Music Reviews

Daniel Johnston Featuring Mark Linkous

Fear Yourself


Daniel Johnston has long been a cult favorite among those in the know, at times revered more for his well-documented mental illness issues than his songwriting. From the days of giving his songs away to pretty girls on the street to records made with the likes of Paul Leary of The Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth, Johnston’s music has always had a raw, open feel to it. There seems to be little editing going on between his mind and his mouth, and this fact alone has made for compelling listening. Compelling, if sometimes difficult. Generally performing on guitar or piano, with his distinctive wavering vocal style, his music has generally been an acquired taste. Now, on Fear Yourself, Johnston seems to have found a perfect musical foil, the equally odd Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse. Once the basic structure of the song was recorded by Johnston, Linkous spirited away the tapes and transformed the simple songs into multi-dimensional creations. The album opens with “Now,” first in an older, solo version that gradually becomes a layered feast with the additions of Linkous. Ghostly sounds, disjointed keyboards and clouds of vocals wrap the ears, while Johnston’s words scratch the heart. The record is billed as a “song cycle of unrequited love,” and while it’s difficult at moments to follow the “cycle” aspect, there is no mistaking the subject of love. Daniel Johnston is in love with love, in all its facets, good, bad and indifferent, and the clarity and determination of his heartfelt words at moments feels like a slap. Wrapped in the sonic wonder of Mark Linkous, Fear Yourself is more than a great record, it is a brilliant one. Without compromising his vision, these two mad geniuses have crafted a fragile, wrenching valentine that like its subject will leave both hurting and hopeful, and always wanting more.

Gammon Records:

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