Start reeling off a list of underappreciated cult music figures, and beyond your usual E Smiths, Childish-es and Rollins-es, someone will eventually mention Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous.
Floating under the bigger indie Americana radar blips of acts such as The Flaming Lips and Grandaddy, Linkous crafted swirling melancholic music made distinctive by his trademark loping piano presses and nocturnal, whispery vocal. I was beyond gutted to have had to write a news story for NME.COM about him committing suicide yesterday (March 6).
I first got into Linkous’ music in my mid-teens, getting hold of his ‘Distorted Ghost’ EP after NME bigged it up on its release in 2000. I enjoyed the brisk, crunchy-catchy first track ‘Happy Man’ and explored his older work, but it was the following year, when he released third album ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, that I became truly hooked.
As demonstrated on the album, Linkous had a deft, understated way with words, gently dropping images of him keeping “skinny wolves at bay” and pondering “rooster’s blood” and having a “horse’s head” over music that sounded best in pitch black at night on headphones.
‘Happy Man (Memphis Version)’, from the ‘Distorted Ghost’ EP
‘Gold Day’, from ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’
As a huge fan I was excited to be able to interview him on the phone last October, when he and Danger Mouse were preparing to release their ‘Dark Night Of The Soul’ collaboration album online.
Mark chatted to me while driving around the Virginia countryside in a soft relaxed drawl, slowly nattering about how he’d been working on his new album at home and laughing about how all he needed now was a record label to actually release it.
Mark had battled with drugs in the past, and not that you can make any kind of inferences about a person’s personality from a ten minute trans-Atlantic phone call, but I remember thinking that he sounded like the kind of guy who would see a tractor mistakenly run over his car and just take his cowboy hat off, laugh and go check his insurance papers.
Linkous’ back catalogue is sure to be re-appraised in the wake of this tragic news, so at least more people will get to discover his special talent. But that his music has such an innate, touchingly sad quality to it makes this news even more tough to swallow.