Linkous, onstage, with Vantzou and Wiltzie.
Christina Vantzou video still from Sparklehorse tour.
Left, publicity still for Sparklehorse; right, Vantzou and Wiltzie read a review for Dead Texan and Sparklehorse in Brussels.
and Christina Vantzou
By SUSI LULAKI
Mark Linkous, Christina Vantzou, and Adam Wiltzie joined forces for the Sparklehorse Summer 2007 European tour, filling live concerts with haunting music, poetic lyrics, and mesmerizing video projections, even as they whispered restraint and minimalism. Each pursues collaborative careers that in the summer of 2007 resulted in the happy hybrid of Sparklehorse-backed-by-The-Dead-Texan.
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mark Linkous is Sparklehorse. He sometimes tours with a rock band (as in early August 2007 at Lollapalooza in Chicago), but chose The Dead Texan for tour dates in Europe. The Dead Texan is the audiovisual project of Christina Vantzou and Adam Wiltzie in which ambient music and video animation are created simultaneously.
For the Sparklehorse summer tour, Linkous sang his surreal and heartfelt lyrics while playing a few of the distinctive instruments he is known for; Vantzou's video projections created a backdrop while she played keyboards, vibraphonette, and sang a bit, and Wiltzie grounded the sound in the moment by playing guitar, keyboards, and a laptop always keeping an ear on overall sound quality. The interplay between artists brought Sparklehorse into a more experimental realm, quieter and more intimate than Linkous’ performances with rock band backup; a good set-up for Sparklehorse’s Southern gothic tunes with their thoughtful, gentle sadness and peculiar imagery.
On his Sparklehorse recordings, Linkous plays all the instruments himself alone in his home studio in rural North Carolina, which he says is “a byproduct of being super isolated and a recluse for a long time.” Hermit though he is, Linkous collaborates frequently. Sparklehorse’s fifth album, Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain features an impressive lineup of guests — Tom Waits, Sol Seppy, Joan Wasser, Steve Drozd, and Danger Mouse. Its release marked a five-year recording hiatus.
Wiltzie and Vantzou exhibit similar restraint in their recording oeuvre. They live in Brussels, as purposefully away from music and art scenes as the North Carolina mountains are for Linkous. Each left behind big cities, the recording industry, insatiable media machines, gaining time for reflection and enough isolation to filter the crush of too many cultural influences.
Wiltzie has recorded with Brian McBride as the classically inspired ambient ensemble Stars of the Lid since 1995. And Their Refinement of the Decline, their long-awaited new album is an important work, not just because it's their first in five years, but also because it marks the 100th release on the Kranky label. It looks like The Dead Texan will follow suit. Five years may be how long it takes to follow their first cd/dvd released by Kranky in 2004. It takes time to create The Dead Texan's mini-symphonies, slow moving dream-like sequences, and fragile, hand-drawn animations. The minimal illustration style, slow pace, and careful transitions, characteristic of The Dead Texan are refreshing diversion from fast, chaotic imagery that dominates the world. Vantzou recently said, “The world has a tendency towards excess and over-productivity — the music and art worlds are very good examples of this. However, we personally do not make any attempt to keep up with this hurried pace. Our creative process is slow; it takes time to do what we do with music and video and we like to take our sweet time.” It should be worth the wait.