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Music / Sparklehorse

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Mark Linkous
A horse
A horse
My kingdom for a horse
Rattling on magnetic fields
Yes I did use up
The last box of sparklers
Before they went bad
Got wet or decayed

Sparklehorse was a Lo-fi Alternative Rock / Country band from America, led by Mark Linkous (note that when we say "led", we mean "the one consistent member of the band" - all his albums featured appearances from other musicians in various roles, but none stayed on for good). A man of many talents, he was the lead singer, songwriter, and played a great variety of instruments, including guitar, piano, harmonium and drum machine.

Sparklehorse released their first album, the mouthful Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, in 1995 to largely good reception (with Sparklehorse remaining critical darlings ever since). The album, recorded with help from the band Cracker, set the band's melancholic tone, but was followed shortly afterwards by the near-death of Mark Linkous due to a drug overdose. His recovery in St Mary's hospital left him without the use of his legs for 6 months - even afterwards, they never quite regained their original strength. Despite these setbacks, in 1998 Sparklehorse released their second album, Good Morning Spider, with several songs inspired by Linkous' brush with death (though he claimed most of them had actually been written before this).

2001 saw the release of the far more collaborative album, It's a Wonderful Life, reported to be Linkous' first substance-free production (as well as his most "normal" to date, with a notable lack of unsettling songs less than a minute long). Following this was a 5-year hiatus, at the end of which Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain was released (the title track being his longest song, at a whopping 10:35 minutes, though it was a relaxing, melancholy track true to the band's usual style). Dark Night of the Soul, featuring appearances from many different guest vocalists, was originally recorded (and released on the internet) in 2009, but only officially released in 2010 due to legal difficulties. Sadly, 2010 was also the year of Mark Linkous' suicide - he shot himself in the heart, without leaving a suicide note. As such, Dark Night of the Soul was dedicated to his memory.

In 2023, Bird Machine, an album Linkous was working on before his suicide, was released, finished by his brother and sister-in-law who were archiving his work.


  • Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (1995)
  • Good Morning Spider (1998)
  • It's a Wonderful Life (2001)
  • Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (2006)
  • Dark Night of the Soul (2010, with Danger Mouse)
  • Bird Machine (2023) (posthumous release)

This band and their music provide examples of:

  • Ambient: Several examples in their repertoire, such as Good Morning Spider's title track.
  • Alternative Rock
  • Author Appeal: Believe it or not, horses get numerous mentions in Sparklehorse's lyrics, among other things like oceans, dogs, pianos, ghosts, and birds.
  • Ballad of X: Of a Cold Lost Marble, in fact.
  • Broken Record: 850 Double Pumper Holley, 850 Double Pumper Holley, 850 Double Pumper Holley...
  • Call-Back: One of the songs in Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (Cow, to be precise) mentions the "Queen of Nails". In It's a Wonderful Life, there is an entire song called "King of Nails".
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "I Fucked It Up" from Bird Machine has the f-bomb sung three times in each chorus in an under 2-minute track.
  • Concept Album: Pain (physical or otherwise) is a frequently recurring theme in Dark Night of the Soul.
  • Dream Pop
  • Eldritch Abomination: According to See the Light, "The Golden Crows" are this.
  • Epic Rocking / Miniscule Rocking: Sparklehorse's songs run the gamut, from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. Oddly, the trend seems to be that the longer a song is, the more relaxing and quiet it'll be.
  • Eye Scream: A theme quite frequently found in the band's lyrics.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Cruel Sun -> All Night Home. Also, Cow -> Little Bastard Choo Choo.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: Sunshine.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Grim Augury, fittingly.
  • Foreshadowing: The song Rainmaker brings up a "Spirit Ditch" - the next song is called "Spirit Ditch".
  • Hidden Track: Morning Hollow, on It's a Wonderful Life.
  • I Am the Band: The first two albums were written and recorded almost entirely by Mark Linkous himself, on his Virginia farm.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: A few of their albums, most notably Good Morning Spider. Also, Dark Night of the Soul.
    • The posthumous release Bird Machine takes this even further, with just a scribbling of the album title on the cover.
  • Mood Whiplash: Frequently happens on their albums. Example: Good Morning Spider's first track is the punky, explicit Pig. The second track is the dark, melancholy Painbirds.
  • New Sound Album: It's a Wonderful Life, to an extent.
  • Non-Appearing Title
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice
  • Punny Name: A band bio mentions a drummer named Al Esis as having played on the first album: Alesis is a drum machine manufacturer, and this was a reference to the fact that some tracks used a drum machine instead of a live drummer.
  • Radio Voice: Used frequently, with "Chaos of the Galaxy/Happy Man" possibly the shining example.
  • Revolving Door Band
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Linkous' near-death due to drugs.
  • Shout-Out: To R.E.M., from the looks of things, in Pain:
    Justice, religion, and success are fake
    And the shiny people stink
    The owls have been talking to me
    But I'm sworn to secrecy
    I woke up in a burned-out basement
    Everything that's made is made to decay
    • "Someday I Will Treat You Good" also includes the lyric "She's whispering like Morticia now"
    • And to Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes" in "Sad Beautiful World."
    Sometimes I get so sad
    Sometimes you just make me mad
  • Special Guest: It's A Wonderful Life has Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Nina Persson of The Cardigans, Vic Chesnutt and Dave Fridmann. Dark Night Of The Soul is entirely based on this, with guest spots from IggyPop, Suzanne Vega, Danger Mouse, David Lynch, Black Francis, The Flaming Lips...
  • Spoken Word in Music: Vic Chesnutt was also meant to appear on Good Morning Spider but couldn't make it - so Vic's answering machine message apology was incorporated into "Sunshine".
    • Similarly, an answering machine message from Mark Linkous' mother, in which she recounts a dream she had about him, appears in "Spirit Ditch". Mark had left a space in the song for a guitar solo, then decided he didn't want one - he went home, checked his messages, and found it fit perfectly into the song.
  • Surreal Music Video: The music video for "Someday I Will Treat You Good" involves lots of odd vintage toys, Mark Linkous playing guitar in a sparkly suit and a chicken mask, and a lip syncing Mark puppet being controlled by a woman.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Oh so much.

in the silver morning hollow
trembling and getting old
smelling burnt oil of heaven
about ten years, too big to hold