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Thursday, June 4, 2009


When it comes to messing with the music industry, there's no better instigator than Brian Burton. Better known as Danger Mouse, the visionary DJ redefined the mashup in 2004 with his Jay-Z/Beatles masterpiece called The Grey Album. One of the most popular illegal downloads of all time, it scored millions of fans—and a cease-and-desist from the Fab Four's label, EMI. Danger Mouse has since smuggled his underground sensibility into the mainstream, producing for big names like Beck and topping the charts as one half of the freaky soul duo Gnarls Barkley. For his new album, Dark Night of the Soul (due in June), he collaborated with indie rocker Mark Linkous (aka Sparklehorse) and filmmaker David Lynch. The power trio (shown at left) reinvented the album as a guerrilla art project. "When formatting changed from vinyl to cassette, packaging got smaller. With MP3s, it's completely gone," Burton explains. "I wanted to get back to a time when packaging was a visual fantasy about the music and created a mystery for people to unpack."

First, Burton and Linkous loaded roughly a dozen tracks with a steamer trunk's worth of sound—haunted-house organs, analog synths, circuit-bent guitar effects, and tripped-out lyrics by Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd (Flaming Lips), Iggy Pop, and James Mercer (the Shins). Then it was time for Lynch's big solo: After collaborating on the dark psychedelic odes, he created images to match. "Musicians who play in bands often tap into one consciousness," Lynch says. "As a filmmaker, I don't often work like that, so I'm glad I got to experience that collectivity." Shot after dark in LA, Lynch's photographs may cause nightmares: In one still, a Norman Rockwell-esque family gathers around the dinner table, preparing to eat a human head.

Like The Grey Album, Dark Night will be distributed independently. The CD features a 100-plus-page booklet, and a multimedia exhibit is in the works. "I've always done exactly what I wanted on my own albums, but no one at the record company knew how to sell it," Linkous says. "Now we can do anything we want—and Brian knows how to sell records in subversive ways."