New Music | Friday Roll Out: Sparklehorse, Smug Brothers

Things could have been different. So much different. We’re all aware of how mental illness can affect us drastically but sometimes it even takes a toll on our own mortality. We’ve seen it happen often, especially within music with some of our most revered artists. Mark Linkous will always be remembered as the songwriter that was able to do exquisite things within music with the barest of instrumentation. His recorded music under the Sparklehorse moniker was something special that eventually broke sonic barriers with his 2001 It’s A Wonderful Life, which were followed by a couple of other albums until his untimely passing in 2010. Today we unearth his posthumous release Bird Machine (ANTI-) filled with 14 songs of downplayed lo-fi hi-fi. His compositions here are as beautiful as anything else he’s ever witten. “Listening To The Higsons” is a frolicking rocker of track with an infectious melody and Linkous’ megaphone vocals are pretty amazing but it’s also songs like “Evening Star Supercharger,” that remind everyone of Linkous’ greatness. He can ride out a melody and ride its rhythm for all its worth without sounding repetitious. Yeah, I wish he was still here with us all.


Has disappointment ever just taken hold of you at one point or another? It must have been an issue everyone has faced at one point or another and for me, it’s happened often. Now while I don’t want to sully the Smug Brothers’ name, in this case, it probably came and comes with the name itself. The Columbus, Ohio outfit has released an assortment of albums, EPs, and singles but the first interaction about 8 years ago or so when someone brought it to my attention. What was the expectation? Well, it’s all within the name but there were no cocky sneers or Gallagher bros-like attitudes. Come on, sometimes we have to live for that shit.

The band has just released In The Book Of Bad Ideas (Anyway Records), what I believe to be its ninth full-length player, and still, no arrogance or cocksureness. Oh the disappointment there, but that’s still such a minor issue. What we do have here is an album of well-crafted pop songs that never fail to hit some sort of emotional chord at one point or another. Seriously though, it’s rare to find a group that has that capability from start to finish, unless one is referring to another Ohio band from another town (Yeah, I know comparisons are cheap). With rich vocals and underscored keyboards, the opening “89 Lullabye” illuminates skies leading the way for Bad Ideas. Its simple guitar notes are accented by vocal harmonies that are enthralling and you just won’t get enough of it. But the band is far removed from being a one-trick pony, changing up the rhythm on “Stiff Arm At The Still Water.” This quicker-paced number offers more of that richness previously mentioned and the melodies – as I struggle to find the right words – are almost hypnotic in delivery. This song ends much too quickly but its warmth is felt from start to finish.

Honestly, the group doesn’t even need to try very hard to captivate and the songwriting is simply infectious. “Pattern Caveat” for instance, has a laidback attitude that allows the group to walk gracefully through fields of sonic notes without the need to force them all out. It’s imaginative, treading psychedelic waters while remaining Smug Brothers through and through. The group does have a fondness for 60s-ish soundscapes as well as 80s-like melodies but it incorporates everything together in the band’s own way. “Let Me Know When It’s Yes,” has vocalist Kyle Melton questioning again and again for answers as the music sweeps through those jangly 60s rhythms. It’s fully realized and living in a contemporary world. Once the band maneuvers into “Helium Drag,” its melody, its rhythm is just so contagious and will have you dancing where you stand or sit. It’s the sparser “An Age In An Instant” that’s testament to the group’s talent. There’s no need to barrage with guitars, instead they use wind instruments – or keyboards – to lead the way. The band colors the track with graceful guitars throughout.

With In The Book Of Bad Ideas, Smug Brothers offer up a hefty amount of songs – 15 to be exact – to round out the album. The good thing about it though, the band never takes a breather to add unnecessary filler, instead opting to include a massive amount of creativity and edginess at just about every motherfucking turn. The expletive there was just to get your attention because this right here? It’s one damn fine album.