Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., June 22, 2012
Daniel JohnstonSpace Ducks: Soundtrack
Daniel Johnston's debut graphic novel, Space Ducks: An Infinite Comic Book of Musical Greatness, opens with a poignant foreword from the artist: "In the darkness there's no other love except you." That message comes through with flying colors on the accompanying soundtrack, a 12-track collection of new studio recordings coupled with contributions from a select handful of Johnston admirers, most notably Deer Tick ("Space Ducks"), the Fiery Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger ("Come Down"), and the Unknown Mortal Orchestra ("Satanic Planet"). Producer Adrian Quesada of Grupo Fantasma and Brownout assembled what sounds like the real-life embodiment of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to color around Johnston's warbled beat-poetry and disarming tales of cosmic love. It's the perfect parlor trick, disguising the pop savant's limitations by couching them in the world of imagination he inhabits, where misremembered Beatles tunes collide with space ducks ("Mean Girls Give Pleasure," "Mask"). Whereas 2009's Is and Always Was tried to polish the Waller resident's crudeness, the house band here marches in a street parade behind the bounding piano bop of "American Dream," buzzing with horns and ultimately bursting into a random bit of applause. Likewise, the compelling ballad "Sense of Humor," though anchored by Johnston's melody, swells behind swirling strings, Quesada's lead guitar, and ghostly background vocals from the Black Angels' Alex Maas. Chaotic, absurdly psychedelic, and appropriately comical, Space Ducks is a fitting soundtrack to Johnston's endearing influence and vision.