Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of The Soul (Emi)

There is a power in music. Something inexpressible and emotional. It has the ability to create whole new genres, though at its best perhaps even whole new worlds. Sparklehorse was a fragile melancholic window into Mark Linkous’ soul. There was beauty in his damaged eccentric phrasing and vulnerable wounded vocals, a weary world battered experimental countrified folk that could alternatively be tender or shrill, perhaps even violent. But with his suicide in March we realised that the dark edge was all too real. Held up for years in legal wrangling this is his last album.

It’s curious that someone who made such personal idiosyncratic music, would increasingly over successive albums thrive on collaboration and be willing to step aside vocally for the majority of these tunes. That said many of the vocalists are cyphers. Linkous’ phrasing lives in the majority of them. Except maybe Iggy Pop, who gets the one fuzzy aggressive act, or indie rocker James Mercer (The Shins), and Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) who provides lead vocals on the un Sparklehorse Little Girl. Despite a certain continuity of approach between the likes of Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips) and Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) who both appear and drop the jaw, the Linkous ghost is omnipresent, and more than welcome.

The earlier Sparklehorse albums have a personal bedroom feel, however more recently the Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley) influence has given Linkous a broadened widescreen almost symphonic grandeur. The beats really kick and the electronics are lasting. We’ve got Black Francis (Pixies), Vic Chesnuntt, who also wasn’t long for this world, Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals), even Suzanne Vega, but the real unexpected highlight is David Lynch’s vocals. His two songs are earnest sleazy lullabies, yet his nasal Jimmy Stewart drawl is simultaneously spooky, tragic, treated and genus. It’s all wrong. His photos which adorn the inner slick are of course the extremity of noir weirdness, but they highlight the desire of Linkous to extend his music beyond his world into a collective uncontrolled place of darkness and beauty. This is a raw and harrowing album, the hard won glimpses of beauty a fitting way for a great troubled talent to be remembered, mourned, but most of all celebrated.


Flaming Lips – Embryonic (Warner)

flaming lips

From Soft Bulletin onwards they kept up the mantra that the more experimental their techniques the more pop their sounds, almost like they were throwing up their hands and apologising for falling into line. Yet the soundtrack to last years Christmas on Mars feature seems to have irrevocably altered the band and returned them to their haphazard playful and at times noisy roots. This album is a world away from the comfortable calculated (read boring) pop of Do You Realize. It’s a dark psychedlic trip. It’s experimental and atmospheric, but most of all it’s sprawling, self indulgent and uncontained, with the songs taking a back seat behind the band’s flights of sonic fancy. That’s not to say it’s not musical, it’s just that it’s a little bit mental and messed up in the inspired beautiful way that Flaming Lips used to do it, albeit with better production values. We’re talking 18 tracks here, 70 odd minutes and it tangents around madly in a way that steadfastedly refuses coherance. Initially it’s dense and overwhelming, the structures don’t makes sense, the sounds are weird, some distorted, others just plain wrong, yet after a while you give in to their world and it all starts to make a messed up kind of sense. MGMT appear, as does Karen O making sound effects on the endearing nursery rhyme I Can Be a Frog, but the breadth of this album just can’t be ignored. Gone is the trippy uplifting confetti, the dancing animal suits, the beach balls and in return we’re left with this dark psychedlic trauma, a weird slightly playful paranoia, and a feeling that the band is back and anything is possible.

This album is audacious. You can’t shake the notion that they didn’t have to do this, yet in their 26th year as a band they have crafted the most vital, exploratory and artistic vision of their career.

Bob Baker Fish