“Listen up and I’ll tell a story/About an artist growing old/Some would try for fame and glory/Others just like to watch the world.” These are the famous lyrics from “The Story of an Artist” written by Daniel Johnston in 1982. Now considerably older, much like the artist he once wrote about, the elder statesman of cracked geniuses returns with the Space Ducks Soundtrack, yet another chapter in Johnston’s bizarre discography, which finds the artist comfortably growing old and apparently having a lot fun along the way.
Space Ducks, a soundtrack to a Johnston-drawn comic that also spawned an iPad app, is musically fleshed out by seven tracks of his own and contributions from five other artists. The reverence for Johnston is abundantly clear given the near uniform excellence of the contributions, which appear equally as influenced by Space Ducks as they are by Daniel Johnston the man. Lavender Diamond’s lullaby “Moment of Laughter” and Fruit Bat’s atmospheric folk of “Evil Magic” mix especially well with Johnston’s own tunes.
The star, though, clearly is the man of the hour, who seems to be having a blast recording this celebratory album to soundtrack his comic, which was one of his lifelong dreams. The opening title track’s simplistic piano echoes his classic “Walking the Cow”, and once his vocals kick in, the lyrical absurdity that follows can only be born from the wellspring of Johnston’s warped mind: “Space ducks/fighting all the evil/all the creepy people/in the war in outer space.”
The psych folk of “Mask” is another highlight, but what makes the track is how they kept recording for 15 seconds once the music stops; we get to hear an overjoyed Johnston adorably greet a pretty girl that entered the studio. It’s moments like this that make him such a beloved figure. Other highlights include the hilarious “Mean Girls Give Pleasure” and the contemplative “Mountain” that closes with a George Harrison-esque slide guitar solo that showcases the top-shelf players Johnston has backing him throughout the record.
With Ducks, Johnston and cohorts craft a soundtrack that works as a cohesive album. That is an accomplishment by itself, never mind that it’s based on ducks in outer space. Only in the hands of Johnston’s childlike wonder can this premise be executed so blissfully well. Shine on, you crazy diamond.
Essential Tracks: “Mountain”, “Space Ducks”, “Mean Girls Give Pleasure”, and “Moment of Laughter”