Released: 15th March 2019
You’re floating through space; weightless, untethered. The sun moves out from behind the Earth, bathing the now-sparkling oceans and vast swathes of green in a beautiful light. Suddenly, you’re walking through a bustling city at night. The taxis rush past, taking each passenger to a destination you can only imagine. “I’m nowhere. I’m no one. I’m nobody.” In both spaces, this is how you feel. Dwarfed by these unknowable expanses, limited by what you can comprehend in the moment.
This is how ‘Lux Prima’, the collaborative album from Karen O and Danger Mouse, begins. This epically cinematic opening, fusing swooping strings with psychedelic synths, is a suitably impressive start. One that feels totally at odds with what both have done before.
Both erupting in the 2000s, Karen O as the rollicking leader of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Danger Mouse as the super-producer always taking sharp left turns with each new project, it’s a surprise the two haven’t worked together before. As the beautiful ‘Ministry’ swoons into view, all sweeping orchestration and unexpectedly wistful vocal turns from Karen O, the magic of two intensely creative minds bouncing off each other is intoxicating. This really does feel like both heading off into completely uncharted territory.
But when the almost familiar drumbeat and gentle guitars of ‘Turn The Light’ slide through, the spell is broken. Danger Mouse has mostly recently put himself back in the spotlight with Broken Bells, his collaborative project with James Mercer of The Shins, and it’s the spirit of Mercer that hovers over the rest of ‘Lux Prima’. Most obvious on ‘Redeemer’ and ‘Leopard’s Tongue’, it feels as though you could easily swap Karen O out for James Mercer and the songs would be exactly the same.
However, it never feels like they’re just doing it for the sake of it. The two are clearly not just riding the wave of their recent individual resurgences. Karen O’s vocals are as impressively versatile as ever, and Danger Mouse’s production is more often than not stunning. The sounds feel classic, more focused on building a mood or a landscape than capturing a zeitgeist. But it’s also not particularly memorable as a whole, outside of that glorious opening one-two punch.
The duo have talked about how working together had enabled them to “go places further than [we’ve] ever been”, yet both feel worryingly comfortable. And while this isn’t necessarily a serious fault, both being as undeniably talented as they are, it’s hard to avoid a feeling of disappointment. The result of a partnership with such creatively rich possibility ultimately just feels like another Broken Bells album, albeit a good one, at its core.