Daniel Johnston

Fear Yourself

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A collaboration between fellow fringe dwellers Daniel Johnston and Mark Linkous seems like it should be a match made in twisted outsider-pop heaven. After all, the Sparklehorse leader is obviously a huge fan of Johnston's volatile but vulnerable music; aside from its influence coloring most of Sparklehorse's fragile, darkly innocent output, Linkous has gone as far as to put a cover of Johnston's "Hey Joe" on his best album, Good Morning Spider. However, it may be the reverence with which producer/arranger Linkous treats Johnston's songs that makes Fear Yourself such a disappointment: The album has such a clean production that it almost sounds like Linkous is trying to protect the songs -- or their creator -- from some of their more dangerous or unpredictable impulses. It's also an unusual move, considering that Linkous is normally a gifted producer who brings an unconventional and sensitive touch to other people's music (most notably Nina Persson's A Camp project), and particularly because both Johnston and Linkous have the kind of voices and write the kind of songs that work better when they have dusty, subterranean sounds surrounding them. As is evidenced by Fear Yourself's opening song, "Now," which gradually moves from four-track grit to the rest of the album's sheen à la Dorothy leaving Kansas for Oz, the production is so unnatural that it's almost hard to hear Johnston's songs. Some of the less-glossy tracks, such as the brooding but optimistic "Must" and the cute "Fish," and more kinetic numbers, like "Mountain Top" and "Love Not Dead," manage to escape the slickly, sickly sweet feeling that plagues most of Fear Yourself's softer songs (with the notable exception of "Wish"). Both Fun and Rejected Unknown prove that Johnston's strangely beautiful music doesn't have to be recorded on a cassette player to sound authentic, but unfortunately, Fear Yourself's intricate, careful sound results in a rather bland album.

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