Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Danger Mouse & Sparkle Horse Present: Dark Night of the Soul

I’ve come to regard Danger Mouse as a genius- an eclectic A-list producer with the Midas touch. Naturally, after reading this BBC story I was intrigued. Danger Mouse collaborating with Jason Linkous (Sparkle Horse) and *gasp* David Lynch(!?) on a project featuring an ensemble cast of vocalists such as Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips) Iggy Pop, Frank Black, Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals), Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), and James Mercer (The Shins)? It seemed too good to be true. As it turns out it was- sort of…. EMI, it seems, put the kibosh on this project after a licensing dispute. Luckily for us, we live in the information age, so EMI can fuck off. Mr. Mouse and Mr. Horse have even gone so far as to package a blank CD with artwork, done by Mr. Lynch, and encourage people to download the music.

I had to listen to this album about three times before I could even fully form opinion on it. The title, which comes from a work of the same name by 16thcentury theologian St. John of the Cross, should have given it away. But I was still surprised to discover that this was basically forlorn indie rock. Although Danger Mouse’s deft touch is definitely there- the loops and keyboard parts, the ingenious use of samples, etc.- this is essentially a Linkous’ project. And what initially sounded fairly straight forward has given way to a subtle depth upon repeated listens. This is a record that switches gears several times while continually mining the same vein of introspective soul searching. Heart break, addiction, alienation and disillusionment, are prominent themes throughout.

The songs are overflowing with rich instrumentation- lonesome harpsichord, warbly church organs, violins, chiming keys, morose synths, and every kind of guitar sound imaginable; from acoustic to slide to the full-throttled distorted riffing (Angels Harp feat Frank Black)- that blends seamlessly into multi-faceted arrangements of densely layered melody. Musically Dark Night occupies the intersection of folksy, indie pop; wistful rock; dark, psychedelic country and morbid punk.

A Soft Pink Bulletin-era sounding Wayne Coyne begins the proceedings setting the tone with Revenge. A ballad of love lost, his refrain; “the more I try to hurt you/the more it hurts me” is wrapped in melancholic strings, soft keys and ringing bells. Insane Lullaby, a personal favorite, features lush Shins-esque flourishes of strings, plinging xylophone and James Mercer’s sweetly soft croon floated over glitchey, distorted, percussive slag that might have once been a drum kit. Lynch even gets in on the action providing vocals for two of the albums best cuts. The delicate lullaby quality of Star Eyes acts as somewhat of an intermission, bridging the punk of Iggy Pop (Pain) to the lighter indie flavored pop of the second half of the album. And the crackling, dusty atmosphere; cheap saloon piano and eerily distant, nasally vox of the title track round out the album.

Another notch in Danger Mouse's belt, this record is a stirring ode to the human condition that insists upon repeat listening for full effect.

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