Double Play: Obituary/Danger Mouse

Iann Robinson reviews them back to back.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Double Play: Obituary/Danger Mouse

Obituary/Darkest Day

Obituary is like a loud and brutal pair of comfortable slippers. Nothing they do is particularly cutting edge; their music doesn’t push the envelope or try to shatter the parameters of thrash/death metal. That doesn’t really matter though because Obituary constantly put out albums worth listening to and their new studio offering “Darkest Day” is no exception. Everything you want from Obituary is present and accounted for including cool riffs, barking vocals, solos, double bass, the works. Obituary knows what their fans want and they deliver every time.

That’s one way of looking at Obituary’s new album, the other is that it and they are boring and repetitious. Darkest Day starts out with a chugging riff and then goes into another one and another one and another one. Dynamics don’t play a huge part in these songs, which begin to all sound the same about mid way through the album. There’s an intro riff, then the drums come in (sometimes….gasp…the drums start the song) and at some point the impossible to understand vocals will kick off. You might get a breakdown, usually there’s a solo and then the song’s done. The song titles aren’t even very clever, sticking with standard “metal” clichés like “Left To Die”, “Field Of Pain”, “List Of The Dead” and others. Nothing here rises about the factory nature of heavy metal and Obituary don’t even attempt to try anything new or exciting.

The thing about Obituary is that both of those ideas are correct, it depends on who you are and what you’re looking for. Nothing on “Darkest Day” is bad but nothing on the album is particularly memorable. If you love Obituary and this kind of death metal is what you live for then you’ll be in love with this album. The riffs are huge, the album itself is heavy and chocked full of dark imagery. If that’s enough then this will be a head-banging favorite of yours for 2009. However if you’re looking for something that would transcend the genre you’ll be way out of luck.

If extreme music for you is the need to push limits, disturb people and try to expand the ideas of what can be done in the genre then skip right past Darkest Day. Obituary just isn’t that kind of band and they’re unapologetic about it. This is old school death metal even down to the way the album is recorded. Everything here is extremely compressed and high end, the bass is almost non-existent and each song covers the same ground varying only slightly in song structure and solo placement.

So what’s my opinion? To be honest this is the kind of album that’s the worst for me as a critic because I don’t care either way. Obituary isn’t making great music here but nothing on Darkest Day is offensive either. I’d never play this album again but that’s because my tolerance for these kinds of straight-ahead death metal albums has gotten low after so many years of them. If you’re looking to head bang in the Circle K parking lot on the weekends with a sixer and a pack of whippets then this album will be your bible. For me I need something that at least attempts to mix it up, which Darkest Day does not.


Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse: Dark Night Of The Soul

Stacked way up high on my many reasons to hate big record labels will be the problems EMI has raised that might keep one of the best albums of 2009 from seeing the light of day on a massive level. British producer Danger Mouse and the band Sparklehorse have joined forces to produce some truly wonderful music that’s brought to life in really interesting ways by a whole string of guest vocalist. To top that off director David Lynch is including a booklet with the record that includes photographs Lynch took based on the songs themselves.  The name of this artistic meeting of the minds is “Dark Night Of The Soul” and if this is the darkest night then may the light never come.

Dark Night has many varied influences coursing through its veins ranging from old soul to new pop and everything in between. One of the major influences easily heard comes from The Beatles and their later albums, which condensed so many styles into one thematic record. Dark Night Of The Soul is a lush album, a rich layering of catchy pop hooks, odd noise elements and great vocals. This is one of those albums that walks the fine line between happy and melancholy without one mistake. You walk away from the album in a good mood but also oddly contemplative.

One of the most interesting things about the album is that while made up of essentially twelve different songs the guiding hand of producer Danger Mouse never lets it veer off course. Sparklehorse, who provide the music, have a very unique style, which Danger Mouse manages to tweak to each singer so nothing sounds off balance. All the points on Dark Night Of The Soul line up perfectly so as to create a complete listening experience.

The artists chosen to provide vocals are flawless. Black Francis on the noisy Angel’s Harp, the sleazy rock jam Pain with Iggy Pop and the two heart stopping tunes by Vic Chestnut. Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips proves once again why his voice is nearly magical on the opening track “Revenge” and Julian Casablanca from The Strokes (they never did save rock n roll did they) does a kick ass job here.

Even the lesser-known vocalists soar with the music of Sparklehorse beneath them. Granddaddy’s Jason Lytle and The Cardigans Nine Persson both turn in beautiful and weirdly trippy performances. It’s only James Mercer and Gruss Rhys who seem to fall flat. Their songs aren’t bad they just don’t stand up to the other performers on the album.

Enough can’t be said about Danger Mouse and his production touch on Dark Night Of The Soul. Mouse has made a career out of turning pop on its ear and forcing it to vomit up new ideas. His Jay-Z/Beatles mashup record The Grey Album is legendary as is his work with MFDOOM and Beck. His solo records have always bristled with a rare intelligence as did his wonderful work with Ceelo on Gnarls Barkley. As a producer Danger Mouse is incredibly attuned to the people he’s working for and is able to find their strengths pretty quickly. Guiding Dark Night Of The Soul with those strengths keeps it a cohesive statement as opposed to a glorified mix tape.

The only problem I can find with Dark Night Of The Soul is that EMI are being little bitches about it for whatever reason. Thankfully Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse are releasing the artwork with a CD-R that will allow listeners to download the album and keep it. I hope you take the time to find and digest Dark Night Of The Soul because you need to, you can’t deny it and remain happy with yourself.