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March 20, 2019

TEST SPIN | Karen O and Danger Mouse — ‘Lux Prima’

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Lux Prima is an untested nuclear fusion that turns out to be a psychedelic film-noir narrative. It was a precarious move to put both Karen O and Danger Mouse in the studio without first toning them down or unplugging all equipment for safety concerns. Karen O is the lead vocalist of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and is pivotal to the alt rock revival in New York. O is recognized for her shrieking vocals and feverish stage presence and performing antics, such as nailing screeching notes while winding microphone cords around her head. Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) is a drummer and producer known for his incessant experimentation across all genres, replicating his distinct watermark through collaborations with artists such as Adele and U2.

The collateral beauty of Lux Prima started with a drunk phone call in 2008, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that the two finally clashed their sound. Both artists are midway into their music careers and near their 40s, and they have been longing for a transformative moment to reinvent themselves. Before heading to the studio, the two had had no discussions about their musical direction — instead, they playfully paved their own exploratory path.

Lux Prima stands as an experimental work that drifts between diaphanous reveries and meticulous modulations in the form of creation. The title track “Lux Prima” incarnates and opens the album with its nine minutes of multi-staged metamorphosis. Latin for “First Light,” Lux Prima is a cinematic journey that links the vastness of the cosmos to the reflection of the artists. This metaphoric elucidation is evident in the lyrics “I’m nowhere / I’m no one / I’m nobody.” With various beat changes that add texture and variability to its structure, the song connotes epic space dramas through lush and lingering synthesizer notes and celestial choruses. The preceding track “Ministry” adds a poignant touch that leaves the audience in rumination with a tint of paranoid reminiscent of the spidery vocals of  Portishead’s Beth Gibbons.

With multiple references to life and death, Lux Prima also connotes a vivid image of maternity. “Woman” declares motherhood as an underlying theme of the album. The album was produced after the birth of O’s son, which she described as a humbling and maturing experience.  The distorted and potent “Woman” recaptures and unleashes the punk power that permeates Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s earlier works while self-critiquing the teen spirit of punk. In the chorus, O belts out a rhetorical question that can mostly be answered by the raw emotion in her vocal, “I’m a woman, what you see!” This cogent hook keeps reverberating as we move on to the latter half of the album.

Electronic nocturnes gradually wrap up the album in a murky and ominous way that connotes bizarreness and craftiness. The groovy “Leopard’s Tongue” is a psych-funk track with escalating vocals before the chorus, portraying the alternative form of femininity through both fragility and brutality. “Reveries” is an oddball, rugged lullaby that surprisingly mingles well into the album and brings the rawness of the duo’s experimental mentality back to the core. Finally, the closing track “Nox Lumina”, (Latin for night lights) echoes “Lux Prima” while blending in orchestral sound to draw a twisted closure to this conceptual album. With merely nine tracks, this 40-minute album leaves you wanting more. This short yet comprehensive album delivers an unheard mesh of sounds that exhausts the strengths of both artists. Lux Prima is an elegant yet dreamy album, blossoming in a cinematic way that more closely resembles an avant-garde narrative than that of Hollywood.

Stephen Yang is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at sy364@cornell.edu.