This was one of the first “indie rock” albums I ever heard, having grown tired of overplaying my Radiohead records. This was before I knew what concepts like “indie rock”, “Danger Mouse” or “Sparklehorse” were – I just liked the cover and whatever David Lynch photographs I could find on the internet (especially the one of the team; see below). And I thought I was in the presence of two heavy-hitters (little did I know that neither Danger Mouse but especially Sparklehorse were all that important in the grand scheme of things), and the feature-heavy tracklist was something else to marvel (I had never encountered something like that before), even if the only one I knew was Julian Casablancas (of the Strokes). The logic was, there’s so many big names (quantity), that it has to be great (quality)! It didn’t let me down, not really, and through this album, I worked my way backwards into the discographies of Danger Mouse (perfectly rated indie rock and sometimes hip-hop producer); Sparklehorse (overrated indie rocker from the Elliott Smith school of whispering things to convey emotion); the Flaming Lips (perfectly rated psychedelic band who have since completely disappeared up Wayne Coyne’s ass; my then-girlfriend pointed me towards “Do You Realize??” upon hearing that I liked “Revenge”), Super Furry Animals (overrated indie rockers who were at the right place at the right time); the Shins (overrated indie rockers whom I have next to nothing to say about except that “Know Your Onion!” is underrated pop perfection).
It might seem odd that I bounded from this directly to the Shins (because of a James Mercer feature) and Super Furry Animals (because of a Gruff Rhys feature) and not the Pixies (because of a Black Francis feature) or The Stooges (because of a Iggy Pop feature). Rest assured: the Pixies, the Stooges and even Iggy Pop’s solo career are worth more than those indie bands, but both artist’s contributions to Dark Night of the Soul have the disadvantage of being clunky, forgettable, serviceable-at-best rockers. Same goes for Julian Casablancas’ contribution, which isn’t all that surprising since even a naive, younger version of me knew that the Strokes had played their hand in 2006.
On that note, the album is sequenced to act in suites: the first three songs are a psych pop segment, the next three are a punk rock segment, the next three go back to psych pop, then we have two light folk-pop songs and then two dark ones.
But most of the other songs, especially in the psych pop category, all satiate either melodic or atmospheric interests; sometimes both. My favourite of these is “Star Eyes (I Can’t Catch It).” As heard in the closer and title track, or David Lynch’s ill-advised solo career, Lynch can’t sing, but here, his non-singing works just fine, digitally-enhanced and teasing out the words one at a time such that there’s a slight tune, backed by strings leading into Sparklehorse (?) whispering “I can’t catch it” over a soft but skittering electronic backdrop. Elsewhere, Jason Lytle’s “Jaykub” has the album’s best tune, replete with fake audience to contribute to the song’s setting of a dream; the concluding couplet (“Up on the podium, you’re famous and you’re strong / Then the alarm goes off and you’re a sad man in a song”) has the most gravitas of any song on the album. The Flaming Lips’ “Revenge” recalls the Flaming Lips of 1999-2002(/2006) that people fell in love with; something that the band moved away from with Embryonic that same year, and though I stand by what I said about Super Furry Animals previously, there’s no denying that sometimes they – Gruff Rhys – sometimes hand in a good tune, the Beatles-esque “Just War” included.
And the James Mercer feature – though tuneless – is at least interesting in a way that feature James Mercer & Danger Mouse songs as Broken Bells are not. Listening to the Shins or Broken Bells and then hearing “Insane Lullaby” is off-setting because there isn’t another song like this in Mercer’s discography, where his sweet voice, backed by bells and strings, is set against the dark crunch of guitars; “Insane Lullaby” indeed. Nina Persson (of the Cardigans) and Suzanne Vega (of Suzanne Vega) show up afterwards, adding a feminine and folkier touch to the album; of these, “Man Who Played God” is the better one, thanks to Vega’s sighed intervals. Afterwards, Vic Chestnutt (who, liked Mark Linkous, committed suicide shortly after the release of this album) and David Lynch lead the album back to darker pastures, though neither “return-to-darkness” songs offer much: the Tim Hecker-like atmosphere of the title track is undercut by the frankly ridiculous vocals.
Last thing: Sparklehorse sucks, especially that album with the Stephen King-like cover and stoopid name that I bet you don’t know off the top of your head, even if you liked that album; one of many artists overrated for romantic stories. Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot – copy paste – and Good Morning Spider are a few good songs each (“Someday I Will Treat You Good” and “Pig”) surrounded by a sea of shit. It’s no coincidence that his two best albums, this one and It’s a Wonderful Life (his best solo album), are feature-heavy.