2001, Music

It’s a Wonderful Life (2001) by Sparklehorse

Mark Linkous was one of the more reliable lo fi singer-songwriters of the 1990s, both for quality of songs – and relative paucity of song fragments – and for relative stylistic diversity with those songs. I’ve only heard the first two records before this one but I appreciated his diversity paired with song quality and a lyrical outlook that felt quite coherent. (My experience with lo fi is usually that the really diverse artists rely on fragments and the good songwriters aren’t diverse or aren’t even lo fi.)

The songs here might be his best set yet, at least from a conventional standpoint. I think you could argue he’s grown as a songwriter, though as usual that means he’s grown towards the mainstream. (Is that the audience’s fault?) One of the great flaws of so much American lo fi is a lack of (enough) quality songs (and a desire to release everything). Though this is a long album, Linkous has enough decent material to justify the length. A rarity in lo fi music.

The vibe is a little less diverse than before. There was always some mellow stuff but this album is all mellow. There is still some instrumental and stylistic diversity but it’s within this pretty mellow vibe. It makes the record perhaps more consistent, but also less interesting. I’m not 100% sure how I feel about it despite PJ Harvey showing up a few times. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) One of the things I like about the first two albums is that you don’t quite know what’s going to happen next. There are fewer surprises here.

But, whether or not I like this as much as his first two records, I still think Linkous’ music remains on the better end of the lo fi spectrum for its lack of filler. This may be a little less compelling than previous records but I’d still rather listen to this than a lot of lo fi stuff.


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