Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Erase Yr Head

Will Danger Mouse fans pay fifty dollars for a blank CD-R? They will if it comes with a book of photographs taken by filmmaker and Transcendental meditation enthusiast David Lynch. The empty digital media storage is provided to house the 12 tracks that make up a new Danger Mouse recording called Dark Night of the Soul. Consumers must illegally download the songs in order to get them onto the CD-R.

In Web years, this story is as old as the Teapot-Dome scandal. And due to the nature of the story itself, writing about it could mean that The Typing Monkey has nibbled the bait of a carefully orchestrated publicity stunt, and is therefore pointing more eyeballs (and earballs) toward a vanity recording project that needed a PR boost.

However, Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, seems a genuinely nice guy who has not only created some of the most interesting and fun music of the past decade, but has casually challenged intellectual property ideals. (He rode into the mainstream on a cyclone of fair-use debate over The Grey Album, and teamed up with British art-prankster Bansky to do a number on Paris Hilton's musical debut.)

The Dark Night of the Soul flap goes as follows: Inspired by some David Lynch photos, Danger Mouse wrote and recorded an album's worth of material with Sparklehorse founder Mark Linkous. Lynch provided more photos, famous guest musicians lent vocals and played instruments, and then Danger Mouse's label, EMI, nixed the whole thing, claiming legal complications. And that's what inspired the nose-thumbing via a blank CD-R bundled with everything else that was to come with the music -- primarily the Lynch photos that act as a sort of picture book accompaniment for the songs.

NPR is streaming the entire album, and with minimal effort the music is already easily downloaded. So what's the point? Calling it sleight-of-hand publicity makes for nice storytelling. A generous portion of music fans want to keep hating major labels -- corporations that have trouble navigating the bumpy modern terrain of music distribution, let alone making a profit from it.

The truth is probably as compelling a read as the legal paperwork required to get all of the artists who've already contributed to Dark Night of the Soul cleared for an EMI release. We're guessing this will all be sorted out soon enough, and like Radiohead's In Rainbows, an official release of Dark Night will arrive with tracks not available on the original "free" version.

If that sounds cynical, it's not intended in that spirit. EMI will let Danger Mouse do what he wants while they iron out legal kinks. An audience for the music will grow and soon all parties involved will make some money rather than none -- at least that's our theory.

A review of Dark Night of the Soul will appear on The Typing Monkey soon. Read more about the story here.