‘Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain’ is one of those rare, beautiful records that you can become lost in. The album’s swirling, warm sonics create an entire immersive world. Sparklehorse was mostly the work of one man, Mark Linkous, and perhaps his greatest strength as an artist was his ability to create such immersive, sonically adventurous songs.
Linkous’ 1995 debut, ‘Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot’, characterised the Sparklehorse sound. Songs composed with an impeccable and infectious ear for melody were shot through with dissonant, unexpected noise and found-sounds. The result was a collection of spellbinding and utterly unique songs that, by turns, comforted and disconcerted. 1998’s ‘Good Morning Spider’ perfected the formula that ‘Vivadixie…’ created; whilst 2001’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ saw Linkous move in a more accessible direction, jettisoning the stranger elements of his previous work for a lushly arranged album that felt like his version of a classic singer-songwriter record.
Stylistically, ‘Dreamt For Light Years…’ sits somewhere between his more experimental ’90’s output and the minute detail of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. ‘Dreamt For Light Years…’ has a more prominent use of synthesizers and electronics than any other core Sparklehorse album, which gives it a weird edge largely absent from its predecessor. Despite this, it still lacks the often downright surreal element of his earlier work. The album is no worse for it though, as the comfortable middle ground between past works provided Linkous with the opportunity to collect some of his most satisfying, concise songs onto one album. Linkous suffered from depression and addiction at various points throughout his life and this pain often subtly found its way into his music, be it through the creaking of an old organ or the rustic twang of a well worn guitar. Much – though certainly not all – of ‘Dreamt For Light Years…’ steps away from this underlying sense of melancholy in favour of more upbeat material.
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‘Some Sweet Day’ brims with optimism. Structurally, it’s more traditional than most of his work but that’s the point. With the album’s brighter songs, Linkous takes the formula of a classic pop song and re-imagines it into full technicolour, full of vivid imagery and swelling arrangements. Album opener ‘Don’t Take My Sunshine Away’ and the iridescent ‘Knives Of Summertime’ likewise feel more obviously contented – though not unreservedly – than much of his earlier work. There are some references to Linkous’s struggles, however. ‘Shade and Honey’, though ultimately hopeful, does contain the bittersweet couplet “I could look at your face / for a thousand years / it’s like a civil war / of pain and of cheer”, whilst the melancholic ‘Return To Me’ and ‘See The Light’ give the album a vivid sense of light and dark.
Sparklehorse’s sound was always one of genuine originality and individualism. Though this shines through most obviously in the wildly creative lyrics, Linkous’s production was always as inventive as his words. Though some tracks were co-produced by friend and collaborator Danger Mouse, a number were solely recorded and produced by Linkous himself. The album spills over with inventive production concepts that elevate an already great set of songs to a new level.