Monday, September 22, 2014

First Impressions: Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain

Last year, I bought three albums that I'd been meaning to listen to for a while (AWOO by The Hidden Cameras, Tallahassee by The Mountain Goats, and Curtains by Tindersticks) and blogged my thoughts on those albums, track-by-track, as I was listening to them.

This week, I'm doing the same thing again: three albums, three blogs, three first impressions. First up is Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, the fourth and final LP in the Sparklehorse oeuvre (Mark Linkous, of course, killed himself back in 2010). My first listen to this album is long overdue, so let's not delay it any further...
  1. Don't Take My Sunshine Away
    Will this be a gentle opener (like Homecoming Queen and It's a Wonderful Life) or a harsh, dissonant cruncher (à la Pig)? It's somewhere in the middle, as it happens; Don't Take My Sunshine Away is a reasonably laid-back rock song, but there's a mean-sounding lick running through it, and this takes over at around 2mins 30secs, briefly transforming the song into a twisted beast of a thing. There are some burbly Grandaddy noises in there, too, which are always appreciated.

  2. Getting It Wrong
    This is a more subdued arrangement, of the sort that Good Morning Spider was packed with (people compare that album to Fables of the Reconstruction - never really heard the similarity myself). The electric piano sound is pleasant enough, but this is generally a rather uneventful track.

  3. Shade and Honey
    Grandaddy come to mind once more - Shade and Honey, reminds me very strongly of Laughing Stock from Under the Western Freeway (particularly its drums and its bassline). This is no bad thing, though; I love Laughing Stock, and I like this song a lot, too. It's like a warmer, more human reworking of the Grandaddy track.

  4. See the Light
    Nice arpeggiated guitar. I'm not a guitar nerd, but even I can appreciate the tone he's achieved here. This, along with Shade and Honey, is more or less precisely what I wanted from this CD - sighing mid-tempo rock that curls around you like a blanket and fills you with that wonderfully warm melancholy. I'm glad I'm hearing this now, in early autumn, because I get the impression that Dreamt for Light Years will be a good soundtrack for shuffling through leaf piles.

  5. Return to Me
    A sparser, starker track in the Homecoming Queen or Spirit Ditch vein. I like this one, because the verse sounds quite creepy (a lot like the aforementioned Spirit Ditch), but then some additional layers arrive for the chorus and it suddenly sounds a lot more hopeful. Lovely.

  6. Some Sweet Day
    What with the bongos and everything, this song has a bit of a Queen vibe going for it (specifically These Are the Days of Our Lives). It's quite nice, but it does feel like a breather track rather than a song to really cherish. Again, it's relatively hopeful - "some sweet day you will be mine" is a more optimistic lyric than anybody could reasonably have expected from Mr Linkous, although I bet the object of his affection is probably dead or something, right?

  7. Ghost in the Sky
    Ah, this is the Pig that Don't Take My Sunshine Away wasn't. Balls-to-the-wall rockers are few and far between in the Sparklehorse catalogue, but the relative scarcity of tracks like this and Happy Man and Someday I Will Treat You Good only serves to make them even more special. I like this song's audaciously repetitive ending ("ghost in the sky, ghost in the sky, ghost in the sky"...I can almost picture my dad turning it off in frustration).

  8. Mountains
    This song's melody reminds me of Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks, at least to begin with. It's just as fuzzy as Ghost in the Sky, but slower, and delivered with less attitude. The ending is a bit rubbish; it just sort of collapses and gives way to bell-like synth noises that sound like they belong on a Hot Chip album.

  9. Morning Hollow
    Now, Weird Sisters (from Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, Sparklehorse's debut album) was the song that sprang to mind when Morning Hollow kicked off, but this is an altogether heavier beast than that would suggest.

    You could probably sing "the parasites will love you when you're dead" over this song - you could probably even make it fit - but where Weird Sisters is only somewhat downbeat (hardly at all, in fact, by Sparklehorse standards), Morning Hollow is downbeat-a-mundo. Such sparsity! Such gravitas! It's hard to describe, but it's done in such a way that the vague violin line that wanders into view after about four minutes sounds like a soaring solo. My favourite so far, and enrapturing throughout its seven-minute runtime.

  10. It's Not So Hard
    The brash drums 'n' cymbals that open this song are a stark and sudden contrast to the peaceful still of Morning Hollow. Still, once I'd overcome my irritation at this rude awakening, I decided that It's Not So Hard was a pretty fun cut after all - I particularly like the buzzy electric guitar riff that chugs through much of the track.

  11. Knives of Summertime
    I feel like Sparklehorse's trademark surrealism has been largely absent from this album so far, but this song's opening salvo ("A flock of knives cut the sky and buried in my black eyes") is up there with the very best of Mark Linkous's bizarre lexicon. Ditto the bit about swallowing stained glass tears.

    This actually sounds a little more classic rock than I'm used to hearing from Sparklehorse, but having said that, I think it's actually the track that would be least out of place on preceding 'Horse albums (I think it would be a particularly good fit for Good Morning Spider, although the weird warbly solo is taken straight from the Vivadixie playbook). It's hardly the most arresting track here, but it would take a lot to beat Morning Hollow or Shade and Honey at this late juncture.

  12. Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
    A gently-played piano; hazy, phasey guitar chords; the cold 'boop' of an answering machine. These are the only sounds heard in the first three minutes of this song. Then, a mewling lap steel. Then, possibly, some strings, although they're way in the background if they're even here at all.

    Mark Linkous left us with an instrumental, it seems. The album's title track is undeniably atmospheric, and in spite of the minimal arrangement (and that annoying, ever-present 'boop' noise), it's not at all alienating. It's even longer than Morning Hollow (we're talking double figures here) but again, I can dig it - it's the sort of song into which you can just...retreat, losing yourself in the warmth and comfort of the musical womb that has been constructed for you. And hey, he's thrown in a bit of woodwind around the nine-minute mark for anyone with an itchy attention span.

    However, I can't but see Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain as a bit of an anticlimax; if you ask me (and, since you're reading my blog, you basically did), this track would have been better in the middle. It would have been perfect as the album's deep, dark core; instead, it's a slightly pointless (and oft-skipped, I don't doubt) epilogue to an otherwise rather good listen.
All in all, then, DfLYitBoaM is something of a mixed bag. It's far from perfect, and to be honest, I doubt that it will ever scale the same heights as Vivadixie (no matter how much I listen and re-listen to it). Still, as I've already mentioned, I am very much looking forward to taking it out for a walk.

Come back on Wednesday, when I'll be sharing my first impressions of No Pocky for Kitty by Superchunk.  

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