Review Summary: A heavenly collisionLux Prima
– Latin for “first light” – marks the intersection of two of the most interesting musical careers of the 2000s: Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeah’s) and collaborator/producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse. The former is among the most recognizable voices in the indie-rock scene, while the latter has a reputation for getting the most out of the artists he works with, be it producing Gorllaz’ Demon Days
or working with James Mercer (The Shins) on Broken Bells
. So when these two decided to share a studio and record Lux Prima
, expectations understandably shot through the roof.
It’s clear that the two have a symbiotic relationship, as Danger Mouse feeds off of Karen O’s wide vocal range while Karen melds beautifully into his spacious and atmospheric realms. They waste little time announcing their arrival, as the title track transforms from an epic, synthy slow-build of an introduction to groove-laden verses – all before relaxing its muscles and sinking back into a shimmering, rippling pool of strings/synths/electronics. It’s the kind of grand entrance one might expect for such a renowned collaboration; setting the scene for an epic showdown between Karen O’s seemingly limitless vocal spectrum and Danger Mouse’s boundless imagination. Fortunately for listeners, they both win.
Normally, over-the-top bids can spell trouble – but with a pairing this talented, the higher they aim the more impressive Lux Prima
becomes. The nine-minute eponymous opener, the six minute curtain-call ‘Nox Lumina’, and the sultry, mesmerizing sway of ‘Ministry’ all sound larger than life, and they resultantly comprise the record’s highlights. The bookend cuts illustrate Danger Mouse’s contributions in the studio, while ‘Ministry’ is primarily a vocal showcase. These heavyweight talents never feel at odds with one other, knowing exactly when to come in strong, when to fade back, and when to collide in gorgeous entanglement. It feels like a destined pairing; a natural fit for both artists that stretches their musical and imaginative bounds.
One descriptor that continuously comes to mind when attempting to qualify Lux Prima
, which probably sounds less flattering than intended, but it truly pegs exactly why
the album flows so well. Karen O does most of her damage in open space, when Danger Mouse crafts these translucent, almost aqueous backdrops that accent her fluctuations from high-pitched to low, or from sprightly and amiable (‘Turn The Light’) to aggressive and tribal (‘Woman’). Most of Lux Prima
’s nine tracks implement a few simple musical ideas, preventing it from ever sounding too busy while affording Karen with a tone
to adapt to. In other words, Danger Mouse does more guiding than dictating, which is a strategy that allows Lux Prima
almost to come across as a jam session. There’s no agenda, or if there is, you can’t tell. It’s just Karen O and Danger Mouse vibing off each other, immersing themselves in various moods/auras while responding to their own separate whims. More often than not, the results feel smooth, effortless, and organic.
The only time this album falters is when the atmosphere of a song feels boxed-in to begin with. It’s not a frequent occurrence, but on the pitter-pat drumming of ‘Redeemer’, for example, there’s little foundation to work with beyond a repetitive drum cycle and a handful of colorless guitar licks. This leaves Karen O with little wiggle room, and she ends up sounding awkward while bouncing back and forth between the lines “You're not coming for me / I'm coming for you” for what feels like a hundred refrains despite clocking in at three minutes. Technically one should chalk this up as a strike against Danger Mouse, but considering the number of times he manages to hit the emotional/atmospheric bullseye, it’s easy to overlook the rare songwriting misfire that occurs on Lux Prima
What we have here is an album crafted by two high-profile artists that manages to live up to the names involved. It’s somewhat unexpected just how well they mesh, though, crafting songs that don’t sound the part of a first-time collaboration. There’s obvious chemistry between these two in the studio, and Lux Prima
sounds more dynamic than even the most optimistic fan could have hoped. It’s intriguing to think about all the different directions they could go after this, should they continue their musical partnership. So here’s to hoping that they just make this thing official and give this project a name. O Danger
has a certain ring to it, but I’m sure they’ll figure something better out. As long as they keep making music together, I’ll be happy.