When it comes to collaborating with the best musicians and artists on the planet, Danger Mouse is a Jedi master, having worked with Gorillaz, MF Doom, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck, U2, The Black Keys, Adele, John Cale, Iggy Pop and many others.
His most recent collaboration, with punk auteurs Parquet Courts, is the key to this new record. Half a decade ago, Danger Mouse collaborated with Daniele Luppi and Jack White on a record called Rome. Luppi’s next record, Milano, was a collaboration with Parquet Courts – featuring vocals from Karen O. See? Danger Mouse needed to collaborate with Karen to complete the set.
Lux Prima – Latin for ‘first light’, apparently – is, thankfully, a splendid record. This is more than we could have hoped for, but it really shouldn’t be a surprise considering just how damn good both of these artists were on their respective collaborations with Parquet Courts. There’s clearly some Jedi mind connections there.
Some qualifiers are needed. This is, undoubtedly, the best Karen’s voice has ever sounded – sure, she was more unhinged on Fever To Tell, more raggedly sexy on It’s Blitz!, but here she’s allowed to flex and express with her voice, allowing it to billow and roar where she needs it to. Burton’s production is just as tasteful as it’s always been – he’s always borrowed the best stuff from everybody, Phil Spector to Dr Dre and back again. He’s always borrowed heavily from film soundtracks too, and those sounds occupy a lot of the space on Lux Prima.
The songs themselves are a kaleidoscope of sepia tones. The set opens with the space epic title track, which unfolds, relaxes then sprawls over ten blissful minutes. It doesn’t matter that it’s completely unrepresentative of the rest of the tunes here, because they all offer something different, but something connected – as though they were from different scenes in the same move.
Ministry is the tenderest and lightest amongst them, with soft plucked guitars, delicate vocals and waves of elegant strings – this is the scene where the protagonist loses their love interest. On the other side of the set, you have the swampy brown glam rock of Woman. Boy, does that one smack, like a bar-fight or car-chase scene.
Swampier yet is the David Lynch-esque weeper Reveries, resplendent as it is in its own misery. It splits the difference between modern Lana Del Rey depression-chic histrionics and the ancient crackling stereos of yore. It’s utterly modern and yet completely anachronistic – summing up, perfectly, the appeal of this record.
The dreamy, lusty jukebox soul on Drown showcases Danger Mouse’s fetish for a meaty, red-blooded bass groove ripped straight out of the late ’60s Motown playbook. Redeemer is, in contrast, the most straightforward number on the entire thing, sounding as it does like Brothers-era Black Keys (which is no bad thing, haven’t we all forgotten how great they were back then?) Our protagonist is strutting down an empty street at 3AM.
The elastic snap to the groove of Leopard’s Tongue could have come from The Supremes or Can, such is the murky fog it’s bathed in. It’s a highlight of the collection, for sure. Finally, there’s Turn a Light, which further develops the tightly-coiled strut of Redeemer but embellishes it with choppy guitars.
All in all, this is like Christmas come early. Karen O, in all honesty, has not been in the finest of form recently, and hasn’t headlined her own collection since Crush Songs came out in 2014 and the most recent Yeah Yeah Yeahs record (probably their worst) was released in 2013.
But what this record does, yet again, is show that Danger Mouse has bulletproof, unassailable taste in music and collaborators. Karen is exactly the right fit for these songs, and she is absolutely the star of the set, thanks in no small part to the incredible production. This isn’t the best record that either of these mercurial artists have made, but it’s undoubtedly the finest collaboration you’ll hear this year. Guaranteed.