Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse

Dark Night of the Soul

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Label: Capitol Records

Dark Night of the Soul’s mainstream existence is nothing short of a miracle. Originally slated to grace the public in 2009, DNOTS lingered in legal purgatory with EMI for over a year. Collaborators Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley) and Mark Linkous (of Sparklehorse) – working in cahoots with filmmaker David Lynch, who provided a comprehensive photography book to accompany the music – released a limited book pressing last year, including a blank CD-R with implications for customers to burn an internet-leaked version of the album. Danger Mouse can finally relish in the moment of his collaborative effort’s release. Unfortunately, his collaborator won’t share the same glory; Linkous committed suicide in March after a long history of drug abuse and depression. So, it’s almost elegiac that DNOTS is Linkous’ swansong. The morbid title, the album’s unstable history, the intensely dark music itself – all of it foreshadows Linkous’ direction throughout his final year.

DNOTS is hardly Linkous’ and Danger Mouse’s first collaborations with other artists, perhaps the reason the album gels so well. The duo avoids the usual pitfalls associated with compiling several guest artists into one record; DNOTS sounds like a cohesive work rather than a grab-bag free-for-all of styles. Sure, every guest artist offers their own shade of creativity, but Linkous and Danger Mouse provide the anchoring foundation that makes the album their creation. This is indebted to the checks-and-balances system that naturally emerges from both of their influences. Anyone familiar with Sparklehorse will immediately recognize Linkous’ jingly, brooding, roots-tinged contribution to DNOTS’ sound and though Sparklehorse bears many vast distinctions from Danger Mouse’s work, its almost as if the two were meant for each other. On the opener “Revenge,” featuring the sparkly vocals of Wayne Coyne (of the Flaming Lips), the sound is carried by heavy low-end, juxtaposed against the ambient, shimmering guitar and synth parts. Coyne’s influence is equally prominent; “Revenge” is readily mistakable as a Flaming Lips tune.

The album’s first song trifecta is a rather amicable, light affair, with only a hint of the album’s implicit dreariness. “Little Girl” ushers the true morbid center of DNOTS. The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas sings an alienating minor-key tale of a narcissistic antagonist. Here the album finds its true voice. This sense of blame is also directed to an anonymous better-half in Jason Lytle’s alcohol-fueled “Everytime I’m With You,” the album’s most direct indications of Linkous’ tribulations. It is in this darkness that DNOTS shines. The music is beautifully haunting, the lyrics morbidly honest, and the effect simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking.

Unfortunately, the momentum of the album’s dark night of its own soul (pun intended) is hampered by the generous amount of lukewarm fare. Bittersweet melodies seem to be Danger Mouse’s and Linkous’ Achilles Heel. James Mercer’s “Insane Lullaby,” Lytle’s “Jaykub,” and Suzanne Vega’s “The Man Who Played God” are frustratingly mediocre, lacking the profundity of the album’s introspective material. Black Francis’ “Angel’s Harp” and Iggy Pop’s “Pain” are both self-indulgent punk-rockers that come off as nothing more than superficially goth and disturbing.

This leaves us with David Lynch’s pair of offerings. Already having an extensive portfolio of surreal artwork for DNOTS’ visual tie-in, Lynch’s vision for his aural contributions are clearly evident. “Star Eyes” is a theme for a nursery school on acid and the most touching and fragile piece of Linkous’ career. “Dark Night of the Soul” aptly closes the album on a depressingly downtempo note. “Dark dream world/ All alone/ Shadows movin’/ Shadows have long gone by,” Lynch sings, his vocals filtered with hazy modulation. Even though the song was recorded long before Linkous’ death, it foreshadows the late singer-songwriter’s personal stigma. DNOTS may have many great tracks, but its most rewarding quality, aside from its former status as a forbidden pleasure, is the fact that it cemented a fitting bookend for Linkous’ career and his life.

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