25 Jun 2015

CULT CLASSIC ALBUMS #1 - Sparklehorse - Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot



“All you've got to do is look in the sky and wish” declares an uncharacteristically literal Mark Linkous in the opening line of Rainmaker; it’s a sentiment that rings true to the small daydreaming nation of modern day Sparklehorse enthusiasts. Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot - Sparklehorse's 1995 debut - is, by its very nature, a record for daydreamers.

My first encounter with the aptly titled disjointed masterpiece was pretty overwhelming. I’d heard some Sparklehorse tracks before from various records and been stunned, so I set about listening to their output in chronological order. Opener Homecoming Queen is in two-parts an abstractly written glitchy ballad and analogue mess which fades into a sorta warped fairground-esque organ melody, the sonic repress of any kinda conformation in terms of recording is a kind of poetry in itself. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Vivadixie... consists exclusively of warped lo-fi folk songs, though. In truth, there’s a real sense that the LP doesn’t really know what it wants to be, Linkous certainly wasn’t making any kinda of mission statement here, but if anything that adds to the character of the album; the lack of understanding and identity sonically sorta aids the apprehensive lyricism.

The record has some moments which are more distinguishably 90’s alternative, with the distorted guitars on tracks such as Someday I Will Treat You Good racing through pretty uninteresting chord progressions and offering relatively dull lyrics, at least for the first half of the song, but even some of the more cliché couplets that Linkous recites (“I left my baby on the side of the highway/she just couldn’t see things my way”) almost come as a relief to his generally pensive and visceral approach to writing. That said, it’s still an absolutely huge sounding track, and its narrative increases as the track develops. Sad and Beautiful World offers a haunting sobering, kinda sounding like Sparkehorse’s own Pale Blue Eyes. Even though it often relies on abstract metaphors to be so, the writing throughout the debut is almost uncomfortably intimate; with an uncompromised sense of longing in the reverb-laden confessions of ‘Saturday’ (“You are a car, you are a hospital/I’d walk to hell and back to see you smile”) and a kinda heartbreaking nostalgia in the childlike wonder and humour which is akin to Syd Barrett on Most Beautiful Widow in Town (“I knew this must have been a dream/’cause your mother would never let me in her house”).

It’s hard to tell how much of the genius of Vivadixie... is intentional. The keys which often serve to create the fittingly atmospheric backdrop for Linkous’ poignancy are at times out of tune, as are the guitars, and his naturally sleepy sounding voice tone has a lot more to do with expressing his deflation than his vocal ‘ability’, whatever that means. What matters is that in 1995 Mark Linkous, under the moniker of Sparklehorse, released what I believe is truly one of the greatest records of all time. As with other records I was given by my girlfriend’s flawlessly musically trustworthy dad at the same time (See in the Aeroplane over the Sea), Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot is about as undeniably perfect as something as subjective as music can be.

(WRITTEN BY MARTY HILL)