Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
tolen sunshines, summer’s knives, beautiful widows, wonderful lives: for Mark Linkous and Sparklehorse it’s still a sad, sad, and beautiful world. Mostly sad, though. Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain is the group’s first record in just over five years. It was delayed by, among other things, Linkous’ substance abuse and relentless depression—or, in other words, the things that make for great Sparklehorse records.
Still, this one is a strange little thing: almost half of Dreamt for Light Years has been previously released in some alternate capacity (soundtracks, compilations, etc.), with two of the record’s stand-out tracks, the driving cock-poppin’ rocker “Ghost in the Sky” and mournful “Morning Hollow,” serving as B-sides for 2001’s It’s a Wonderful Life! While this in no way affects the quality of Dreamt for Light Years (if you weren’t privy to this information you really wouldn’t notice at all) it remains rather curious; Linkous is hardly synonymous with prolific, but, come on, can you even be that sad?
So, given this record’s subtext it should come as no surprise that the natural tension between misery and fat smiling babies that drives much of Sparklehorse’s discography would be cast into the forefront. With sunlight slowly bleeding through cracks in the windows he sings on “Shade and Honey,” “It’s like a civil war / Of pain and of cheer,” which is as perfect a description of Sparklehorse as one can find.
Unlike its Fridmann-produced predecessor Dreamt For Light Years employs a stripped-down approach more akin to its debut, the sparse dust-mite approved Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot. That record’s fragile beauty is recalled throughout much of Dreamt for Light Years on songs like the somber “Return to Me,” its sorrowful melody constantly at odds with its most hopeful of sentiments, and the plodding “Getting it Wrong,” where Linkous, in full self-pity mode, returns to distorting his frail vocals beyond all recognition, singing so unintelligibly he may just as easily be getting it right.
But this tension isn’t just restricted to the album’s despondent dirges; there’s a sly sense of expected disappointment within even the record’s most overtly sunshine-y pop songs. “Some Sweet Day” with its constant minor shifts would seem to compromise its repeated promise of “Some sweet day you will be mine” and on “Knives of Summer” with its gorgeous, surreal and heartbreaking imagery, Linkous sings, “And autumn rain soaked the dried beds / And hurricane of her eyes willed away the knives of summertime,” with the restrained hopefulness of someone who knows better than to think too positively again.
Dreamt for Light Years isn’t lacking an unabashed heart of darkness. The album culminates with its eleven minute title track, consisting of a simple grieving piano melody above minor tremolo chords and subtle breathing atmospherics. It may suggest a vegetative patient on life support or, if we are to take this title literally, a mountain dweller in the REM stage, but without a single uttered word it manages to evoke the depths of Linkous’ abyss. It’s depression, abuse, dependence, addiction, and right back to depression again. Why has it been five years since the last album? This is why.
Which only serves to make a song like, “It’s Not So Hard” all the more remarkable. With its triumphant rising melody and driving distorted guitars Linkous howls from the top of the belly of a mountain, “A new day’s begun! Smile! Cos’ nothing here matters! Come on! Come on! Come on! Come on! It’s not so hard.” It’s as good a mantra as one could hope for in the civil war between pain and cheer. He might never be a happy man but someday he’ll treat himself good.
Reviewed by: Barry Schwartz
Reviewed on: 2006-10-04