Daniel Johnston

SXSW Records

Phases and Stages

Daniel Johnston

Fear Yourself (Gammon) Mad props to whoever came up with the idea of pairing Daniel Johnston with Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse. Linkous' lush, slightly unhinged instrumental beds turn Johnston's songs of unfulfilled desire and lost love into rough-hewed mini-epics vaguely reminiscent of Tom Waits' Black Rider. As if to acknowledge Johnston's history, the album's lead track, "Now," begins with the tinny sound of his now legendary self-peddled cassettes before slowly being enveloped into a melodious wave of sound as Johnston affirms, "Love can save you now." Though Johnston's voice is ragged and hesitant at times, "Syrup of Tears" is a sad but beautifully arranged piano ballad at which Elton John ought to take a stab. "It's too late to suffer through," Johnston laments, "God, I'll make you a deal. Just let me smile awhile, for real." The sparse "The Power of Love" alternates between a tense verse and liberated chorus to illustrate both the fear and ecstasy of giving yourself over to love, while the twang-laden "Wish" pines for a savior in both the romantic and religious sense. By contrast, "Fish" and "Love Not Dead" have the veneer of driving, indie-pop crossover hits that aim straight at the heavy hearts of unrequited lovers. These love songs aren't the kind that make you giddy, but Johnston's ability to articulate the naked foibles of human emotion and Linkous' somnambulant soundscapes elevate Fear Yourself beyond easy platitudes. (Opal Divine's, Friday, March 14, 1am)

***.5

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