Review Summary: A blissfully dark and surreal experience combining numerous artistic talents as well as artistic forms that will definitely make some form of impact.
A cloaked man arduously albeit intently traverses a winding Tarkovsky-esque path seemingly leading into a light in the sky. Years he has invested into this endeavor and yet the remainder of his journey is potentially infinite. Watch this for hours. And suddenly… he drops to his knees simultaneously as the sky turns to an eerie night. The man has descended into a spiritual crisis, bombarded with an inescapable sense of loneliness and desolation. This is the man’s “dark night of the soul”--as Saint John of the Cross described it.
Hypnotically and absorbedly, watch this… and you get an idea of the themes and experience of listening to this album.
Dark Night of the Soul is a major collaborative effort, as Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) recruit numerous prominent musicians, as well as David Lynch--director of films such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Dr. (So maybe you should picture that first paragraph I wrote as being directed by Lynch). These three names should already construct one’s expectations of this album: a coalescence of Linkous’s euphoric surrealism, Lynch’s dark and disquieting surrealism, wrapped in Burton’s innovative production. The myriad of other artists, from The Flaming Lips to Iggy Pop and Julian Casablancas of the Strokes to James Mercer of The Shins, together promote a variety of genres and influences to be found on the record. You will hear some bedroom and electro-pop, some psychedelia and blues, some country, and some punk, amongst other things.
“Revenge,” featuring The Flaming Lips, hits immediately as a stellar album opener. Wayne Coyne sings a downtempo keyboard and bass groove, painting a dreamscape of ex-lover revenge fantasies. You feel like you’re floating blissfully on a cloud, popped every once in a while as you’re reminded of the scornful lyrics, playing out like a darker “In the Morning of the Magicians.”
“Revenge’s” outro of marching snare rolls and vibrato guitar, lead smoothly into the delicate piano and slide banjo intro to “Just War,” featuring Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals. It builds until electronic distortion and the noise of street traffic paves the way toward the groovy swing guitar and country feel that will continue as a motif through the rest of the track. Rhys sings with his crooning vocals very similar to that of Coyne on the track before. There is a lot going on in this song. On top of the aforementioned, there are string parts, catchy whistling, and honking cars that give this a surreal but relaxed walking to work in the morning feel.
This cohesive flow between tracks is ever-present throughout the album. Therefore, you can see a definite tact and holism to the progression and composition of the album, much like the unfolding of a film. Lynch aside, this is no surprise since Burton has always emphasized his production philosophy as that of a film auteur.
Like Revenge, a handful of these songs have deceptively positive atmospheres accompanied by dark, borderline morbid lyrics. “Little Girl,” featuring Julian Casablancas of The Strokes dives straight into an upbeat psychedelic surf-style guitar, marking the slow spiral into the heavier stuff. The two songs that follow (“Angel’s Harp” featuring Frank Black of The Pixies and “Pain” featuring Iggy Pop), have a sludgy and distorted punk feel, emphasized by Black’s and Pop’s raspy vocals.
“Pain” and Pop crescendo into aural madness until it just stops and “Stars Eyes (I Can’t Catch It)” comes in as almost a sinister but deceptive reassurance of calm. It plays as a loopy interlude. David Lynch’s vocals are pitch-perfect and depressively heart-wrenching. Lynch comes back to sing in the title track--a very creepy and unnerving, but entirely appropriate closer. If you’ve seen Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, you will definitely be returning to familiar territory. This is a downbeat track with a repeating speakeasy piano riff and a constant static overlay, all wrapped in muffled quality. You can easily picture yourself in an uneasy bar on a slow night, in black and white and a haze of cigarette smoke.
The theme of the “dark night of the soul”--this motif of isolation, desolation, and love lost--is pulverized throughout but it actually often sounds soothing… like you’re spiraling gradually into purgatory. It promotes a full immersion into music along with so many opportunities to just visually picture some crazy ***. Thus, the album really emphasizes that not only is this a collaboration of artists but an amalgam of art forms. You have music with very noticeable elements of film and painting--especially (of course) the surreal. Every track is unique, and the album as a whole deserves multiple listens to fully digest the oddity and creativity, from the individual subtleties and idiosyncrasies, to the ultimate holistic appreciation. Mark Linkous (rest in peace) should find at least some solace knowing that he was part of this impressive effort.