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Sparklehorse: Here Come More Painbirds—Finally.

29th March 2008

Linkous

Popular speculation about the long wait for Sparklehorse’s first album since 2001’s brilliant It’s A Wonderful Life was that Linkous’s infamous health problems slowed him down. For a guy who almost lost his legs when they were trapped beneath him for 14 hours during an overdose of valium and anti-depressants—causing them to lose circulation and necessitating leg braces for the rest of his life—health will always be a hindrance. After all, the man did die—that’s a bit of a hindrance, even if he woke up three minutes later. To be frank, though, one thing Linkous will never be accused of is being in a rush. The man’s planning to build himself a home with pre-civil war logs from Michigan, for Christ’s sake. He does not live in real time—or in this century; I’m awaiting reports that he also plans to transport those logs by lama. As an explanation for the long delay between albums, however, health and eccentricity are only minor parts of a long, strange tale.

Several years ago Linkous purchased one of only three recording consoles made in the late 1960s by mythical engineering guru, Daniel Flickinger. Flickinger vanished in the late ‘70s after some kind of epic throw-down with Ike Turner over sound problems, never to be heard from again. Sorry Dan; that’s what happens when you throw down with Ike fucking Turner. One of the other two consoles Flickinger crafted was custom-made for Sly Stone, complete with black-lighting so that Sly could see the Everests of coke he’d pile on it. He then put a gun to the heads of the movers who helped fit it into his studio, piled another mound of coke, and refused to let the poor bastards leave until they showed him how to use it. Att-a-boy, Sly. Reportedly, Sly held them hostage for a week. In 2004, UK “punk” duo The Kills (what does “punk” even mean anymore, anyway—has it become the new “alternative”?) disgraced Sly’s old Flickinger when they traced it to some place called Bentmont, Michigan and used it to make their exceedingly boring No Wow LP.

Though Linkous was led to believe that the Flickinger 20/24/44 he got from Paragon Recording was up and ready to use before he bought it, he spent a good four years pouring thousands of dollars into the thing to get it to work properly. He only seems to have succeeded at this in 2005—four years since the release of Wonderful Life—when he declared that “it is undoubtedly the best-sounding console I’ve ever heard.” By Linkous’s own account, he wrote so much material for the album that became the gorgeously trippy Dreamed For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain that it could have been a double-disc, “but there were quite a few problems actually recording it, foremost being the Flickinger,” Linkous explained on a message board in 2005.

Now that he actually has something to record with and has laid down enough tracks at his Static King studio in North Carolina for a lot more than just the Dreamed For album, rumor has it that he’s finalizing songs for a new record while also collaborating with—God help us all—hip-hop mastermind Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton (the upcoming album will reportedly be titled either “Sparklemouse” or “Dangerhorse.” Sweet.) That’s kind of like Harry Connick, Jr. hitting the road with The Dancing Wu Li Masters as his backing band, only cool. With a series of overtly schizophrenic albums under his belt that pit punk freak-outs like “Pig” up against the drugged-to-sleep whispers of “Painbirds,” news of this most unlikely collaboration further solidifies Mr. Linkous’s standing as the Neil Young of indie rock (ugh, talk about a phrase that’s been mugged of meaning.) Well, maybe he’s got a ways to go yet, come to think of it. I did, after all, recently witness a Neil Young “concert” in New York City during which Young spent as much time cluelessly wandering the stage in an impassioned diatribe with the ceiling, arms flailing madly at his sides, as he did singing songs, so Linkous still has a few more notches of crazy to go. According to most accounts, though–or perhaps merely the picture up above–the man’s damn close. Daauumm close.

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