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June 17, 2024

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Daniel Johnston
Fear Yourself (Gammon Records)

By: Alex Steininger

Plagued by a chronic mental illness nearly all his life, with recurrent bouts of delusional behavior endangering himself and those around him. Daniel Johnston struggles every day of his life, finding an escape and salvation in his music, music that has influenced and offered an escape for some of indie rock's most valuable players, including Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Butthole Surfers, Half Japanese, and Nirvana. However, on Daniel Johnson's latest, Fear Yourself, produced and arranged by Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous, a seemingly perfect fit (Linkous a huge fan of Johnston, going as far as to cover Johnson's "Hey Joe" on his Good Morning Spider album) somehow backfires. Linkous' precise, pristine production seems to hide the allure of Johnson's songs, the rough, nail-biting, climatic songs that jump out at you and either rage or fall into deep depression, the type of unpredictability lost in a lot of rock, but always present in a Daniel Johnston song. Linkous plays it safe, protecting Johnson's songs from an invisible predator. And that is the deepest regret to this album, as Johnson's fringe outsider music is, as always, far from the norm, positioned between right near the edge of field were outsider music resides (his honest, real lyrics keep him from moving completely into outsider music territory despite his vocal abilities). Still, Linkous does add an interesting, intriguing element to the songs on Fear Yourself, making it something that fans and newcomers should at least experience once. I'll give it a C+.
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