Remembering Mark Linkous and the sonic dreams of Sparklehorse

Sparklehorse is a short-lived musical project, but made a lasting impact on music

Sparklehorse / Gie Knaeps/GettyImages

Sparklehorse was an American indie rock and alternative music project founded and led by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mark Linkous. The band's music is often characterized by its unique blend of lo-fi, folk, experimental rock, and elements of alternative and psychedelic music.

Key points about Sparklehorse and Mark Linkous include:

Formation and band history:
Sparklehorse was formed in the early 1990s in Richmond, Virginia, by Mark Linkous. The band's name is not a reference to anything in particular, but a type of word combination that just sounded interesting (though a "Sparklehorse" does sound a bit like a stuffed horse toy, or something like that). Linkous was the primary creative force behind Sparklehorse, writing and performing most of the music, even though he had confided in an interview that "I started at first trying to disguise my voice 'cause I didn't like it..."

Musical style:
Sparklehorse's music is known for its melancholic and introspective lyrics, ethereal soundscapes, and experimentation with various instruments and production techniques.
Standout tracks for demonstrating their style include “Piano Fire” (a duet with English singer-songwriter PJ Harvey. You can listen to the song below), “Wish You Were Here,” and "Painbirds." They often used unconventional instruments and sounds to create a distinctive and textured sonic palette.

Albums and notable works:
Among notable albums by Sparklehorse, one should include the debut album, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (1995). Regarding that album, Linkous noted: "I was fed up with the music scene. It was so nasty [in Los Angeles]. That was the height of glam rock. Bands like Poison were supposed to be important."

Then there was Good Morning Spider (1998); Prior to this album's release, Linkous was "being stupid with drugs" (by his own account), and had overdosed, even being dead for approximately three minutes.

This was shortly followed by It's a Wonderful Life (2001), which obviously shares a title with Frank Capra's iconic holiday film, and also Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (2006).
Regarding the latter album, Mark Linkous said: "Well, I'd quit working for a while and it started to get really difficult to live and pay the rent. So it was really getting down to the wire where I had to turn a record in. I had some stuff written that I didn't put on the last album, because they were just really pop songs. They felt like anachronisms on the last record. So I saved all these little pop songs."

These albums received critical acclaim for their emotional depth and artistic innovation.

Collaborations and guest appearances

Mark Linkous collaborated with several artists throughout his career, including Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Daniel Johnston, Radiohead, David Lynch, and Danger Mouse. Specifically, some of these notable collaborations include a cover of Daniel Johnston's "Go," recorded with The Flaming Lips on "The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered" (2004), as well as a version of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" (with Thom Yorke) on "Lords of Dogtown: Music from the Motion Picture (2005).

Personal struggles and tragic passing

Mark Linkous faced personal struggles, including depression and substance abuse, which heavily influenced his music. Tragically, he took his own life on March 6, 2010, at the age of 47.
After his death, people remembered his unique voice, such as collaborator Nina Persson of the Cardigans: “There was a fragility in Mark’s music, and his vocals were so small...It sounded so brittle, like it could just fall over and break any second.” His death was a significant loss to the music world.

A respectable legacy and influence

Sparklehorse's music continues to resonate with fans and musicians, and Mark Linkous's work is remembered for its emotional depth, poetic lyrics, and willingness to push the boundaries of musical genres. The band's unique style and artistic approach have inspired subsequent generations of musicians. Sparklehorse is remembered as a band that pushed the boundaries of alternative and indie music, leaving behind a compelling and influential body of work despite their relatively short-lived tenure and lack of Grammy Awards. The project produced six studio albums and a short string of EPs.

Although Linkous was often dismissive of his own music, fans and critics have described it as complex and inventive, drawing on rock, indie rock, and Americana. The band's music would work together in a playlist of those he collaborated with, in addition to frequently experimental artists such as Radiohead, Negativland, and Animal Collective. Also, if you want to reach out to the fringes, Sparklehorse might even fit in a playlist with more pop-oriented artists like Sky Ferreira, R.E.M., Sade, J. D. Souther, and Frank Ocean.

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