Last month a mysterious poster arrived at the SPIN office advertising Dark Night of the Soul, a new album presented by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, featuring vocals from the likes of Iggy Pop, Frank Black, Flaming Lips, and the Strokes' Julian Casablancas (set for a July release). Curiously, the ad, which looks like a movie poster, lists director David Lynch... on "visuals." The project got us excited -- and a little confused -- so we looked into it, and heard an advance version of the record. Here's what we discovered:
Gnarls Barkley mastermind Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, a.k.a. North Carolina songwriter Mark Linkous, first worked together on Sparklehorse's last album, 2006's SPIN-praised Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain. Then they began writing songs for a collaborative release as Dangerhorse, which, Linkous said, would recruit a slew of guest singers.
In the process, Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton, a longtime fan of David Lynch films like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, asked the director to join the project. Lynch, who sings two songs on the album, added a multi-media aspect with a 100-page book of photos that will accompany the release. 50 of the pics will also be featured in a Dark Night of the Soul art exhibit at Los Angeles' Michael Kohn Gallery from May 30 - July 11.
What does the album sound like? The title, Dark Night of the Soul, provides clues. The phrase, from the writing of 16th-century Roman Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross, has become a metaphor for loneliness and desolation in a person's spiritual life. The all-star cast of vocalists -- also including Grandaddy's Jason Lytle, Cardigans' Nina Persson, and the Shins' James Mercer -- sing a loose narrative about solitude, lost love, and disturbing dreams. The music shifts genres from electro-pop and Ringling Bros.-like jingles to sludge metal and country, but is unified by the ethereal production sheen Mr. Mouse is known for.
Below, for the nerdiest of music nerds, we offer a track-by-track breakdown:
"Revenge," feat. Flaming Lips / 4:54
About reaping revenge on an ex lover and the man she left him for. "In my mind I have shot you and stabbed you through your heart," Wayne Coyne sings over a keyboard-driven waltz with bells, throbbing bass, and xylophone. "I had all the means of bringing you fuckers down." And you thought he was a UFO-lovin' hippie.
"Just War," feat. Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals / 3:44
Relationships are a battle. "Goodbye, sleep tight," Rhys sings, bidding a lover adieu. "Just war / You said it wouldn't hurt / The last survivor crawling through the dirt." Whistling, slide banjo, and layers of intermittent noises, from a detuned radio-like static to samples of honking car horns, make this one of the album's weirdest cuts.
"Jaykub," feat. Jason Lytle / 3:53
Like the Beatles -- if they were bred in rural Nebraska and fed magic mushrooms. Alt-country acoustic guitar joins a Sgt. Pepper's-like piano showtune and angelic backing vocals as former Grandaddy singer/songwriter Jason Lytle details a man's dream ofwinning an award. "They all thought that you were dumb / But it's you up on the podium," Lytle sings.
"Little Girl," feat. the Strokes' Julian Casablancas / 4:33
With a surf-rock drum beat and a Chuck Berry-on-acid electric guitar lead, this track's like a 1950s sock-hop at Ed Wood's house. And the Strokes frontman has a hot and scandalous date. "You twisted little girl / Showing them what love is all about," he sings about a conniving lass who stole his heart."Where did all the time go? / Everything is gone."
"Angel's Harp," feat. Frank Black / 2:56
Imagine the Pixies squealer fronting the Melvins. The religion- and love-themed lyrics are nothing new for Black -- but the slogging, uber-distorted electric guitars and skittering blips that sound like a disk drive from a 20-year-old computer certainly are. And they make him sound scarier than ever.
"Pain," feat. Iggy Pop / 2:52
"I'm a mix of god and monkey!" Pop spits in this chaotic punk tune with fuzzed-out guitars and charging, Stooges-like rhythms. "There are good people in this world of bums," he moans. "But sadly I am not one!" It's a song about pain -- and Pop's got plenty to sing about.
"Stars Eyes (I Can't Catch It)," feat. David Lynch / 3:11
The album's most transcendent, heart-wringing track is Lynch's lament on love lost. Fittingly, it's also the most filmic, custom made for a scene from one of his surrealist narratives. "I can't catch you... please, please comeback," he talk-sings as violins and oscillating whirs that sound like giant industrial fans prop him up. It's like Moby's Play filtered through a Monet painting.
"Everytime I'm With You," feat. Jason Lytle / 3:12
For Lytle, relationships and booze go hand in hand: "Every time I'm with you / I am drunk and you are, too / What the hell else are we supposed to do?" he whispers over a drowned-out piano melody. It's an plodding ode to intoxicated love -- and it leaves the listener feeling a little of both.
"Insane Lullaby," feat. the Shins' James Mercer / 3:10
The title couldn't be more fitting: this song's a lulling, blanket-snuggling Shins classic with Mercer's bright vocals -- covered in a wall of chaotic KMFDM-like industrial noises. "Dreams build up from the floor," he sings. "Life will never be enough!"
"Daddy's Gone," feat. Nina Persson and Mark Linkous / 3:08
The album's simplest song is also one of its best. This straightforward ballad finds Linkous -- in his only Soul vocal appearance -- dueting with the Cardigans singer about a child's vision of a hardworking father. The layers of melodies go down easy, as do its soothing one-liners: "Close your eyes, until your dreams arrive."
"The Man Who Played God," feat. Suzanne Vega / 3:10
This is the track to put Dark Night of the Soul on mom and pop's radar. It's another one of the album's few un-varnished guitar ballads -- and it's led by Vega's Feist-esque warble. There's a fun counting part, too. "1, 2, 3, you could be/ The man who played god."
"Grim Augury," feat. Vic Chestnut / 2:32
This song's a spooky pre-feast ritual at the Adams Family residence. "We're cutting a baby out / With my grandmother's heirloom / An antler handle carving knife!" Athens, GA, songwriter Chestnut sings in a creepy cackle over samples of ringing clock bells and haunting keys. "We're sharing holiday dinner... and catfish were wriggling in blood and gore in the kitchen sink!"
"Dark Night of the Soul," feat. David Lynch / 4:39
Lynch has an uncanny ability to transport an audience. And Dark Night of the Soul's closing track is a perfect example, taking the listener to a dusty Prohibition-era speakeasy with its 1920s jazz piano, vibrato electric guitar, and repeated lyrics of "shadows of the dark night... dark night of the soul." It'll make the hairs on the back your neck stand on end.