Let us all pause for a moment, and bow our heads for a brilliant musician. Last March, a deeply depressed Mark Linkous aka Sparklehorse committed suicide.
But before he passed away, Linkous finished one last collaboration with Danger Mouse, appropriately entitled "Dark Night of the Soul." Lots of spacefuzz rock'n'roll and colorful psychedelic pop, with countless guest singers/musicians/composers adding their own unique stylings to the music. And sadly, you can hear some foreshading of Linkous' loss in there.
Every song has guest vocalists who also helped produce and composing their songs. It begins with the warm, liquid psychedelica of "Revenge," in which Wayne Coyne croons sadly, "In my mind/I have shot you and stabbed you through your heart/I just didn't understand/The ricochet is the second part..."
Then it switches to the shimmering, glitchy "Just War" with Gruff Rhys, and the fluttering folk-rock of "Jaykub" with Jason Lytle. After those through songs, there's a brief interlude of pure rock'n'roll -- Julian Casablancas slurs through the lean "Little Girl," Black Francis drawls through the half-baked"Angel's Harp," and Iggy Pop... well, he burns through a fiery expanse of dark hard-rock. What else?
Then things sink back into the spacefuzz again, with James Mercer, Jason Lytle, Vic Chestnutt, David Lynch, Suzanne Vega and Nina Persson all contributing. There's the ethereal electronic "Star Eyes (I Can Catch It)," the twinkly chaotic "Insane Lullaby," the bluesy "Daddy's Gone" and "The Man Who Played God," the melancholy folkpop of "Everytime I'm With You," and with bluesy streamers of synth and mats of grimy guitar in the last two songs.
The biggest problem with "Dark Night of the Soul" is that it sounds like too many different artists -- it often sounds more like a compilation of these various people than a unified album. That said, the only song I didn't like was "Angel's Harps," which just sounded half-baked. The rest of the songs are melancholy, tinged with hopelessness and sadness.
The softer songs are full of different instrumentations -- spacey synth that twinkles, shimmers and glitches, xylophones, soft strings, fuzzy guitars and murmuring vocals. The harder, rockier songs have traces of those things, but they rely more on driving guitar and raw blasts of bass -- a particular highlight is Iggy Pop's song, which starts off as a simple hard-rock song, but blossoms with streams of glittering synth and blooming whorls of guitar.
The guest vocalists also do brilliant jobs -- Wayne Coyne, Jason Lytle and Jason Mercer are particular highlights, but all of them are expertly woven into their music. And the lyrics are simply beautiful -- lots of striking imagery ("But dreams float up/from fishers in the flood"), hopelessness ("The last survivor crawling through the dust/There is just war/A contribution till humankind/Turns to rust") and general sadness ("I woke up and all my yesterdays were gone").
Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse crafted a beautiful, saddening collection of songs that turned out to be Linkous' last work -- I wasn't crazy about Black Francis' song, but all the rest are lovely.
A long overdue release for this excellent work that blurs the boundaries between art and music. Is it a photography book with music or a lavishly illustrated CD? In reality this is a superb package with a dream line up of cult stars of the indie alternative scene. At times its not quite as strong as one would hope but that would be churlish criticism in light of the ambition of the work. The sad thing though, one which will probably always overshadow the release is that two of the artists really did experience the darkest night of the soul between recording this and its final release. Its hard not to feel a deep deep sadness to see the dedication to the two men who took their own lives within about 4 months of each other. The album now stands as tragic prophecy of the dark night of the soul of two extremely talented men.
(A non-existent) g** only knows we are drowning in the choking, swamp-mud of banal, bland, mediocre love songs, thousands of them all produced using the same plug-ins and over-processed beats. So as if I had taken A BLAST OF PURE OXYGEN I listen to this strange, odd mutation of an album. And can I see why they would use the title of a poem written by someone who was tortured and lived a life of distress and agony? Yes I can.
For some reason I cannot work out each track sounds fresh and different to the production I am used to hearing on TV or radio. Each instrument seems "loved", the snare sound distinctive, the guitars are in the room with me, the bass pops. And oh my, the singers, each drips with an individual character instantly unique and melancholy (except perhaps that stripes singer).
Each song hits the senses, some cruelly, but always beautifully. Thanks Dangermouse and Sparklehorse, this hits me (not my soul as I don't have one) more powerfully than the poem by that poor poet. Sublime.
As unusual pairings go the link up between the uber hot producer and musician Dangermouse (Brian Joseph Burton) and the sorely departed Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse is particularly intriguing. Add into this mix the presence of Twin Peaks producer and mad genius David Lynch (who signed on to the project create a 100-page book of original photography) and a host of the best and brightest in indie pop and "Dark night of the soul" should be a corker?
Before answering that question lets pause. Clearly the gestation of this album is well known, with Linkous a deeply troubled soul who had at one point medically "died" from an overdose in the early 1990s. He returned to work with Dangermouse a few years back and then rumours of a collaboration between the two men turned into a real project which EMI lawyers in all their wisdom (i.e. none) refused to realise. It's actually been available on the web for some time but now we have a full and proper release.
The music on this album ranges from howling rock to gentle acoustics and it does have some coherence problems when you add in the sheer range or artists. That said "Dangersparkle" a name the two men flirted with, have drawn out some incredible performances none more so than the opener "Revenge" with the Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne on vocals. This seems to this reviewer to be one of Coyne's best performances since the halcyon days of the Soft Bulletin and Yoshami and is a beautifully tender and slow ballad with brilliant vocals. A great start and the highlights continue. The duet between Linkous and the Cardigan's Nina Persson has a Beatles like quality to it and is deeply prophetic as it fades out with the line "I woke up and all my yesterdays were gone". Alt country band Grandaddy were so eclectic that it comes as no surprise that the two songs by their vocalist Jason Lytle could have happily figured on their album with the eerie dark lament "Every time I'm with you" sounding the best of the two contributions. As for the "Man who played God" with Suzanne Vega this is the real surprise of the package, a superb song with echoes of John Lennon which outshines many of the louder contributions such as Black Francis's "Angels Harp" which sounds like a substandard Pixies song. The Shins main man James Mercer contributes to "Insane Lullaby" which ironically sounds like a Flaming Lips song and is generally good although I prefer the slower and atmospheric "Star Eyes" which is genuinely affecting. Finally the album ends with yet another sad departure in the form of Vic Chesnutt who also committed suicide on Christmas Day 2009. He had throughout his career addressed the prospect of death particularly on his great album "Flirted with You All My Life". With the song "Grim Augury" and its tale of a horrible dream which Chesnutt pleads "Yeah, I begged me not to make me tell ya, Yeah, I pleaded with ya, To leave it alone" you cannot help but read into this that it somehow prefigures his subsequent fate. It is by a country mile my favourite song on this excellent compilation.
Of course it ends in weird fashion with David Lynch taking the lead on the title track a disturbing piano dirge like song with vocoder like singing from the master. It is a fitting end to "Dark night of the soul" an album which is encased in sadness but which is also a celebration of the work of two great musicians and possibly the best rock compilation album I have heard since last years closely named "Dark was the night".
I love this interesting and artistic CD and I am intrigued by it, I can listen to it again and again. I highly recommend it. As a point of interest track 1 is featured at the end of ep21, series one of 'A person Of Interest'.