Review Summary: An album full of sorrow and preceeded by the death of one of its creators, this album is nonetheless full of beauty and an incredible experience.
dark night of the soul - a period in a person's life, traditionally a Christian's, that is filled with intense darkness, desperation, and self-doubt, a feeling of almost complete separation from God, when all actions seem pointless and all prayers feel empty and unanswered
With that, I present to you Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse's Dark Night of the Soul, a highly anticipated collaboration between super-producer Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) and multi-instrumentalist Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), along with music and photobook contribution by filmmaker David Lynch and a bevy of different vocalists.
Before the album even starts, the listener's head is filled with the thoughts that are inextricably tied to this record: the extensive delay of the album by EMI, the Christmas day overdose death of contributing artist Vic Chesnutt, and finally, the self-inflicted gunshot to the heart of Linkous a few months later.
Heavy before the first notes even play, we are presented with "Revenge," a soft but determined keyboard-laden number with a decidedly dark tone. Wayne Coyne's (The Flaming Lips) smooth lament gives a feeling of helplessness and pain, and when he utters the line "In my mind, I have shot you, and stabbed you through your heart," one half of an incredible lyric, it takes on a meaning even bigger than the one initially intended. It is the perfect introduction to the album. Possibly the best track, it is incredibly beautiful, but also filled with sorrow.
This balance, the joyous and the sorrowful, the dark and the light, is the highlight throughout the album. Many of the songs have a light, bouncy feel (Just War, Jaykub, Little Girl) and other's a loud, raucous tone (Angel's Harp, Pain), and yet a delicate, dark pall hangs over the album throughout. Dark Night of the Soul contains a great variety of styles, but it has the most effect if viewed as a whole. Don't think about how different tracks such as "Daddy's Gone" and "Insane Lullaby" are. This is a compilation; of course there is going to be a bit of a disconnect. But Linkous and Burton do an incredible job of keeping it all together under the same dark, emotional shroud.
Even when the album kicks up the noise, which may harm the mood for some, the album retains its emotional punch. Two tracks, "Angel's Harp" and "Pain" are likely to be the biggest deal breakers for a skeptical listener. The fomrer has the feel of a western lament with interspersed moments of creaks and shrieks as Black Francis's vocals lumber along. The latter features raw guitars and Iggy Pop's deep-voiced, incredibly negative ramblings, stays true as ends with Iggy shouting, "Etcetera, I give up! I quit!" They are loud, whereas much of the album's strenght lies in quieter emotion. Some may view them as too brazen and disruptive, but they should be viewed as more of a transition to the quieter half of the album. The emotion, the focus, and the meaning remain consistent. All the tracks are different, from the eccentricities of the James Mercer-featured Insane Lullaby to the incredible gothic gloom of Vic Chesnutt's performance on "Grim Augury, This is a tribute to the skill of Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, who's influences are easily felt throughout the album. The slick, modern work of Danger Mouse is everywhere, while the music is saturated with Linkous's flair for creating music that touches the deep recesses of the soul.
dark night of the soul (cont'd) - the dark night is viewed as a necessary, even desirable thing, for after it is over one emerges a purer, enlightened being
Dark Night of the Soul is a tremendous weight. It is dark, and it is sad. The specter of the deaths of Linkous and Chesnutt hang over it. This is only one half of Dark Night of the Soul's effect though. The beauty of the album shines through with the sorrow. While you may feel a little down after finishing the album, you still come away satisfied, for this was a true musical experience. The music throughout is excellent, and relatively cohesive when you consider the wide array of contributors and varying styles. While this album may not be the best work of either Danger Mouse or Sparklehorse's excellent careers, that doesn't matter (though I assure you, it is still excellent). With Dark Night of the Soul, it is just as much about the experience as it is the skill. How often does a collaboration like this happen? With the emotions and events leading up to it's official release (it has been "available" for a year, but it wasn't officially released until July 13th of this year), this is a truly singular event that should be experienced once and appreciated always.