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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Sparklehorse lives again with striking new album

A closeup picture of one of Sparklehorse’s albums on blue vinyl. The band’s new album “Bird Machine” was recently released posthumously on all music streaming platforms. (Wikimedia Commons)

Mark Linkous, the eccentric lo-fi genius behind Sparklehorse, died by suicide in 2010. 

Linkous left behind four studio albums, as well as a collaborative album with Danger Mouse. Now, a final studio album titled “Bird Machine” has been unearthed and released posthumously on the ANTI- record label.

Posthumous albums rarely live up to the rest of an artist’s discography, and they often leave me wondering if the deceased artist would have truly wanted it to be released. “Bird Machine” is a remarkable exception. It feels like a real studio album, as opposed to the countless posthumous albums that are haphazardly pieced together from demos, throwaway cuts and alternate takes. 

The album flows cohesively and consistently from track to track, providing what feels like a poignant and worthy epilogue to a fascinating discography. As eager as I was to hear the whole album, when I arrived at “Evening Star Supercharger,” the album’s third track, I was blown away and had to take a detour to listen to it four times in a row. The song “Evening Star Supercharger” stands out as one of Linkous’ higher fidelity, more conventionally produced recordings. 

However, the lo-fi sensibilities that made previous Sparklehorse efforts like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot” so memorable are not lost here; Linkous manages to retain his distinctive sonic style with his arrangements. With the intro that sounds like it was played on a child’s toy piano, the twinkly layers of guitars and his signature Mellotron sound, “Evening Star Supercharger” is an instant Sparklehorse classic.

Linkous’ cryptic, abstract lyrical style is also on full display here. On the track “Falling Down,” lines like “Confederate river ghosts come lie down / Inhale the earth’s breath, that’s your bed now” pair perfectly with the song’s surreal, idiosyncratic musical backdrop.

“Falling Down” features a much more straightforward, stripped-down arrangement, consisting of simply played rhythm guitar parts, piano, drums and of course the Mellotron. Given the nature of Linkous’ death, it’s hard not to hear the emotional wounds come through in the song. His voice is soft and melancholic, almost as though he’s delivering the vocals with an exhausted sense of defeat. 

As a whole, “Bird Machine” fits comfortably into the rest of Sparklehorse’s all-too-brief discography, giving die-hard Linkous fans an unexpected surprise that beats the odds and lives up to its predecessors.

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