(Sparklehorse, from Flickr user broma)
Hello again, folks. My transition into summer has left me with little time for blogging. This is a shame, as always, as there has been a veritable eruption of news in areas about which I love to write. I hope to post up a couple more heady things on current IP affairs over the next few days. In the meantime, I wanted to make sure you all heard the news regarding the new Sparklehorse/Danger Mouse album.
This collaboration is the materialization of a rumor that has been around for years. Danger Mouse helped Sparklehorse on some tracks in 2006’s Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, and Sparklehorse’s artistic center, Mark Linkous, had cryptically mentioned a more formal collaboration in several interviews since that time. In early April Pichfork noted that the longstanding rumor looked to be true, and what’s more, they were bringing a tour de force of guest artists, including Black Francis (of the Pixies), James Mercer (of the Shins), The Flaming Lips, Scott Spillane (of Neutral Milk Hotel and The Gerbils), Vic Chesnut, and Iggy Pop. Early this month we learned more: the project, called Dark Night of the Soul, is not exactly an album, but rather a multimedia series which you can explore in the link above. The album/book, indeed featuring all of the artists mentioned, was slated for release later this month, with an art installation in LA debuting May 30th to highlight some of the works and showcase some media created by the one and only David Lynch to accompany the music.
As of last week the indie rock world was buzzing in anticipation of this pending, star-studded album. But then, on Friday, Billboard announced that the album was “scrapped” due to “unspecified legal issues with EMI.” This puts the parties involved in a very awkward situation, as on May 7th the album was leaked, and earlier on Friday NPR began streaming the album as part of an exclusive first-listen series. As Idolator and Boing Boing and many others have since reported, also on Friday (and the timing of all of these events is very unclear for those who just got all these news stories in an RSS-feed dump), Danger Mouse and others decided to release the album as a blank CD-R with the full booklet and a label disclaiming “For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.” In subtext, it sounds as if Danger Mouse is going to rely on the same filesharing architecture which made him world famous in 2003 to help spread his latest project.
It’s hard to comment on this until details about the legal issues around this album come to light. For what it’s worth, my guess is that it has to do with appearance rights for one of the guest artists. Often times as part of a larger record deal an artist will promise not to appear on other record labels’ albums without prior approval from their record affiliate. This is only a guess, however, and we’ll have to see in time what is the actual problem at issue here. Certainly the blank CD-R move is a pretty clever stunt, and probably helps drum up some publicity for the album, but an album with this lineup needs no large publicity push and Danger Mouse doesn’t exactly need to do anything to prove his anti-RIAA stance and thus earn fans in the college age, tech-driven demographic. However, equally apparent is the fact that people are not going to come out in equal volumes to buy an album containg a blank CD. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but there are many millions of music consumers out there that do not follow the web and its affairs as thoroughly as us, and without knowing the backstory behind this album they aren’t going to buy up the guy from Gnarls Barkley’s latest spinoff project unless the CD actually has the audio on it. Besides, unless this “legal issue” has to do with one’s exposure to further liability from a third party (e.g. EMI is preventing Danger Mouse from releasing this because EMI might then get sued by company X for whatever reason), all involved would probably be better off if they simply allowed the album to be relased. It seems as though those who seek to scrap the album have never heard the old expression about trying to unring a bell. At this point the album will never disappear, any damage is likely done, and whoever is holding this up likely has little to lose and everything to gain going forward.
The NPR stream is still live, and I encourage everybody to listen here. I’ve been listening while writing this, and I love it. Danger Mouse’s influence I clearly felt, and his signature presence does much to unearth the broody layers that have made Sparklehorse one of my favorite bands for years (Good Morning Spider is without a doubt a desert-island record for me). Hearing so many familiar voices, with songs tied together by Sparklehorse’s instrumention, is beautiful accompaniment for this quiet Sunday afternoon. Let’s hope the parties involved can work through whatever’s keeping this from having a full release and give this work the full commercial benefit it is most certainly due.