one of the most beautiful things ever and that MBV in general used to play things that resembled actual songs, with discernible lyrics an all.

My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything (Spotify) – Headphones

Lost In Translation Soundtrack (lossless) – Hi-Fi

After writing a little about My Bloody Valentine I settled down at home in front of the stereo and flicked through the ‘Lost in Translation’ soundtrack. I was mainly interested in hearing the Kevin Shields tracks after reading today’s illuminating interview with him in The Quietus where he directly addressed his post-Loveless inertia quite frankly. ‘City Girl’ is the most song-like of his contributions and is nice enough and suggests what a modern day MBV might sound like, even if the song itself lacks substance. ‘Goodbye’ is a beautiful slice of brief guitar ambiance that brings to mind early Eluvium. Shields other two tracks are nice enough but merely short mood-setting pieces that function well in the film but feel a bit flat and lifeless when removed from Sofia Coppola’s lush imagery. I didn’t really listen to much of the rest of the soundtrack and skipped the majority though the Death In Vegas track is still pretty great and it was a welcome surprise to hear Jesus and the Mary Chain’s ‘Just Like Honey’ as I haven’t heard it in ages.

Belong – Common Era (Vinyl) – Hi-Fi

Random selection here. I picked this up last year and was entranced by its sound which reminds me of a mixture of My Bloody Valentine fuzz and Faith-era The Cure greyness. Another interesting, and out of the norm, release on the flawless Cranky records.

Four Tet – Pyramid / Locked (Vinyl) – Hi-Fi

Two semi-recent tracks from Four Tet. I really can’t wait for him to drop a new album. Simply one of my favourite modern day musicians. His last full length ‘There is Love In You’ was his most dance oriented release so far and ‘Pyramid / Locked’ picks up nicely where it left off with a similarly organic electro sound.

Monster Magnet – Superjudge (CD) – Hi-Fi

Picked this one out after being drawn to its CD spine. I was a big Monster Magnet fan as a teenager when most of my music taste was dominated by Metal and Hard Rock. There’s not much from that era that I still listen to but Monster Magnet’s early LP’s still get a spin every now and then and whenever I listen to them I find myself impressed by just how well they’ve held up where a lot of their contemporaries now sound dated. Their debut album ‘Spine of God’ is my favourite thing they put out and is easily one of the most deranged and genuinely psychedelic albums I’ve heard. It’s follow up ‘Superjudge’ is a bit more restrained and not as drug addled (though it’s still druggier than 99% of all other music) and a change in lead guitarist which took place between the two LP’s had a subtle but distinct impact on the band’s sound finding them sounding a bit less Stooges and a bit more Heavy Metal. ‘Cage Around the Sun’ is a stoner classic and features typically deranged lyrics from front man Dave Wyndorf. ‘Twin Earth’ is a flanged out fuzz stomper that recalls Spacemen 3 in style if not direct sound. Cult stuff, worth checking out if your unfamiliar.

The Verve – Gravity Grave (lossless) – Hi-Fi

Just the one track here and probably my favourite Verve song, although the EP live from Glastonbury version is the definitive take on it. I was one of those unaware of the Verve until the release of their mega selling ‘Urban Hymns’ album in 1997 and though I picked that album up on CD I never really got into it. A couple of years later I started hanging out with a new bunch of friends and found myself at a party where someone put on ‘A Storm in Heaven’ and I sat there in a chemical induced stupor totally mesmerised by its brilliance. Follow up ‘A Northern Soul’ is great as well and I’d rather just forget everything that came after that thank you.

Beach House – Bloom (lossless) – Hi Fi

Still loving this new Beach House LP. It’s truly great. So good I’m not sure what to say about it.

Jens Lekman – Oh You’re So Silent Jens (lossless) – Hi-Fi

I listened to the first three tracks on the Jens Lekman album as I hadn’t heard him in ages. I wasn’t really feeling it though so turned it off and went back to listening to some My Bloody Valentine.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (Analogue Remaster) – Hi Fi

I listened to Disc 1 of the ‘Loveless’ remaster in light of discovering that it’s actually the long awaited half inch analogue tape version rather than, as advertised, Disc 2. I definitely heard a difference in the mix with the keyboard parts in particular being given a new lease of life and audibility. I agree with Shield’s interview statements that in the analogue version it sounds more like the album is being played by a band rather than assembled from countless different overdubs. The analogue version also sounds more like what My Bloody Valentine were like live when I saw them a few years ago. The roaring airplane guitar (as I call it) which is present on most tracks had an increased sense of physicality about it on the analogue version and I think it also demonstrates the sheer volume of the band in a way that the previous issue of ‘Loveless’ had obscured. I’m not sure if I necessarily prefer it to the remastered digital version however. While it’s great to hear the album with this level of clarity and (relatively clear) instrument separation the digital version, with its blurred sound where everything kind of meshes together into one big heap of sound seems closer to the albums original aesthetic. Either way it’s been a pleasure to have reason to listen to the band again in such detail.

Music Diary 2012 – Wednesday

Television – Live at the Old Waldorf (Spotify) – Headphones

No music at all today until I left work. On the way home I listened to Television’s ‘Live at the Waldorf’ release which came out on Record Store Day as a limited issue a few years ago. I’d love to snag a copy of it but unfortunately it sells for silly money online these days, such is the beauty and wonder of RSD. I only heard it for the first time recently when I looked it up on Spotify on account of high praise it was drawing on ILX. I’d previously listened to Television’s sole other official live release, ‘The Blow Out’, as well as a bunch of bootlegs I’ve downloaded over the years. Sadly the poor sound quality of everything I’d heard before ‘Live at the Waldorf’ had managed to somewhat obscure and ultimately deter from so the often proclaimed brilliance of Television live. ‘Live at the Waldorf’ powerfully evidences the force that they could be live. The sound is excellent and the performances simply outstanding. It captures the band in 1978, touring on the back of their seminal debut ‘Marquee Moon’ and just prior to the release of their largely underwhelming follow up ‘Adventure’. Shorter album cuts like ‘Venus’ and ‘Friction’ are played with sparkling intensity but it’s the two longest songs on the album, cult non-album favourite ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ and the bright shining star that is ‘Marquee Moon’ that steal the show. I love when ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ breaks momentum around the 6 minute mark and Tom Verlaine starts picking away at a phrase that sounds like it’s about to burst into ‘House of the Rising Sun’ before cranking out one of his signature lead-as rhythm-riffs as Richard Lloyd summons his guitar to soar above. ‘Marquee Moon’ is treated to a similarly epic arrangement and afforded plenty of room to breath in a performance that to my mind at least equals if not surmounts the majesty of the album version.

Wolf Parade – ‘Semi Precious Stone’/’Agents of Love’ (mp3) – Headphones

I polished off my walk home with a couple of Wolf Parade tracks in the form of their final web only double-single ‘Semi Precious Stone’/’Agents of Love’. Despite not being bowled over by it on its initial release their last LP ‘Expo 86’ was an album I seemed to find myself coming back to frequently. Nonetheless I was relatively indifferent to the news that followed that the band were calling it a day as I felt that the various side projects they had maintained throughout the life of the group had become, at that point, equally, if not more, compelling. ‘Semi Precious Stone’/’Agents of Love’ is however a welcoming reminder of just how powerful Wolf Parade were as a unit and made me a little more mournful about their passing. Spencer Krug penned ‘Semi Precious Stone’ ranks amongst the best songs he wrote for Wolf Parade and there’s a moment towards the end, where Krug plays a mean fuzzed up organ phase which leads into a searing guitar line by Dan Boeckner that seems to be ushering the song to a close before exploding back into life; it’s a quite remarkable moment for me, one that really demonstrates how effectively the two compliment each other’s songwriting in a way that’ll be missed. Boeckner ‘Agents of Love’ is punked up rallying call of discontent in the usual style that evokes sort of alternative universe version of Bruce Springsteen. The last Handsome Furs album was great but marked a shift away from the kind of urgent guitar playing that had previously characterised his usual style to a more exclusively electronic sound and for me the guy is best with a guitar strapped around his neck thrashing away with passion. Krug’s Sunset Rubdown seem to be on indefinite hiatus and although his Moonface project is proving to be conceptually inspired the stuff he’s put out been only OK, and usually I’m a sucker for anything he touches. Surely these guys haven’t burned out. I hope not. I hope that in time ‘Semi Precious Stone’/’Agents of Love’ may be considered as a fitting, near high water mark, eulogy to how great Wolf Parade were rather than a  saddening reminder of how good they could be.


Sharon Van Etten – Warsaw (lossless) – Headphones
Sharon Van Etten – Give Out (lossless) – Headphones
Lotus Plaza – Strangers (lossless) – Headphones
Grimes – Infinite Without Fulfillment (intro) (lossless) – Headphones
Grimes – Genesis (lossless) – Headphones
Grimes – Oblivion (lossless) – Headphones

Random playlist of recently released stuff that I listened to while writing most of this. On the Sharon Van Etten LP I absolutely adore the first 3 tracks and struggle with the remainder of it. I find it especially painful when the guy from Beirut appears which is strange as I don’t mind Beirut normally. The Lotus Plaza album I really like although I’ve been holding off it until I get it on vinyl. I have listened to it a fair bit on Spotify whilst out and about though and while it’s actually pretty great I do fully endorse the Coke Machine Review write up of it which bemoans that underneath all that lovely reverb and hazy ambiance there’s not really much at it’s heart. Fair enough though, it’s candy for the ears. The Grimes album I just don’t get whatsoever; I’ve tried listening to it a bit and though I have warmed to it a little I suppose it’s really just not impressing me much. Musically it has an interesting vibe to it but personally I just find her voice grating and really fatiguing to listen to for anything beyond a song and in the end I always find myself feeling a genuine sense of relief in just turning it off.

New Order – Lowlife (Deluxe Edition) (CD) – Hi-Fi

I fancied some New Order. I’ve overheard people talking about them a lot recently with them playing live again. I chucked this one on mainly to listen to the 12” version of ‘The Perfect Kiss’ which is probably my single favourite New Order song and it really benefits from a couple of extra minutes playing time. I listened to another two or three tracks; remixes and extended versions of ‘Shellshock’ and ‘Sub-Culture’. I switched it off when ‘Shame of the Nation’ came on.

Spiritualized – Laser Guided Melodies (CD) – Hi-Fi

Randomly pulled this one out. I have 3 or 4 Spiritualized albums although there not a band I’ve ever really loved. I like the idea of them and I love Spacemen 3 but there’s something that puts me off them a bit, maybe the vocals. I keep on meaning to listen to them more and I put something on by them every now and again but it never really sticks.

I then left the world of sound for the evening and watched the football before finising writing this. Off to bed now with some mellow tunes and off to sleep.

Bedtime music

Stars of the Lid – Avec Laudenum

The crem-de-la-crem of modern ambient drones.

Music Diary 2012 – Tuesday

Although I did listen to ‘Check Your Head’ in its entirety on Saturday night I didn’t feel like I’d properly paid my respects to MCA and the overwhelming influence that the Beastie Boys had on both me and pretty much everyone I called a friend in the 90’s. Heading out of the door for work this morning I resolved that I’d try to make up for that a little and jam some of my favourite Beasties songs on route. It’s tragic that it often takes the death of someone we admire to make us evaluate their importance to us personally and to be honest, before this weekend I hadn’t listened to the Beastie Boys in years. If you had asked me last week to name the 10 bands that have influenced my listening most over the years I would have reeled off 10 (probably pretentious) names with ease without giving them a passing thought, which is pretty ludicrous and quite shameful. Skipping through my favourite cuts from ‘Check Your Head’, ‘Ill Communication’ and ‘Pauls Boutique’ this morning I felt elevated and amazed by just how brilliant, thoughtful, funny and groundbreaking the Beasties were in their prime. The sad news of MCA’s untimely passing on Friday and the unanimous outpouring of tributes that followed on twitter and message boards was testament enough of the lasting impact the Beasties had on recent popular culture. It was with deep regret that I took my headphones off upon arriving work, I’d have happily walked all morning long and listened to their entire back catalogue from front to back.

 

Beastie Boys Playlist (Spotify) – Headphones

Pass the Mic, Gratitude, Lighten Up, In 3’s – Check Your Head

Root Down, Sabotage, Get It Together,Bodhisattva Vow – Ill Communication

Shake Your Rump, Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun – Paul’s Boutique

After the buzz of the Beasties I was then subjected to a couple of hours in the office with our station select, Radio 2, on in the background. Much as I try to drown out the musical content of Radio 2 I find that I’m just too impulsively drawn towards music to ever truly switch off and completely ignore it. Worst of all I’m particularly prone to ear worms and often find myself mentally traumatised for hours upon hours by some of the pop trite on mainstream radio. This morning we had Bananarama, ‘Manic’ by Michael Sembello and Spandu Ballet. Painful stuff.

A break in the weather and a little bit of sunshine and I grasped the opportunity to walk home rather than take the bus and finish off my Beastie Boy’s listening with a spin of ‘Paul’s Boutique’ in full. No need to extol the greatness of that album here, it’s almost a sui generis social fact by now and with good reason.

Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (Spotify) – Headphones

Daniel Rossen – Silent Hour / Golden Mile (Vinyl) – Hi-Fi

I noticed this in Fopp the other day after having no idea that it existed. I am familiar with Rossen’s side project of Department of Eagles whom I have a couple of LP’s by. Anyway, I’ve only listened to the EP a couple of times and it sounds too much like Grizzly Bear’s ‘Veckatimest’ for me not to like it. Final track ‘Golden Mile’ is a standout.

Upon settling myself down in front of the stereo I pick out a couple of tracks at random to listen to while I figured out which LP to play. I hadn’t heard Dif Juz’s ‘No Motion’, a compilation exclusive song and probably the finest example of their potential, for a while and Burial and Four Tet’s recent collaboration ‘Nova’ has been a regular listen of mines since its March release and is easily one of the most beautiful and captivating things I’ve heard this year.

  

Dif Juz – No Motion (lossless) – Hi-Fi
Burial/Four Tet – Nova (lossless) – Hi-Fi

I’ve been on a big Deerhunter trip recently. I felt like I’d never given their last LP ‘Halycyon Digest’ enough time and it’s been on regular rotation over the past few weeks, during which I’ve become obsessed with its final track ‘He Would Have Laughed’ and in particular a live radio session version of it which is just massive and epic in scope. Although Deerhunter have shown remarkable progression with each release since ‘Cryptograms’, to the point where they’ve probably now assumed the role of my favourite current band, I still love the Ambient-Kraut-Punk of their Kranky debut. The bass lines on the album are great and propel most tracks rhythmically and melodically allowing the reverb drenched guitars to drone away blissfully above. ‘Strange Lights’ and ’ Heatherwood’ are probably most typical of the sound Deerhunter have evolved into with their following releases but its the almost formless drone tracks, like ‘White Ink’ and ‘Providence’, that I find most appealing now. At this point it just made so much sense that Deerhunter would find themselves on Kranky records and I really felt that they took a lot of what I love about the label’s house sound and integrated it into a ‘rock band’ setting.

Deerhunter – Cryptograms (Vinyl) – Hi-Fi

I always listen to music in bed while I drift off to sleep, usually something ambient/modern classical/downtempo electronica. Last night it was Biosphere’s seminal ‘Substrata’ an album that’s eased me into sleep many times. I’ve heard a lot of people make some pretty massive claims about ‘Substrata’ calling it the “greatest ambient LP ever” and “beyond Eno’s vision”. ‘Substrata’ is an album that conjures up images of glacial open spaces and whistling wind. Essential ambient.

Biosphere – Substrata (Lossless) – Sonos