Karen O and Danger Mouse would not seem like a natural pairing, to say the least.
She’s best known as the front-woman of New York dance-punks the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He’s the creative half of soul duo Gnarls Barkley, alongside Cee-Lo Green. Basically, he’s the guy who gave the world ‘Crazy’, as well as producing Gorillaz’ ‘Demon Days’.
Where he is chilled, smooth and soulful, she’s frenetic, intense and commanding. ‘Lux Prima’, their new collaborative effort, isn’t as varied as it could have been. But it shows both Danger Mouse’s knack for lush orchestration, and a side of Karen O we’d never seen before.
Starting an album with a nine-minute track is certainly bold. Especially when the first three minutes are purely instrumental. Yet the opening title-track manages not to wear out its welcome despite its length.
Its gorgeous strings and otherworldly instrumentation gives way to a softer-than-usual delivery from Karen, before reprising its opening motifs at the end.
‘Lux Prima’ means ‘first light’, and the track evokes the sun rising over a desolate wasteland. It manages to seamlessly marry pop songwriting and a hooky chorus with more cinematic, larger-scale arrangement.
The soulful backing vocals and keyboard bring to mind a smoother, groovier Dark Side of The Moon.
This influence shines through most on late-album track ‘Drown’, whose lilting languor builds to an explosion of cosmic soul, complete with gospel choir and orchestra. It is enormous in its scale and ambition, and wondrous to listen to.
Best of Both Worlds
Of course, Karen O is still a commanding presence amongst all the arrangements, and command she certainly does. She’s on fiery form on lead single ‘Woman’, whose pounding drums and war chants mark one of the album’s high points.
It’s also fantastic to see her unmistakable Yeah Yeah Yeahs shriek appear, if only for one track.
Danger Mouse’s voice is also here. The wonderful. funky ‘Turn The Light’ sounds like Gnarls Barkley fronted by Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser.. The record’s beats are consistently fantastic, from the swaying groove of ‘Ministry’, to the crisp, propulsive ryhthm of ‘Redeemer’.
The album reaches its cinematic zenith with ‘Reveries’. Its opening evokes Karen singing in smoky saloon, before building into a majestic, tear-jerking strings-and-synth symphony. It’s enough to make any sci-fi or western film composer envious.
Not Far Enough
‘Lux Prima’ doesn’t experiment as I would expect from its collaborators.
The anomalous ‘Woman’ was a misleading lead single choice. The album’s sleeve credits ‘Karen O and Danger Mouse’ in that order, when his sound certainly has the upper hand.
However, it’s a sound that brings the best out of all involved. Their styles mingle into a breathtakingly large-scale, moving listen, not to be missed.
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Browse Away From Karen O and Danger Mouse
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