A different breed

By

Sparklehorse

Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain

Capitol Records

Four out of five stars

If Sparklehorse were a real animal, you wouldn’t be able to ride it.

Despite its comforting name-“A sparkling horse? How lovely!”-you wouldn’t be able to approach it. You wouldn’t be able to pet it, it wouldn’t let you feed it and-most certainly-you would not be able to comprehend any of the thoughts bouncing around in its spectacular head.

That is to say, if Sparklehorse-the experimental alt-fuzz outfit fronted by Mark Linkous-were an animal, it would be very similar to Sparklehorse the band: an enigma.

Over the course of a decade or so, Sparklehorse has produced a handful of outrageously beautiful, well respected, critically acclaimed albums-none of which managed to pierce the armor of ignorance worn by Radio America. Sparklehorse was essentially the band that all pseudo-cool kids “knew about” but never listened to.

Linkous did some notable soundtrack work (“Someday I Will Treat You Good” from “Laurel Canyon” is superb), released an album that perhaps occupies the gray space between illness and health better than any other (Good Morning Spider) and yet?

And yet the populace at large never seemed to GET Sparklehorse.

That’s all about to change.

With the release of the band’s first studio record in five years, Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, Sparklehorse looks primed for-gasp!-widespread appreciation.

The biggest problem Sparklehorse faced in the past (read: created for itself) was one of inaccessibility. Yes, the band was brilliant. Yes, the band made beautiful, exotic music. No, nobody had any idea what the hell it was trying to say.

Sparklehorse was, simply put, too good for its own good.

Dreamt for Light Years is by no means a step down in quality-if anything, it’s an improvement in terms of cohesion, tone and temperament. The new record is the rare case of “art meets pop” in which neither suffers; it is the synthesis of heady experimentalism (aimed at pushing the boundaries of style and substance) and melodic intuition. It is high art for the average person.

The album opens with the perfectly airy “Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away,” a track that (in typical Sparklehorse fashion) is at once spacey, weird and soothingly familiar. When the song breaks down about halfway through into the static mesh of guitar distortion, it’s not a disjunction from the pleasing prettiness that came before it as much as it is a binary complement.

“Getting It Wrong” breaks hearts without listeners’ really knowing what’s going on; the narrative of loss is fractured, but the gaps are filled in perfectly by the story of plaintive synth beats and ghostly vocal intonations.

Other noteworthy tracks include “Shade and Honey,” which sounds like the most excellent Yo La Tengo song Yo La Tengo never recorded, and “Ghost in the Sky,” which proves that Sparklehorse has some bite to its subdued bark after all.

But then again, to play favorites is to miss the point of Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain. This is an album, not a collection, and it functions as such: The experience of the record as a whole-breathtaking and life-giving; harrowing and hopeful; soft, loud, absent-is significantly greater than its composite parts.

For listeners who may have pretended to love Sparklehorse in the past, Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain is the opportunity to make good on the charade.

But act quick-who knows if the wily Sparklehorse will ever be this approachable again.

Eryn Green