Some nights of the soul are obviously darker than others. During the year-long dispute with EMI that held up this album's release, two of the musicians involved have taken their own lives, the disabled songwriter Vic Chesnutt by an overdose of muscle-relaxant drugs last Christmas Day, while Mark "Sparklehorse" Linkous shot himself earlier this year.
If that suggests Dark Night of the Soul might be hewn from the bleakest recesses of the human spirit, that's only partly accurate: for while Linkous's co-producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton acknowledges the common themes here involve "pain, revenge, war [and] twisted dreams", these realisations of those themes are somehow infused with uplifting moments, joyous melodies and the sheer exuberance of creativity.
The project began four years ago when Burton was working on the Sparklehorse album Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, and suggested getting guest vocalists to perform some songs Linkous wasn't comfortable singing himself. The line-up ultimately assembled includes members of The Strokes, Flaming Lips, Pixies, Shins, Stooges, Grandaddy, The Cardigans and Super Furry Animals, along with the film director David Lynch, who besides singing a couple of tracks, also provided the visuals for the limited-edition art book and gallery installation, which accompanied the project's initial "release" (minus music) last year.
Despite the wide-ranging cast, there's a pleasing homogeneity about the album, which throughout bears the ambient creep'n'crawl of static, scratch and hiss that was Linkous's sonic signature – his genius being the way he used it to bring a patina of distressed rusticity to Sparklehorse's indie-rock. Here, it's particularly effective behind Lynch's treated vocals on "Star Eyes (I Can't Catch It)" and the closing title-track, where the director is a haunting, shadowy presence dimly discernible behind curtains of effects, like a dream-figure from one of his movies.
Jason Lytle is another notably successful collaborator on two tracks, "Jaykub"'s dream of belated recognition delivered over a throbbing organ, while "Everytime I'm with You" has a psychedelic fairground feel appropriate to a lyric about dissipation: "Every time you come by we get so trashed, stay up all night/ Well it's so wrong, but it's so right".
Elsewhere, Flaming Lips and Gruff Rhys help question the notions of "Revenge" and a "Just War" respectively, while a heavier mid-album trio of songs featuring Julian Casablancas, Black Francis and Iggy Pop finds all operating at greater potency than on their own recent work, the latter cheerfully proclaiming, "I'm a mix of god and monkey/ Pain, pain, pain, is all that will remain". Chesnutt's grim litany of harbingers and portents in "Grim Augury" is the darkest point of the album, while Linkous's own duet with Nina Persson, the string-laced psychedelic pop piece "Daddy's Gone", provides the brightest. It's just a shame that its message, about each day being a rebirth, was not one he could take to heart himself: "I woke up, and all my yesterdays are gone".
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