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Lo-Fi Major Label Fun

Good Morning Spider

I can just imagine the looks on the suits faces when Sparklehorse brought the tapes for this album into the studio offices of Capitol Records. While there are some songs that could possibly be considered singles, for the most part the album is a very strange, lo-fi journey through tons of different styles and some amazing instrumentation and experimentation. After hearing the debut album by the group several years back, it didn't do anything for me, but after reading more about this one, I thought it was time to give them a second chance. To put things simply, Mark Linkous and the rest of the players on the disc have come up with a real winner.

If you haven't heard their music to this point, then you won't know the difference, but if you heard their first release, this one marks a fairly decent sized departure in sound. If I'd have to mention an album in the last year that it kind of reminded me of, I'd say that it works in a lot of the same ways that last years Neutral Milk Hotel's In An Aeroplane Over The Sea. There's a dramatic amount of different instrumentation used over the course of the disc, as well as lots of different styles tried out in terms of song structure and sound. Like that afformentioned album, most of the different styles not only work, but work well.

The first track on the disc starts out a bit misleading with a quiet little strum of guitar and some falsetto singing, but changes up gears quickly with a strange little spoken voice. It rifles into a junky-sounding rock track with distorted vocals and a wall of driving guitar sound. It quickly drops down into something decidingly more mellow and mixes right into the decidingly slower second and third tracks. The third one, entitled "Saint Mary," is one of the best songs on the album with its stripped-bare sensibility and affected vocals. It moves along with a simple acoustic guitar, little touches of piano, and vocals that sound like a constant struggle just to be emitted. The soft focus video (which is included on the disc) of Linkous drifting under shimmering water provides nearly the perfect imagery for the track.

Things get a little more upbeat again on the fifth track "Sick Of Goodbyes." It's a nice, southern-rock sounding track that has enough infectious energy to make you want to stomp your foot along with it. Co-written and produced by David Lowery (of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven fame), it's easy to see the influence. One song that gets a bit out-of-hand with the low-fi effects is the eighth track entitled "Chaos Of The Galaxy/Happy Man." For nearly the first half of the track, it sounds like it's coming in on a cheap transistor radio, until finally the dial spins and picks things up full force for the finale. It's a good track, but it almost feels muddled a bit too long.

I can't even begin to emphasize how many great slow, ballad-like songs there are on the album. When Linkous strips things down to only 2 or 3 instruments and vocals, it works amazingly almost every time from "Hey Joe," to "Come On In," to "Hundreds Of Sparrows." As on the latter-mentioned track, religious questioning and themes are brought up a lot on the album, and it fits the tone of the music very well. The album closes out with another simple little track called, "Junebug." Once again, it's just voice, acoustic guitar, and some chimes, but it's amazing. If you're into Elephant 6-type bands or simply like great little, well-written songs, Good Morning Spider is well worth it. Not only is it a great sophomore release for Sparklehorse, but it's one of the better albums I've heard this year.

Rating: 8