Dark Night of the Soul is not an easy listen. Not only is the title indicative of a somber concept album, but also telling of the album’s creation. Initially the collaborative album of Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and Sparklehorse (Mark Linkous) was highly hyped (though now it seems passe), largely for its slew of guest performers that includes James Mercer (The Shins), Iggy Pop, David Lynch, Julian Casablancas (The Strokes), Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips), Vic Chestnutt and more. The album was scheduled to be released last summer–and was leaked around that time–but for legal reasons involving EMI was officially released this month. In an ironic and morbid twist, Dark Night of the Soul, which references a biblical poem about spiritual crisis, is suggestive of the lives of Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Vic Chestnutt (featured on “Grim Augury”) whom both committed suicide between the time of the album’s creation and its official release.
The harrowing album conceptually swirls around a character’s search for love (or guidance), who haplessly spirals into an abyss of confusion and pain. As the album pushes forward it becomes increasingly harsher sonically and lyrically. The samples become alarming, scratching at the ears with sharp crackles and irritating chirps, letting up towards the end of the album in a sign of defeat. Even the arrangement of guest vocalists, moving from the dreamy vocals of Wayne Coyne to the eerie and edgy voice of Iggy Pop, indicates the albums shift. This shift will either entrance, or repel listeners.
For as much as pop critics will coo over this album (for its contributor and rigidity to its concept), this is not an album for everyone. While “Revenge” or “Just War” have Danger Mouse’s signature pop friendly production, “Angel’s Harp” and “Grim Augury” are almost too edgy, even off putting with lyrics like “catfish were wriggling in blood in the kitchen sink.”
Dark Night of the Soul is effectively (and thereby laudably) dark with a vivid storyline tightly told (a feat in itself considering its many contributors). This album is worth hearing, but will likely be stored on a collector’s shelf, only revisited on cold nights apt for a glass of liquor served neat with the intent of feeling the burn.