Review Summary: A fun, catchy album that has musical depth even with the presence of simple song structures.
Music that utilizes simplicity in an effective manner is hard to come by these days. Many of the bands or artists that use simple concepts in their desired style of music often end up writing regurgitated chord progressions and mundane melodies that somehow manage to appeal to a massive audience. It almost seems that creativity is extinct when it is not being played at some unearthly speed or combining the most bizarre genres of music for the sake of being completely ridiculous and "interesting". In a situation where a bands musical talent is non-existent, catchy lyrics and a basic song structure always come through in the clutch. There are few who who are able to compose simple music without sacrificing originality for accessibility. Sparklehorse, also known as Mark Linkous, is able to take the positive qualities of a simple song and add a seemingly endless amount of layers, effects, and dimensions to it. Even when all of these intriguing components coincide with each other, the one aspect of Sparklehorse's that is still astonishing to me is the presence of a hook. Whether the hook is found in the softly spoken lyrics, the distorted vocals or the music itself, one hook always finds a way to make its existence known.
Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
, as if the title would not suggest, finds itself immersed in a sound which contains a feeling of never-ending changes. Remarkably, the frequent shifts never feel forced. Linkous does a wonderful job of retaining his unique style throughout most of the songs, even with the massive amount of variety. The album starts on a rather good note with "Don't Take My Sunshine Away". At its core, "Don't Take My Sunshine Away" is a feel-good pop song. Linkous masterfully takes the song further with the littering of a piano, violins and dreamy melodies. The vocals, provided by Linkous, are barely as loud as a whisper and fit the song perfectly. Almost interrupting the daze of the song is a palm muted guitar progression that is covered in a thick fuzz distortion. The addition of female vocals is more than welcome for this definite highlight of the album, mostly because it shows the effortless changes Sparklehorse can add to their music.
Taking a step back from the cheery side of things, "Return to Me" showcases Linkous' airy voice once more but the two acoustic guitars that are playing simple, arpeggiated chords together create a mournful mood to the song. A simple chord change when the chorus begins reveals an optimistic voice that is not found during the verses. Somehow, in an album of layered effects, a stripped down acoustic session was able to stand out. "Ghost in the Sky" is easily the most upbeat song on the album and still fits into the album comfortably. The song writing itself is pretty basic with some heavily distorted, intertwining guitar playing but the dramatic shift in dynamics is what sets "Ghost in the Sky" apart. Presenting an ominous atmosphere, the ten minute closer "Dreamt for Light Years..." is an entirely instrumental track. Layered with odd noises, occasional violins, ambient samples, and choppy chords, the track ,yet again, adds more variety to an already diverse album.
The only fault of Dreamt for Light Years...
musically that I found was the over abundance of thick distortion in a couple songs. "Don't Take My Sunshine Away" and "Ghost in the Sky" uses the distortion and sharp guitar tones effectively, both to accent the faster tempos present in each of them, but in some cases, mainly "It's Not So Hard", the passages end up feeling compressed and overwhelming. Another problem that the album contains are the sometimes cheesy lyrics and the somewhat cliché concepts that accompany them (look at the song titles and see if you can guess which ones). Overall, the lyrics usually fit the song and the vocals, but a little more effort could have been spent perfecting the lyrics on some songs could have gone a long way. But then again, the lyrics achieve their purpose of submersing you into the mood of each track. Other than those two minor issues, Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
is certainly a more than solid indie release from Sparklehorse that covers a diverse range of emotions in each track with ease. Effectively simple songwriting and catchy melodies are only a precursor to the multiple layers and effects that this album displays.