Sparklehorse – Bird Machine (Anti-/Epitaph)

Thirteen years after the tragic death of Mark Linkous comes what will most likely be the final Sparklehorse album.

For those who may be too young to know about Linkous (he killed himself in 2010), be aware that the third Sparklehorse record, 2001’s It’s A Wonderful Life featured guest appearances by Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Nina Persson, Joan As Policewoman and Adrian Utley (among others). With friends like that you know something is going on.

Sadly, Linkous’ short life…he was 47 when he died…was not an easy one, but his music made life more than bearable for those who took the time to listen.

The majority of the 14 tracks that comprise Bird Machine were recorded by Steve Albini and prepared for release by Mark’s brother Matt and his wife Melissa. The sessions took place prior to those that made up Sparklehorse’s previous ‘final’ album, Dark Night Of The Soul, co-produced with Dangermouse (see what I mean about friends in high places).

Bird Machine opens with one minute and fifty seconds of over-driven, distorted guitar and voice. It Will Never Stop comes on like a sharp slap to the face, forcing the listener to take notice.

Kind Ghosts follows…there are several ghosts that haunt this album…this one features eerie, backward-masked synths as Linkous’ pinched voice gasps, “I’ve swallowed a phantom and I forgot how to breath”. Later he sings, “Where were you, my kind ghosts, when I needed you?”, a cry for help if there ever was one.

Evening Star Supercharger has a more “classic’ Sparklehorse sound in that it is sadly melodic with a treated toy piano making an otherworldly sound.

The album has its share of emotional highs and lows. The distorted punk rocker titled I Fucked It Up is one of those highs while it is followed by the lo-fi Hello Lord.

We get a cover of Robyn Hitchcock’s Listening To The Higsons and one tune, Daddy’s Gone, left over from the Dangermouse sessions.

But the real treats come late in the record. Tracks 11 and 12 seal the deal for me. Everybody’s Gone To Sleep manages to sound lush yet sparse, like some long lost outtake from The Beatles’ White Album. And Linkhous has never sounded more fragile or more heartbroken than on The Scull Of Lucia with harmonies from Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle.

Bird Machine holds together well as a cohesive album. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the Albini sessions. Fortunately Matt and Melissa Linkous have given Mark a fitting epitaph.

Marty Duda