Over a year after its intended release date, Dark Night of the Soul, the collaborative project helmed by Danger Mouse, David Lynch and the late Mark Linkous featuring Julian Casablancas, Iggy Pop and Frank Black, made its New York debut at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in Manhattan last night. Lynch’s photographs — some mundane, some unsettling, all undeniably Lynchian — were hung in groups on the gallery walls while the record, comprised of mostly hushed, somber music, played softly and continuously in the background. The opening drew a small but enthusiastic crowd including Danger Mouse (producer Brian Burton), who walked slowly through the exhibit after most of the invited guests had left.
The project’s journey from concept to execution has been notoriously troubled: a legal dispute between Danger Mouse and the label EMI strung the record up in what seemed like endless legal knots. Beginning in May 2009, the curious could buy the book of Lynch’s images packaged with a blank CD-R deviously labeled, “For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.” Far more tragically, two of its participants — co-creator Linkous and guest vocalist Vic Chestnutt — died by their own hands in the time since the album was recorded.
Officially released by EMI yesterday — all legal disputes resolved — the album functions now as a kind of last testament to Linkous’s creativity, a perfect encapsulation of both his talent and, unfortunately, his deep sadness. “I don’t consider myself to be an expert on what they were trying to convey,” says Peter Blachley, one of the gallery’s founders, “but as I listen to it, I feel a darkness to it. There’s a mystique to it, and a bizarreness as well. And I think Lynch was perfect for this project, because his photographs represent that side of it. That’s who he is.”
In many ways, the installation seems designed to recreate the experience of listening to a vinyl album: each song is played in its entirety and the album runs in full, from Wayne Coyne’s haunting opening track to the elegiac conclusion, sung by Lynch himself. Each song also corresponds to a different set of images in the gallery — though the feature wasn’t working on Tuesday, a small blue light is supposed to illuminate above each group of photographs as the song they’re paired with is played. The photos themselves are specifically arranged — most of them in groups of four, with a few in groups of three. The scenes they depict are vintage Lynch: a gun lies abandoned on the floor in a dark room, illuminated by a thin sliver of light; a ballerina with a demon’s face, dressed head-to-toe, in red spins idly; a woman decked out like a ’50s prom queen operates a charcoal grill with leaping, ominous flames in the middle of the night. Set to the album’s low, yearning music, the effect is unique and unnerving.
“When I was coming up in music, we had album covers,” Blachley says. “The album covers expressed exactly what the artist wanted to convey visually. It was really important, as you listened to the music — to get what they’re expressing. I would like to be able to achieve, with these shows that we do, a sense of place and time — you’re surrounded by this visual art that gives you a real sense of the music. For young people, that’s one of the few ways they’re going to get that.”