Album: Sparklehorse

It's a Wonderful Life (Capitol)
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Despite barely raising itself to more than a trudge, this third album from the Virginia mystic Mark Linkous's Sparklehorse positively seethes with energy. Not the wired, urban energy one usually associates with rock music, but a more elemental, rural energy, born of awe at nature's sheer fecundity. When Linkous sings, in his usual hoarse whisper, of dogs, frogs, horses, snakes, yellow birds and little fat babies, it's as if he's embarrassed to compare his own measly creations with the overwhelming vastness of Mother Nature's creative efforts: for him, life in all its forms is, truly, a wonderful thing. Like its predecessors Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot and Good Morning Spider, this album relies on simple, unhurried melodies ­ sometimes just a two-note guitar figure, or one telling chord-change ­ to carry Linkous's enigmatic images, the songs deriving further depth and resonance from the folds of antique keyboard devices draped around them, and from the soothing patina of scuffs and scratches that partially obscures them. Friends/fans such as Polly Harvey, Tom Waits and Nina Persson lend their own distinctive voices to some songs, without trampling on the distinctive Sparklehorse character. But Linkous's most important associate here is surely Mercury Rev's Dave Fridmann, in whom he's found his perfect production partner. A beautiful, gentle record, impossible to recommend too highly.