Review Summary: Think about the world you love. Now think of where it wants to go.
The spirit of Death roams the Dark Night Of The Soul
Profound, hey? But here’s the snag – not only is it true, it’s a truth that makes itself felt through every track on this legendary record. And again, another qualification: the legend is a subtle
one, one less known for its music than its story, a story now well known around certain circles (those circles being the ones most likely to pretend to belong to circles). Still, it’s one worth repeating here. In 2006, up and comer producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse works with indie stalwarts Sparklehorse on a few tracks off Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
. The result is intriguing and the aforementioned circles start grinding the press. A proper Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse collaboration? Will it happen? A few years pass, then, in 2009, it happens. Sort of. A mock movie poster does the rounds, and the “cast list” goes something like this: Danger Mouse, Sparklehorse, David Lynch, The Flaming Lips, Julian Casablancas, Iggy Pop, Frank Black, and a few other Gods reside in this newly built pantheon. The circles spin wildly. And wait. And wait.
And wait. A hundred-page full colour photographic booklet later (courtesy of Lynch), it turns out that a dispute between Danger Mouse and EMI means that the Dark Night Of The Soul
may very well remain shrouded in darkness, never to be released. So the artists do what anyone would do and release the album anyway, except with a blank CD-R in place of what would usually be a disc full of music. The inscription reads: “For legal reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will”. The wrangling goes on. On Christmas Day, 2009, Vic Chesnutt, collaborator, folk singer and paraplegic, dies from a drug overdose. The wrangling goes on. On March 6th, 2010, Mark Linkous, better known as Sparklehorse, shoots himself in the heart. Dark Night Of The Soul
, they called this one. But it has at least, come to light. And through the tragedy, what remains, this testament, is a spiraling exercise in gorgeous music, a record knee deep in that subtle legend, but ankle up a collection of tunes as haunting and surreal as the personas and events that surrounded it.
Could Wayne Coyne really have imagined the unbearable resonance his lyrics on “Revenge” would have just a few months later, as he crooned through its slow strings and shallow beat: “I guess it's a matter of sensation/ But somehow you have a way of avoiding it all/ In my mind/ I have shot you and stabbed you through your heart”? Yet as overbearing as it all sounds, the Dark Night Of The Soul
is still a record basked in warmth, playfulness even. How else to take the twinkling optimism of Gruff Rhys’ melodic swell across the Beatles-like “Just War”, even with lines like “Late September/ I heard the siren call a truce / But by December/ My head returned into the noose” – accompanied by a fractured summer whistle? Or the bright acoustic jangle of “Jaykub”? It’s this mix, this clash of the blossoming horizon of possibility together with angry realization of all that has-been, that provides the Dark Night Of The Soul
with so much of it’s incredible power. Just listen to the way Iggy Pop forces his way through the angular guitar fuzz of “Pain” before throwing his arms up in a cry of “etcetera, I give up, I quit!”.
Nevertheless, not everything here is characterized by this stark contrast of light and dark, and as the record approaches its second half, it opens up and reaches out to an expanse far wider than its first impressions radiate. To paint a picture, “Star Eyes” finds Lynch himself warbling through a heart-tugging soundscape of psychedelic delight, while Jason Lytle wrestles with bittersweet tensions of casual sex on “Everytime I’m With You”. It’s a swath of songs that are eminently human
, one which reaches it’s apogee on “Insane Lullaby”, a roughly cut diamond whose soaring strings and bright glockenspiel sparkle accompany perfectly James Mercer’s vivid weaving of images. And it’s here too, at the end, where the ghosts of the Dark Night Of The Soul
find their voice, with Linkous finally making himself visible with the help of Nina Persson on the upbeat folk of “Daddy’s Gone”, and Chesnutt’s earthy vocals swimming over a lapping pool of 70s styled synthlines on “Grim Augury”. So with all said and sung, the Dark Night Of The Soul
marks out a site of memory and beauty, a ground by which even in the half-hidden veil of its makers, there will always be the shining silver of music to look forward to.
In memory, Brandon Magnuson (Youaremysilence), February 9, 1993 - July 15, 2010.