Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dark Night of the Soul

The Grey Album was a riot, no, but I can hardly say I loved it all that much. I'd rather not listen to that much concentrated Jay-Z, thanks, even when he is backed by the Fabs.

But the sheer transgressive thrill of it! I'm game for anything that samples The Beatles creatively. And then, of course, there was the record's sheer unobtainability, back in those far-off days of 2004 when downloading a samizdat album was still something of a thrill, like being part of a select club, rather than these days when you can get any album you choose over the interwebs. A mash-up of a record that could never get released featuring a band whose governing interests are still highly suspicious of anything digital. Delicious!

And now, oh Goddess of Irony: Danger Mouse, the creative brains behind The Grey Album, seems to fallen foul of EMI and those 19th century copyright laws again, for who knows what reason. I don't propose discussing the byzantine byways, cul-de-sacs and dead-ends of licensing and copyright and clearance law (for that, HearCanal drops regular and well-formed thought packages). But the new record currently languishing in limbo, Dark Night of the Soul, sounds, to these irretrievably rockist ears, like a far richer listening experience than The Grey Album ever was. And it's looking like it might never be released! W00t! Go EMI! Etc.

Dark Night of the Soul seems to be the work of Danger Mouse, Sparklehouse (whose name I can never hear without hearing the japanese music journalist in Meeting People is Easy misnaming them Sparklyhorse. An improvement...) and, of all people, David Lynch, plus a host of collaborators, including Iggy Pop, Frank Black, Flaming Lips, The Shins and more. Sparkelhorse and Dangermouse look after all the music, Lynch after the photography that accompanies the project. At this point, some unspecified dispute led to the album being mothballed. That hasn't stopped the team behind Dark Night releasing the album; except that now it comes with a blank CDR scrawled with the legend: "For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will."

At which point, eyes roll heavenward, fists bunch and a small amount of blood leaks from the mouth as the thwarted listener contemplates the far-sightedness of EMI, a company finding ever more dispiriting ways of trashing its brand. OK, in the spirit of fairness: the artists might be spitting the dummy over some trifle that's currently opaque, though one suspects not. Whatever. The album sounds fantastic.

I know this because the whole thing is available for your listening pleasure at NPR's Dark Night of the Soul listening pages, though who knows for how much longer. There are some dustily beautiful songs here, woozily padded with that gauzy starlight that illuminates Dangermouse's best productions, with thick black forest harmonies and sepia-coloured songs from The Shins and Jason Lyttle and The Flaming Lips.

Enough yakking from me. Go listen.

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