A little focus would have provided a sharper image.
Karen O and Danger Mouse thought about teaming up years ago, but it took most of a decade for a collaboration to come to fruition. The resulting album, Lux Prima, might surprise fans of both artists, particularly those of Karen O. The pair weaves their way through a variety of genres, sometimes within the course of a single track, but keep the entire disc dreamy. With its carefully orchestrated sound, it takes on a peculiar sheen in its relaxed mode, one that the artists take to despite not playing to their strengths.
The chill-out aesthetic begins with the opening title track, making listeners immediately aware not to expect the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gnarls Barkley or any of the artists’ previous work. Eventually the production will touch more on Danger Mouse’s past, looking back maybe 10 or so years sonically, but its first minutes stay embedded in a cool, cinematic place, “Lux Prima” changing directions enough to function like a suite.
That track and others like it are well executed, but they can drift, which is the album’s greatest struggle. The dreaminess sometimes wanders off. Some of that comes from the pair fully engaging slower, spacier music, but some of it stems from a freedom that turns into a lack of center. Karen O and Danger Mouse buy into a single vision, but they occasionally chase it without being willing to corral it.
When they’re on, though, they’re on. Karen O uses the voice we’ve become accustomed to with good affect. The dance-rock “Turn the Light” utilizes just a touch of her bratty side while keeping a steady control. “Woman” calls to mind Hal Blaine (at least partly because of his recent death), turning a girl-group beat into a contemporary fierceness. Karen O has always been best when sounding like a bottle about to burst without ever losing a grip on the cork, and she turns in that sort of performance here.
Using her natural proclivities serves her well, but Karen O reveals true versatility across the disc. She can enter an imaginative nightclub as chanteuse, speak-sing a message, or trip out. Danger Mouse changes modes with equal skill, keeping downtempo roots without ever settling in one place. Lux Prima with its strings and ambience mostly stays clear of traditional beats, even he uses elements of instrumental hip-hop at times.
With two stellar musicians pushing themselves into new, overlapping territory, the album carries not just novelty but a sense of creative excitement in the exploration. A track like “Redeemer” shows how the two can intuitively merge their styles, while a track like “Lux Prima” lets them chase something different together. Each sort of piece provides its own pleasure, but the album as a whole feels more like something still in the sandbox. Everything is carefully crafted, and the joy of creativity comes through, but it misses direction beyond that. Lux Prima offers a nice atmosphere and a few insights, but a little focus would have provided a sharper image.