Sunday, 18 July 2010

Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul

Sparklehorse are a band that have only ever been on the periphery of my musical awareness, a familiar name but nothing more than that, so I don't have the same baggage when it comes to listening to this album as another reviewer might. For others as ignorant me, I should fill in the back story, so allow me. Sparklehorse was formed in the early 1990s by Mark Linkous; employing a rotating door policy on other members, Linkous was always the creative force, and main focal point of the band. A destructive relationship with drugs and alcohol, and a history of depression made for a volatile and unpredictable musical career, which ended prematurely in March 2010 when Linkous committed suicide in Knoxville, Tennessee during a bout of depression.

As well as his work with Sparklehorse, Linkous had a record of collaborating with a variety of artists, from Tom Waits, and PJ Harvey to Fennesz and, on Dark Night Of The Soul, the hip-hop impresario Danger Mouse. Danger Mouse is someone I know (slightly) more about, through his work with Gnarls Barkley and Dangerdoom. But Danger Mouse's hip-hop and electronic leanings on those projects are not so much in evidence here. This is a moody, atmospheric album, eerily portentous at times of Linkous' later suicide.

High Points

Each track on Dark Night of the Soul features a guest vocalist, including spots from Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, Iggy Pop, Strokes' Julian Casablancas and director David Lynch. Given the different vocal styles present on the album it holds together well, with a natural flow that means you don't feel like you're listening to a compilation.

Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals provides the haunting vocals for 'Just War', a bleak country tinted tune where he laments "Is this just war? / The last survivor crawling through the dust". And 'Daddy's Gone' which has Linkous' vocals intertwined beautifully with Cardigans' Nina Persson's is another melancholic masterpiece about lost innocence.

It's not all hard going though, 'Little Girl' raises the tempo a notch with Julian Casablancas' trademark monotone laid over a light melody which builds with distorted guitar and synth noises to a raucous conclusion. 'Angel's Harp' continues the rockier mood with grungy guitars and Black Francis' iconic drawl.

The Verdict

If I'm honest I enjoyed and endured this album in equal measure. Danger Mouse is clearly an artist at the top of his game right now, and a number of the tracks included here would stand out as instrumentals for an ambient album. That said the guest vocals liven up proceedings considerably, particularly with personalities like Iggy Pop and Black Francis on board.

My only gripe with this album is the bleak, brooding atmosphere present which makes for an unsettling listening experience at times.

Final Score: 60%

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