Sparklehorse Shares Robyn Hitchcock’s “Listening to the Higsons,” Announces Posthumous Album

Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse first heard the Robyn Hitchcock song “Listening to the Higsons” as a single in the early 80’s. He listened to it a lot during that time, and it was still a favorite when he recorded this hard-hitting version with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in 2009. Listen to that iteration below.

The track is featured on Bird Machine, the posthumous Sparklehorse album coming out September 8. Over the course of four beautiful and otherworldly Sparklehorse records and two collaborative projects, Mark Linkous had built a reputation as one of alternative rock’s most distinctive and influential songwriters. But the intimacy and honesty that made his songs so special also laid bare the troubles that he carried. As he continued to work on his fifth album in late 2009 and early 2010, when he was recording with Steve Albini in Chicago and in front of his beloved 1968 Flickinger mixing console at his Static King studiothe depression which had shadowed him for many years began to deepen. On March 6th, he took his own life at the age of 47.

From the time that Mark began working on these songs to the record’s imminent release, 14 years have passed, a long time for a collection of tracks that were already well advanced at the time of Mark’s death. But there’s something too in the album’s long and complex gestation – the chaos of old tapes, the love and care that Mark’s family and his close musician friends have shown to every detail – that makes this so distinctively a Sparklehorse record.

Mark was famously perfectionist about his work and the question of whether to complete the album weighed heavily on his brother and archivist, Matt. “It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” says Matt. “It’s difficult making a choice about someone else’s art, even if you’ve known them all your life and worked with them, even if they were your brother and best friend. We had long conversations about not wanting to take this into a different direction. We wanted to bring out what was there.”

The lyrics brim with a sadness familiar to fans of Mark’s records. Fragility and darkness were often seen as synonymous with Sparklehorse, and somewhat to Mark’s frustration, the story of how his heart had briefly stopped after an accidental overdose while on tour in 1996 became part of his abyss-gazing mystique. But they are combined with a sense of wonder and deeply felt appreciation of the world. “There’s the pain in his music but also hope and beauty,” says Mark’s sister-in-law Melissa. “Mark took what he had as experience and put it into song and poetry: trying to find peace, working to stay, the struggles of being human.”