Haunt­ing or haunted? Af­ter the deaths of Ch­es­nutt, Link­ous, al­bum re­leased

Austin American-Statesman - - TV TONIGHT - By Chris Tal­bott

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.

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