I’ve been actively waiting a good four and a half years for this record. Sparklehorse isn’t something for me to blasé, unbiased, or rational about. Mark Linkous has a back catalogue of whirring, clockwork infecting alt. country and mad professor pop. I’d get into fights with the elderly over this band. While this makes my review of Dreamt akin to a Michael Jordan write up on Phil Jackson, it’s also a given that the bar of expectation is raised to levels I wouldn’t set for others.
And the verdict. Dreamt is a shining, lush, intermittently slight album. Bearing some resemblance to closest chain link It’s A Wonderful Life, Linkous turns further towards the subconscious than ever before. The external spectres looming largest are perhaps the Beatles’ Abbey Road and the wonderful sound, script and visuals for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This could be the greatest writer’s block album of all time. The source has always been one for occasional subjective and lyrical repetition. Like Emily Holmes Coleman, an author who he’s so occasionally paralleled, Linkous makes recurring observation captivating. Imagery from his back catalogue abounds in various stages of clarity. Horses, teeth, gold, ghosts’ fire and oceans are here again. In the hands of a lesser talent this template could be boring. Here the result is a mesmeric, life affirming listen. Like the Wu-Tang bouncing back with Iron Flag, there’s a sense that the trademarks are present because they matter to the creator, and represent the best tools to get back on track.
Incidentally wondering from one topic to another, Linkous’ collaboration with Ghostface on Dangerdoom’s The Mouse and the Mask strengthened his working relationship with Danger Mouse. Sparklehorse records have always been brilliantly produced. The Grey Album architect’s involvement adds the required otherworldly-ness to proceedings. Dreamt sounds incredible on the second full listen. It’s more a living entity creeping through cracks in the half light than a stylised record.
Obviously the songs matter. The opening “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” could have been breathtaking radio fodder by choice. Somewhere between Radiohead’s “Planet Telex”, Sesame Street and “I am the Walrus,” it’s pretty life affirming. A guitar crackles into Hendrix and back out to Solaris. “Return To Me” shimmers with sublime understatement part Will Oldham and early Richard Hawley. “Some Sweet Day” could sound track seconded love stories more realistic than celluloid. Magnetic waves give birth, and we’re reminded “you can’t put your arms around a ghost.” Brian Wilson would be proud. “Mountains” takes the listener on a non-specific trip, similar to the most deadpan surreal Gondry montage. “It’s Not Hard” moves back to the fuzz box rock out moments of Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot.. The spiders are expanding ’round the waist and the sun explodes, and somehow a mid-life crisis has been averted.
It’s a massive testament to the creator’s talent that Dreamt takes the product of a most tentative, mundane struggle, and emerges spell binding. This radiates with the crows like its three full length elder siblings.
Sparklehorse – It’s A Wonderful Life
Michel Gondry – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Emily Holmes Coleman – The Shutter of Snow