Album Review: Sparklehorse & Danger Mouse – Dark Night of the Soul


What does one get when cross-breeding the world renowned director of Lost Highway, the sonically visionary half of Gnarls Barkley, and an ensemble cast of musicians spanning The Flaming Lips and The Shins? Some say a hipster’s wet dream, some say the most over-hyped, overpriced 13-track of 2009. Either way, it leaves the staff of CoS wanting something more tangible, something beyond an online stream. Ergo, to avoid fronting the staggering $50+ for a commemorative blank CD-R and a book of David Lynch’s photography, this reviewer did what all hard working Americans do in hard times, he downloaded it.

Since the appearance of the bizarre promotional posters at South by Southwest 2009, two things left me pricking my up ears in anticipation: the mention of both Danger Mouse and David Lynch. For just over two years, Sparklehorse‘s one man band Mark Linkous has collaborated with the one and only Danger Mouse to create what we can only assume to be the ultimate self-reflective side project, with considerable focus on the images created by Lynch and the overwhelming support from all the guests featured on Dark Night of the Soul, a few of which have previously worked with Linkous through his Sparklehorse moniker.

So looking past the sly marketing and curious imagery, does Dark Night of the Soul stack up to even the philosophy its title is shared with? Oddly, it comes incredibly close, but not enough to warrant the asking price. We can assume that the blank discs you get with your paid order are meant to facilitate the MP3s easily found online for free, since current legal disputes prohibit EMI from releasing any songs officially. Therefore, you pay $50 for a photo collection (from a famous filmmaker, no less) and a piece of cheap plastic. If you are an insanely giddy collector of Twin Peaks memorabilia, this may appeal to you, but for others it feels mildly egotistical.

Musically, what you receive upon entering the first song “Revenge” is …Pink Robots-era Wayne Coyne singing of a vengeful fantasy alongside dreamscapes of auditory bliss. The track could be at home beside a number of Guster’s soundtrack appearances. While that might make for cookie cutter songwriting, please note that the album itself seems to play out like the score to an unfinished Lynch film, appropriately. Also fitting is the next song, “Just War” featuring Super Furry Animals mastermind Gruff Rhys who puts on a mild sheen of “Juxtaposition with U”, giving us something like an Amnesiac throwback with jingle-jangle appeal. It should be mentioned that Mark Linkous did work with Thom Yorke previously for a Pink Floyd cover, so maybe this rubbed off on him somewhat.

Keeping in stride with synth pop sensibilities and indie rock persuasions, we get the lesser of two appearances by Granddaddy’s Jason Lytle on “Jaykub” before cutting to the most famous dark circled eyes in alternative since Liam Gallagher, Julian Casablancas. The Strokes’ front man takes the voice later copied by the likes of The Killers and cements his place with phenomenal track “Little Girl”:

You tortured little girl,
showing them what life is all about.
Where did all the wine go?
Every night it’s gone.

You got it all worked out,
funny little girl,
showing them what fate is all about.
Where did all the time go?
Every night it’s gone, gone, gone.

After Casablancas’ foray into collaborating with Linkous and Danger Mouse, we get another quite respected face thrown in with Black Francis giving a well-known Pixies distorted edge to “Angel’s Harp”. This is by far the best track on Dark Night of the Soul, the second being Jason Lytle’s saving grace titled “Everytime I’m With You” and third being Iggy Pop’s twisted Willy Wonka-boat-trip-fuck-all, simply called “Pain”. This trio of songs makes the entire album worth hearing with Francis’ electronic crashes meshing with religious metaphors, Lytle’s nearly perfect attempt at what brings back memories of the Six Feet Under opening theme, and Iggy Pop’s no mercy middle finger doused in white noise and harmonizing ghosts.

Give or take a few glimpses of auditory dementia, probably alluding to St. John’s famous treatise about spiritual loneliness, the latter half of Dark Night of the Soul feels like it is gradually fading out into gentle sleepy obscurity. “Insane Lullaby” features The Shins’ James Mercer scoring what seems to be the hallucinations of an asylum patient’s childhood memories. Past this we get another Sparklehorse collaborator, The Cardigans’ own Nina Persson on back-to-back songs “Daddy’s Gone” and “The Man Who Played God”. This is a truly astonishing female vocalist, and for those who are not familiar they simply need to listen here.

Persson’s first inclusion feels like a genetic blend of The Flaming Lips and Tori Amos while the second comes off as properly chilling but also extremely breathtaking. Following the only throwaway (a Vic Chessnutt donation called “Grain Augury”), the title track finishes us off with something that would probably be trivial used any other way – the clicks and redundancies of a skipping record married to gloomy jazz accoutrement and haunting vocals by David Lynch himself.

On the whole Dark Night of the Soul actually lives up to its namesake, accurately depicting recurring themes in the visions of Lynch and the stranger side of all artists involved. While I admit the lengths in keeping this psychedelic regalia mysterious were mildly overdone, not even that can deride me from admiring Dark Night of the Soul for what it is – a nearly perfect album much like a great drug to lose your mind on. If the book were a might bit cheaper, I would easily recommend buying it if only out of sheer curiosity. The group effort presented here gives me faith that more ambitious projects could easily succeed in the near future (Folds and Hornby, I dare you to do better).

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Dark Night of the Soul