Haunting or haunted? After the deaths of Chesnutt, Linkous, album released
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s hard not to think of the longawaited “Dark Night of the Soul” as a tragic album.
First delayed by legal wrangling, then indelibly marked by the suicides of co-creator Mark Linkous and contributor Vic Chesnutt, the album carried some heavy baggage when it finally came out July 13.
Yet Brian Burton says he can separate the experience of listening to the album from the emotions he’s left with since Linkous’ death earlier this year. So when he hears his favorite cut, “Revenge,” and the way Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne lays down a heartbreaking vocal, the producer who works as Danger Mouse flashes to one of his happiest moments with his close friend.
“It’s just a great song,” Burton said in a phone interview. “There’s just something about it. And it makes me think of Mark a lot in a heavy kind of way, but I don’t get sad about it. I just remember the two of us, when we first heard what Wayne did with it, us celebrating and everything. It was really great.”
With its dark themes and haunting beauty, the album already cast a melancholy spell. Years in the making, it was highly anticipated and marked some of the best work in the very different careers of the men who created it.
Yet viewed through the prism of real-life events, the album takes on deeper meaning. Linkous, who recorded and performed as Sparklehorse, and Chesnutt were critically acclaimed singer-songwriters who were destined to get their widest exposure yet upon the release of “Dark Night.”
Chesnutt, who forged a heralded and unlikely career following a car crash that left him mostly paralyzed, killed himself on Christmas after years of depression that included other suicide attempts. Linkous also dealt with depression and shot himself in March.
Burton said Linkous and Chesnutt examined the depths of their depression in their music, adding the kind of layers and complexity not often expected in pop music.
Many of the songs on “Dark Night” are sugarcoated meditations on life’s blacker moments featuring singers Julian Casablancas, Black Francis, Suzanne Vega, Nina Persson, Gruff Rhys, filmmaker David Lynch and others. Chesnutt’s contribution, “Grim Augury,” is a particularly harrowing hallucinatory vision of despair.
“When people are singing, there’s something behind what they’re saying,” Burton said of the album’s 13 songs. “They’re not just writing a tune and trying to get 99 cents on iTunes or something. There’s real things being talked about and said, and really the artists have a lot going on with them as people.”
Linkous and Burton met six years ago when the producer mentioned his appreciation for Sparklehorse to a group of people that coincidentally included Linkous’ manager, who sent the musician a copy of Danger Mouse’s breakthrough, “The Grey Album.”
The two struck up a friendship over the phone and Burton decided to help Linkous finish 2006’s “Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain.” It seemed like an odd pairing. Burton is best known for being half of the duo Gnarls Barkley (who had the monster hit “Crazy”) and a string of eclectic projects. Linkous produced music his longtime friend and collaborator Scott Minor called “true Southern gothic” that was highly influential yet inhabited the fringe of independent music.
The two hit it off while working on four “Dreamt for Light Years” songs and decided to start a new project together. This time, though, they would contribute ideas 50-50 and would invite in singers, ending the need for Linkous to sing — a chore he hated.