"It's a sad and beautiful world," sings Sparklehorse auteur Mark Linkous on his 1995 debut — the one with the stream-of-consciousness title. That lyric perfectly captures the vibe of this stunning sound collage, a record that pairs lo-fi sonics with heart-of-darkness lyricism. Though he enlisted a troupe of indie-rock pioneers (House of Freaks' Johnny Hott, the Silos' Bob Rupe and Love Tractor's Armistead Wellford), Linkous's singular vision shines throughout. It's no surprise; he recorded much of the album on his own in rural Virginia.
But distorted vocals, a rickety tape machine and a $2 guitar can't disguise Linkous's way with a hook (see: the catchy "Someday I Will Treat You Good," which reached the Modern Rock Top 40 and became a college radio hit). With his own voice juxtaposed against his mother's southern drawl — detailing a dream about her son on his answering machine — "Spirit Ditch" manages to be both eerie and endearing at the same time. From "Weird Sisters" to "Most Beautiful Widow in Town," death is pervasive throughout, which proved tragically prophetic: Linkous committed suicide in March 2010, slipping off this mortal coil far too soon.