Record Review: Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, 'Dark Night of the Soul'

Categories: Record Review
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The Hype: By now, any Mark Linkous fan worth his/her sparkle has studied, read about and certainly pirated Dark Night of the Soul (out today on Capitol Records). Originally set for release by Linkous (a.k.a. Sparklehorse) producer Danger Mouse and filmmaker David Lynch back in 2009, this mammoth collaborative effort was hyped as one of the greatest albums of the year. Due to legal battles with EMI, it was almost the album that never was. 

Despite that, the trio chose to release a 100-page photo book shot by Lynch that was meant to accompany the album, along with a blank CD, quietly inciting fans to leak and burn the album the first chance they got. Following the suicide of Linkous on March 6 this year, this somber project is finally available to purchase and listen to in its full form, photo book included. Serving more as a tribute to the late Sparklehorse, much of the lyrics and sounds on the album seem to take on a whole new meaning for those who truly loved the music. But now that you've burned it, is it worth buying?

The Judgement: It's fitting that a musician who's music thrived on life's darkest moments might actually be content to step back into the shadows on his own songs while other voices take the lead. It certainly worked out for Sparklehorse (albeit in posthumous fashion), who teamed up with perennial collaborator, Danger Mouse, on Dark Night of the Soul. Choreographed over 14 tracks with various, impressive cameos, Dark Night is a comprehensive offering that encompasses everything a Sparklehorse fan has grown accustomed to: piercing simplicity, brooding punk, fragile folk and emotional, orchestral movements. 

Tha album opens appropriately with a song called "Revenge." Aided by murky piano and instrumentals by the The Flaming Lips (including vocals by Wayne Coyne), the song blooms into a starry web of somber pop that clenches your collar, pulling you into the sedated and psychedelic Sparklemouse universe. Much of the male collaboration from people like Jason Lytle, Gruf Rhys (of Super Furry Animals) The Shins' James Mercer (and fellow collaborator with Danger Mouse in Broken Bells) bear a creepy similarity to Linkous' lilting vocal style. 

However, the album also packs a segment of punchy rock songs. Ironically, it's not much of a punch. Middle tracks "Little Girl," "Angel's Harp" "Pain," sung by Julian Casablancas, Black Francis and Iggy Pop respectively are a forced fit in the overall sound of the album. Although the guitars are turned up, the songs bear a fraction of the emotion set forth on songs that come before and after them. It sounds confusing given the talented front men carrying the tunes but they hardly represent best of Dark Night. For that, look to gems like "Every Time I'm With You," a woozy and haunting observation of a friendship between drug abusers that couldn't sound more self-referential coming from a tortured soul like Linkous.

Notable vocalists Nina Presson (of The Cardigans) and Suzanne Vega make brighter, Americana and country brush strokes with Linkous on "Daddy's Gone" and "The Man Who Played God" respectively. The biggest surprise and the album is the emotional presence of filmmaker David Lynch. Despite being distorted and robotized beyond recognition on "Star Eyes (I Can't Catch It)" and the album's grainy title track, Lynch's parts carry a sparkling, celestial communication in their delivery. Almost like a musician trying to communicate from an alternate universe, or beyond the grave. Whether that makes the songs creepy or glorious given the fate of Linkous is up to you. Our opinion: pure genius.

Grade: A-



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