Among the many musical genres spawned during the 1960s was a sophisticated strain of orchestral pop purveyed by songwriter/producers such as John Barry, Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Scott Walker and various Frenchmen — a kind of aural noir; moody, melodramatic and atmospheric, heavy on orchestras and drenched in echo but with prominent drums and electric bass. It ranges from Barry’s James Bond songs and several Serge Gainsbourg albums to Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” and has been revived intermittently over the years (anyone remember Mono?). And while that songwriting style is present on three or four of the nine songs on “Lux Prima,” the years-in-the-making collaboration between former Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer and all-around hellion Karen O and chameleonic artist-producer Danger Mouse, its sound saturates the entire album — even the acoustic or punk-inspired songs.
“Lux Prima” is a gloriously wide-screen album, sweeping and epic, with a lush, multi-layered sound that, after the epic nine-minute opening track, ranges into lite funk of “Turn the Light,” the Spector-punk snarl of “Woman” and the cush thud of “Leopard’s Tongue,” which features just bass, drums and vocals on the verses before blossoming into Panavision on the choruses. Both artists have covered a wide range of styles throughout their careers — O’s songs with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs span from unhinged banshee to sweet balladeer; Danger Mouse’s sprawling work includes Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells (as an artist) and heavy collaborations with Gorillaz, Black Keys, Beck and even U2 and Adele. Yet “Lux Prima” is a new setting for both: While Danger Mouse has gone big and cinematic before — “Rome,” his 2011 collaboration with Italian composer Daniele Luppi (also a prominent contributor here), is the most direct predecessor — with “Lux Prima” he’s gone whole hog. The album even has overture-esque, orchestral intros and outros.
The sound is lush even when the songs are O-powered and punky, placed into a plush context that’s like a sonic version of Deborah Harry’s early 1980s mesh of street style and high fashion — even “Reveries,” which starts off as just O accompanied a roughly strummed, echo-drenched acoustic guitar, gets a floofy musical down comforter that climaxes with Daft Punkesque fusion of orchestra and buzzing synthesizer.
Yet those contrasts are simply one facet of the most remarkable thing about this remarkable album: the way these two talents — so different from each other and such a seemingly unlikely, or at least not obvious, combination — mesh together. “Lux Prima” is a fresh adventure for both, and one that’s both familiar and strikingly new for the listener as well.