No Danger Mouse project arrives without at least some slight commotion. In the case of Dark Night of the Soul, it involves a familiar-sounding dust up with EMI that recalls the dispute that ultimately led to the producer's Grey Album of 2004 never being officially released. When Sparklehorse lynchpin Mark Linkous committed suicide in March of this year, it only added to the flustering state of this collaborative affair.
Copies of Dark Night... went on sale, online, last year with a limited-edition booklet featuring photographs by David Lynch (also one of the on-record contributors here) and a CD with no music. In the hands of a more pretentious artist it'd have seemed like some sort of postmodern joke. But now, finally, the music is allowed to speak for itself.
With its core creators no strangers to grand designs, Dark Night... plays host to a revolving cast of vocalists. These guests guide the listener through the veins of the album, following what feels like a loose but unshakeable narrative. The fact that it's essentially a lo-fi rock album is the most surprising thing about it.
As you'd expect from artists of this pedigree, its guests are always made to sound like more like co-conspirators. Frank Black–appearing here under his Black Francis alias–and Iggy Pop get to howl and snarl, while former Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle gets to skilfully slow the momentum with a couple of satisfyingly woozy comedowns. Don't expect many rousing moments; in fact, Suzanne Vega's contribution on Man Who Played God is so crisp and coherent that it sounds weirdly intrusive.
Picked apart and put back together again, Dark Night of the Soul might not take a hammer and some beats to musical boundaries as Danger Mouse has done in the past, but it boasts enough of his curious attitude to making music to keep fans happy. At the same time, it boasts the best in the dusty, scratchy balladry undoubtedly guided by Linkous's much-missed hands. It's a complex, winding late-night soundtrack that doesn't move too fast, but never stops to question the judgement of its own unique outsider logic.
(Dark Night... is dedicated to the memory of both Linkous and Vic Chesnutt–the latter, who committed suicide on Christmas Day 2009, appears on the track Grim Augury.)
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