SPARKLEHORSE, JESSE SYKES & THE SWEET HEREAFTER | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

SPARKLEHORSE, JESSE SYKES & THE SWEET HEREAFTER 

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My wife and I chose the SPARKLEHORSE cover of Daniel Johnston's "Go" as the processional at our wedding. The air trembled with Mark Linkous's deep whisper, and the majestic pace of the piano measured our steps perfectly. Johnston and Sparklehorse make an excellent match: the band's White Album sound suits Johnston's simple songwriting, which owes a lot to the Beatles' melodic sensibility. Between the 2001 Sparklehorse album It's a Wonderful Life and its follow-up, last year's Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (Capitol), Linkous lent his talents as a producer and writer to Johnston's Fear Yourself and contributed "Go" to the tribute-album half of the double-CD Johnston set Discovered Covered. There aren't any Johnston tunes on Dreamt for Light Years, but the troubled Texan's naive sentimentality is all over it: on "Getting It Wrong," for instance, Linkous channels his friend's warbly alto and stately, Lennon-inspired piano. In the spirit of George Martin, the album's four-star production team--Linkous, Danger Mouse, John Parish, and Dave Fridmann--treats the morose material to voluptuous, glowing arrangements that make the melodies alternately ooze like honey and drift and curl like candle smoke. --J. Niimi

On the new Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul (Barsuk), JESSE SYKES & THE SWEET HEREAFTER have toughened up their moody sound a bit, which ought to discourage lazy commentators from continuing to slap them with the "alt-country" label. Sure, guitarist Phil Wandscher cofounded Whiskeytown, but here he plays a mix of atmospheric textures, unforgettable riffs, and narrative solos that handily transcends that dubious tag. Sykes's dry, raspy voice is an acquired taste, but after I'd given the new record a few spins I could hear how it fit the band's elaborate arrangements hand in glove, conveying all the subtle emotional gradations between melancholy and muted hope. There's still plenty of murkiness to the music, but the songwriting is more varied and the details--including cameos by singer-songwriter Nicolai Dunger and violinist Eyvind Kang--are more finely etched than ever before. --Peter Margasak

Sparklehorse headlines and Sykes opens. a 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $18, $16 in advance.

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