Not too many music producers are widely known by name. Danger Mouse is one of the esteemed few. Even if you haven’t heard of him, chances are you know his work. In 2004, his mashup of the Beatles’ White Albumand Jay-Z’s Black Album—titledThe Grey Album, appropriately—stirred up controversy with EMI, but won the admiration of Jay-Z and Paul McCartney along the way. Later, he joined forces with CeeLo Green to form Gnarls Barkley, the soul duo behind 2006 hit “Crazy”; he also teamed up with James Mercer of The Shins to form indie group Broken Bells, whose songs you’ve surely heard in some funky clothing store at some point. On top of that, he’s collaborated with a myriad of 21st-century hitmakers, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Gorillaz (Demon Days? That was him.) It’s no wonder, then, that 2019 sees him making musical strides with alt-rock goddess Karen O. The Oberlin grad has been crafting some of the 2000’s most innovative hits as the frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for nearly 20 years now; she also has an impressive amount of solo work under her belt, including 2014 album Crush Songs and the soundtrack for Where The Wild Things Are. In Lux Prima; the two make a glistering pair. The album’s title makes sense—listened to from start to end, the record is one concentrated, unbroken beam of light.
Lux Prima opens with its nine-minute title track. You’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a movie score; it has a lush, orchestral sci-fi vibe in the way that much of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memoriesdoes. For a moment, there is quiet; then a mysterious reverberating sound emerges like a blip of light against darkness, not unlike the album’s cover art. Operating singing pierces the soundscape; then O intones words like “Faithful” and “sunshine,” setting a hazy, ethereal mood. The piece transitions into a jazzy ode to a lover; finally, in its last three minutes, it descends back into beautifully arranged confusion.
“Woman” and “Redeemer” are the glowing magma at the record’s core. “Empowering” often comes across as a stale buzzword, but these tracks deserve the descriptor in earnest. “Woman” is driven by a rollicking drumbeat, the kind that might play as your favorite film heroine walks into the scene of a conflict with her head held high. During the chorus, Karen O declares, “I’m a woman/what you see ain’t what I be” in her electric falsetto. Then she jumps in as her own backup singers, forming a formidable female phalanx. For over a decade, O has been one of the most prominent women in the alt music world; her success in the male dominated-industry makes this track, in which she unabashedly proclaims the power of her femininity, especially powerful. The final refrain—“I’m a woman, I’m a woman/hey, hey, hey!” is sure to be a fan favorite in future shows. “Redeemer” features a similar sense of self-confidence, set to a soundtrack that’s more psych-rock than bluesy. “You’re not coming for me; I’m coming for you,” O sings, sounding as if she’s just discovered some arcane secret. Then the triumphant phrase becomes the song’s chorus. The lyrics provide striking vignettes like “Blood moves still in my deep blue vein/Gotta cut my teeth on a diamond chain”; in this way, they’re reminiscent of “Heads Will Roll,” one of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ greatest hits.
The album ends the way it begins: with an epic. “Nox Lumina” is a sober, synthesized dreamscape; in terms of tone, it evokes some of the instrumental moments on Blur’s The Magic Whip, or Radiohead’s OK Computer. When it fades out, it’s easy to imagine a rocket fading into the distant sky. That’s one lovely voyage over; surely, both Karen O and Danger Mouse will return to take us on many more.