Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse’s “Dark Night of the Soul” (2010) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-07-17 12:31:19. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  3.5 / 5 stars

For over a decade, Brian Burton has made it his business to strike up some of the most unique alliances between artists and genres, and the results have, to a surprising degree, been both fascinating and entertaining.

Anyone who knows music knows that one or the other is fairly simple to achieve; any project able to be described by both modifiers is impressive.

You will likely have heard of Burton by his nom de plume Danger Mouse — or perhaps, more anonymously, as one half of Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells, or Danger Doom.  If you are one of the few who read liner notes, then you would also recognize him as the producer of recent albums by Beck and the Black Keys, among others.

If you are reading about him here for the first time, then you will most certainly recognize him as an artist who revels in the blending of elements that otherwise wouldn’t overlap under normal circumstances.  It is his affinity for such ventures, an attribute that would, in the hands of most artists, result in a disconnected collection of tracks, that drives and distinguishes Dark Night of the Soul.

First, it should be established that this record is defined by the “Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse present” formula (i.e. Danger Mouse on synthesizers and other instruments and Sparklehorse’s multi-instrumentalist Mark Linkous on guitars among other analog instruments).  Each track was co-written with a guest artist or band, who then sang the lead vocals.  Film maker David Lynch, who collaborated on the album as a whole, is the only guest to sing lead on more than one track.

By all rights, this should be an effort incapable of cohesion.

Instead, Dark Night of the Soul hinges not on the strength of individual tracks, but rather on the effect achieved by the whole.

Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse's "Dark Night of the Soul" (2010)

Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse's "Dark Night of the Soul" (2010)

The record is a multi-faceted exploration of the darker sides of humanity and the human psyche.  The first line of the opener, “Revenge,” refers to pain as “a matter of sensation,” the singer directing his lyrics at someone who has “ways of avoiding it all.”  Several tracks later, “Pain” explores the flip side from the perspective of a man — voiced fittingly by Iggy Pop — who “must always feel pain.”

Other songs cover similar ground, notably the latter half’s “Daddy’s Gone” that serves as a thematically relevant flip-side of sorts to “Little Girl,” which came six tracks earlier.  “Insane Lullaby” asserts that “A good life will never be enough,” echoing and extending the sentiment begun earlier in “Angel’s Harp” that “Though you might be walkin’ tall, everybody got a lot to grow.”  Both of these aforementioned track titles draw on the language of soothing religious and children’s music, diction that is belied by the gloomy content of the lyrics.

The final pairing of the album, “Grim Augury” and the title track (tracks 12 and 13), present the final descent into darkness.  Vic Chesnutt’s voicing of the former is additionally haunting following the news of his suicide shortly after recording the song.  His request, then, that his “sweetie” not sing “this sad song, grim augury” seems a moot point, being as it’s an augury after-the-fact for listeners who waited until the recent official release of the album following EMI’s inter-label nonsense.

Still, Chesnutt’s song is perhaps the most dramatic track on the album, lyrically speaking, as he sings: “I was peering in through the picture window.  It was a heart-warming tableau like a Norman Rockwell painting until I zoomed in.”  The haunting scene which he sees is a bloody one and is imbued with portents of violence; up to this point there had only been emotional turmoil and less physical notions of pain.  Even “Just War” could easily be argued in a metaphoric rather than literal sense.

With Chesnutt, there is no question about the “horrible dream” and the true darkness expressed by the track.

In March of this year, four months before the official release of Dark Night of the Soul, Linkous took his own life as well, reportedly by a rifle blast to the chest.  As much as one might accept on an intellectual level that music should be taken for what it is, separate from context, it is difficult to separate the tragic deaths of Linkous and Chesnutt from their performances on this haunting release. (They are, after all, dedicated to the memory of the two artists.)

It is difficult not to listen to these recordings with a renewed sense of their depth.  To be sure, they are not all depressing, but the closest the album comes to upbeat is the reckless tone of “Everytime I’m With You” or the melancholy of “Jaykub.”

So, in the end, you get what you’re promised from the outset, from the title.  It is a bit more serious, a bit more real than most music is able to manage, and it comes at a high price.

The 2009 Wheel Horse Tractor Show: A pictorial review…

By Chris Moore:

This past weekend, I was out of town from Thursday to Saturday for the 11th annual Wheel Horse Tractor Show in Arendtsville, Pennsylvania.  This has become a yearly trek for my father and I — a highly anticipated and relaxing bonding experience as we drive six hours to the South Mountain Fairgrounds, walk around the show together, and spend the nights finding dinner and getting as much sleep as possible before our consistently early morning wake-up.

We have to get up early — after all, the show only comes but once a year and there’s a lot to do!

Thanks to my iPhone, I was able to capture some great images from our trip, and now I’d like to share them with you as a scrapbook of sorts, documenting our weekend.  I’ll start with a few from the road, but I promise that most of the pictures will be directly related to the tractor show.

The trip starts by packing up the truck, including driving my dad’s 1968 Wheel Horse Commando 6 into the bed of his Silverado.  After numerous bungee cords, ropes, and bed buggies, we’re ready to go.  A great addition this year was the cooler for drinks.  Just water and soda… :-)

Pennsylvania Bound...

Pennsylvania Bound...

On the road, we always run across some interesting sights.  This year, we were caught in some traffic on the Tappan Zee bridge with a tractor trailer.

Just a tractor trailer...

Just a tractor trailer...

It was a sky blue color with clean chrome, a clear title of the company on the door, and…

...except for the Batgear-esque spikes to shred the tires of your foes!

...except for the Ben Hur style spikes!

…huge spikes sticking out from the tires!

Now, I’ve seen some decorative hubcaps, but these take the prize for most potentially dangerous.

"Precious" Paper for Precious Cargo

"Precious" Paper for Precious Cargo

As a final personal photograph before I begin the tractor show images, I will share the extra toilet paper roll that I found in our hotel room.  I thought this was a great brand, and I couldn’t help but think of Gollum…

So, the show began on Thursday with the dropping off of the tractor.  We chose and were able to get a slot in one of the enclosed barns, which ensured that we wouldn’t have to worry about rain.  A few years ago, it rained and the mud that was kicked up onto the tractor was a pain to kick off.  My dad and I took turns to go “cruising” around the grounds, which was a lot of fun.  The best way to see the show really is to tour it on a tractor.

Cruisin' time...

Cruisin' time...

Some of the tractors at the show are in decent shape, some are terribly rusted and show the signs of age, and some are more pristine than the day they left the production line.  Then there are some that don’t look anything like any other tractors — these are the modified tractors.  Since I took so many pictures of the show-quality tractors last year, I decided to focus on some of the more unique ones this year…

Modified, articulating tractor

Modified, articulating tractor

The articulating tractors are intriguing to watch, and must be very interesting to ride.

Some like to add a softer touch…

How many horses do you think that tractor has?

How many horses do you think that tractor has?

And then there are some for whom the standard 6 or 8 or even 12 horse engines are simply not enough…

Yes, that tractor is faster than my car!

Yes, that tractor is faster than my car!

A constant throughout the show, whether the collectors be the purists who believe every part should be as loyal to the original configuration as possible or those that are more liberal with their restorations, is an interest in this ONE brand of tractors.  Take the classic slogan…

I've got a horse!  WHEEL HORSE, of course!

I've got a horse! WHEEL HORSE, of course!

Some tractor enthusiasts come up with new and different ways to involve the whole family…

A tractor for three

A tractor for three

…and others are interested in the stock tractors only, preserving the history of this brand.

Take this Toro Wheel Horse that is painted purple with flames.  Believe it or not, this is a stock tractor purchased directly from a showroom.

This must be a fast tractor!

This must be a fast tractor!

These tractors were produced as part of a promotional campaign.  Believe it or not, there is NOT an engine on this tractor.  (Note below that the chrome exhaust does not actually connect to anything!)  These were purely for driving interest in the standard line of tractors that Toro had to offer at the time.

Take a closer look... no engine!

Take a closer look... no engine!

A final — and quite possibly the most impressive — unique tractor at the show was a tractor that had been converted into a flatbed truck, complete with smoke stacks, a light bar, hydraulic lift and winch, and so much more.

Now THIS is a custom tractor!

Now THIS is a custom tractor!

Take a look from behind…

Mud flaps and all!

Mud flaps and all!

As a final pictorial note, the Tech Session — hosted by Bill Pearson — focused on steering systems this year.  One of the points he made involved a front axle that was used on many different tractors from the earlier years.  As you’ll see below, the same axle design is used in one direction for a series of years…

Take a close look at the shape of the front axle.

Take a close look at the shape of the front axle.

…then gets flipped upside down and used for another series of years.

Same axle, different direction.

Same axle, different direction.

Well, that about wraps it up for this post.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my scrapbook of highlights from the 2009 Wheel Horse Collectors’ Club Show!