Release Date: Oct 21, 2014
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Scott Walker indicated after his 2012 album, Bish Bosch, that he was ready for a new direction after a trilogy that included Tilt (1995) and The Drift (2006). But after 36 years exploring the furthest margins of mainstream taste, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the 60s pop star who once duetted with Dusty Springfield is now collaborating with Sunn O))), the shroud-wearing Seattle drone metallers celebrated for murky, slow chords played at a punishing volume. Yet Soused is surprisingly melodic, Sunn O))) provide a menacing but rich backdrop to Walker’s distinctive baritone.
Over a soaring, all-American riff, the aging expat baritone croons, “Ah, the wide Missouri/ Dwellers on the bluff/ Across the wide Missouri/ Never enough, no, never enough.” Soused begins with a pronouncement of denial: of beauty, of human achievement, of nature itself. The will that animates both “progress” and the avant-garde is this very denial. It says, “This beauty is unfinished,” “These achievements are minimal,” “This world is incomplete.” But after Scott Walker’s voice rings out into silence and the lyrics echo a moment in the skull, Sunn O)))’s immense wall of distortion arrives to pay the wages of this denial: horror, pain, power, violence.
The lingering question with Scott Walker has always been to what extent is this all a facade? To what extent is this theatre, and not some form of therapy? To what extent is this a mutant dream and not simply the even harsher strangeness of reality, committed forever to tape? Age has only rendered his singular persona more and more isolated, with the rich early romanticism of his English-language chanson efforts - lifted from Jacques Brel - now very long since in the past. Bish Bosch, from 2012, was not only the climax of a trilogy that began with Tilt in 1995 but, now it would seem, the final step in a five decade long journey deeper into dissonance, sparsity and gothic isolation. By Bish Bosch, the warm orchestras - and large spaces necessary for their recording - still stubbornly retaining semblances of those early albums as late as Tilt had all but disappeared, save for a few memorably mutant exceptions.
Sunn O))) and Scott Walker's Soused is a comically grim proposition. On one side, we have a lugubrious doom metal band whose early efforts consisted of one chord feeding back for ten minutes. On the other, we have former 1960s pop star who moved through a Jacques Brel-influenced art pop stage only to transmogrify into what he is today: a man with a brilliant, tremulous voice he uses to sing of pestilence and destruction.
“AH! The wide Missoouri… Dwellers on the bluff…” Brando: The sounds of frontier-ist glory, a red herring that perks up the ears and momentarily rests any notion of aural mistreatment at the hands of Scott Walker and Sunn O))). That rest is almost immediately canceled out, the slow hands of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson acting in synchronized windmill as the chords are struck and the dread is realized. With the pulse of a synthesizer and two cracks of a bullwhip, Walker states in his eerie register, “A beating would do me… a world of good.” An abrupt guitar sound strikes; the pulse grows; the amps breathe.
News of a collaboration between experimental doom metal figureheads Sunn O))) and the inimitable '60s pin-up turned avant crooner Scott Walker raises the question — Will this be a Sunn O))) album with Scott Walker vocals overlaid or more of a Scott Walker album with Sunn O))) providing the instrumentation? Soused definitely leans towards the latter, but not without those trademark Sunn O))) riffs and long-form, drone-based compositions. On paper it seems like a surprising match, but given Stephen O'Malley's pedigree (collaborating with Tim Hecker and Oren Ambarchi, for example) and Walker's penchant for bombastic riffery, it's a much more logical pairing than you might first think. Comprising five tracks ranging from eight to 12 minutes in length, Soused is less frenetic than Walker's solo material of recent decades, but it's no less out there.
Soused is unlike any previous Scott Walker recording for two reasons. First, it's a complete collaboration with the doom drone duo Sunn 0))); second, it, unlike any of his albums since 1984's Climate of Hunter, requires no previous context for appreciation. While these five tracks are undeniably "heavy," as a whole the music is more conventionally "melodic" than one would anticipate from this pairing.
For a 71-year-old man – an American by birth and a British citizen since 1970 – Scott Walker knows modern music. Ahead of the release of his last album, 2012’s ‘Bish Bosch’, he said: “I try and keep up with so much stuff, whether it’s Burial or a hit record off the radio”, and a key detail in the backstory to ‘Soused’ is that it was Walker’s idea to do a full album of his songs with Sunn O))), an extreme drone metal band from Seattle orbiting around two core members, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson (although it was they who first contacted him to see if he would sing on a track from their excellent 2009 album, ‘Monoliths & Dimensions’; he couldn’t). Walker started out in the hugely successful ’60s pop group The Walker Brothers, went solo in 1967, initially making baroque, Jacques Brel-inspired, singer-songwriter albums (his first four are classics) and eventually embracing experimental music with his three most recent albums – ‘Tilt’ from 1995, 2006’s ‘The Drift’ and ‘Bish Bosch’.
The collaboration between an avant-garde doom metal band and one of Sixties sensations The Walker Brothers does, on the surface, not sound like a proverbial match made in heaven. Yet, it’s precisely this juxtaposition that makes the pairing work, with Scott Walker and Sunn O)))’s ‘Doused’ sounding straight from the darkest depths of Hades’ underworld. Walker, having undergone something of an artistic epiphany since his days of pop mega-stardom, lends the Seattle band’s Armageddon-inducing drone a new level of horror with his knife-sharp baritone.
On paper, the combination of 60s pop genius-turned-avant-garde auteur Scott Walker and experimental metal duo Sunn O))) (speciality: extreme slowness at extreme volume) might not sound hugely alluring. And yet the resulting album is rich in imagination, and – at times, most notably on Bull and Brando – surprisingly accessible (even if Walker singing, “Hey nonny nonny” on Lullaby does unintentionally conjure images of Blackadder). None of the five songs clocks in at under eight minutes, but their length works to their advantage, with Walker’s distinctive voice given room to breathe in the wide spaces between the gradually evolving, monolithic guitar riffs and unsettlingly discordant stabs of electronica.
Scott O))). When this collaboration was announced, the reaction was largely one of fevered excitement. Scott Walker and Sunn O))) – the idea of these two idiosyncratic artists getting together appeared to represent some kind of blackened nirvana; surely Soused would be the most insane and heaviest album released this year, if not ever? Under the weight of such expectation, this needed to be something special, a collaboration that pushed each camp into unknown territory and explored new ground.
You won’t need to pinch yourself awake: As if to ensure listeners that Soused isn’t some fantastic nightmare or haunted daydream, Scott Walker and Sunn O))) begin their five-track, 50-minute collaboration with a brief series of exclamation marks. Walker’s voice sweeps in with extreme operatic gusto, delivering a set of simple, sliding phrases over sparkling synthesizers. Dual classic rock riffs trail those hails, like “Paradise City” abutting a scrap of “Heartbreaker”.
Few artists have pursued such a relentless, calculated destruction of their original aesthetic as Scott Walker, who's traveled a very long road from his debonair early days with the Walker Brothers, singing old-fashioned love ballads and despondent torch songs with a full-throated baritone. That road, so persistently pointed toward full-tilt weirdness as to have offered no hint of Walker second guessing his musical choices, now leads him to a collaboration with drone-metal heavyweights Sunn O))), who record punishingly dark ambient pieces and conduct black mass-style live shows in hooded robes. This initially seems like a strange partnership, but at this point in their careers the two are a perfect fit: Modern-day, 71-year-old demented hepcat Walker delights in pitching his voice out over creepy sonic voids, which reverberate with dense textures and odd sounds, and few can create such sludgy inkpots as well as Sunn O))), a band named after the amplifiers of which they make such heavy use.
American eccentric Scott Walker's latest collection of scary stories to sing in the dark is technically a collaboration with the sludgiest band on the planet, but it plays like any of his recent solo albums: flighty, operatic melodies, minimalist circles of percussion, and brittle stabs of noise. SunnO))), the cloaked duo known for foundation-rattling electric guitar drones, provides triumphant punctuation and proper atmosphere, covering his compositions with a layer of tar. With humming menace comes tracks like "Brando" and "Herod 2014," which have the blood-in-the-desert vibe of Cormac McCarthy, with shockingly vivid lyrics ("the nurseries and crèches are heaving with lush lice") and snapping bullwhip from circus performer Peter Gamble.
With the release of Soused, erstwhile pop singer Scott Walker continues on more or less unabated in the same basic template within which he has worked over the course of his trilogy of experimental albums that began with 1995’s Tilt and culminated in 2012 with the release of the highly regarded Bish Bosch. He continues to barrel ever onward on the same bizarro trajectory begun following his unlikely comeback after a long silence that saw much of his back catalog, both solo and as a member of the Walker Brothers, fall out of print, only to later be heralded by the cognoscenti. Now, Walker has enlisted doom lords Sunn O))) (Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson) as his backing band, jettisoning the group of avant garde simpatico mentalists who aided in his previous three ventures into the unknown.
There’s a vast continuum of unexpected collaborations between aging vocalists and contemporary rock bands. The Cardigans and Tom Jones covering Talking Heads (this is not theoretical at all) lands somewhere near the middle, two radio-friendly acts reaching for nostalgia and cheesy accessibility. It’s difficult to place the Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration, as Lulu stands as such a monumentally maligned flop.
When news dropped earlier this year that drone-metal kings Sunn O))) were working on an album with enigmatic singer-songwriter Scott Walker—former member of ’60s pop group The Walker Brothers, current avant-garde innovator—the mega collaboration should have been a foregone conclusion thanks in part to each artist’s allegiance to the supremacy of volume. (Walker had actually been approached by Sunn O))) prior to their making of Monoliths & Dimensions, but he declined due to another project. ) Pairing the somber and overpowering baritone bravado of Walker—not to mention his mad-poet mystique—with the subterranean thunder and tumbling towers of holy-hell from the core duo of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson seemed like the perfect marriage.
?Greg Anderson, Stephen O’Malley and Scott Walker responsible for some of the most bizarre, most engaging, most inspiring and most grotesque musical exploits of the 21st Century. If you’re familiar with their work - ancient or recent - and have stuck around thus far, you will adore Soused. That’s the good news. The bad news, sadly, is that this project has so many coincidental similarities with another cautiously anticipated all-star collaboration that for me not to mention so would be criminal.
Scott Walker’s velvety croon is still a presence on oldies stations, thanks to “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” and other tracks by his former group the Walker Brothers. But his subsequent solo work has ventured further afield from that band’s sparkling pop with each release. He still possesses a gorgeous voice, but he deploys it on inside-out melodies that both steady and illuminate his abstract lyrics and dread-soaked musical landscapes.
Scott Walker + SunnO))) — Soused (4AD)Bish Bosch is an exhausting record that takes off at an exhausting pace. Its first four songs occupy more than half of its total running time, and Scott Walker stuffs every minute of that opening half hour with awkward transitions, asymmetric structures and lyrics that, at their best, speak to the intuitive and subconscious mind. At their worst they necessitate an annotated guide and draw the listener away from the already messy music, pulling them through the twisted and endless avenues of Walker’s varied interests.
A collaboration between Sunn O))) and Scott Walker seems so apt that the biggest surprise is that it’s taken this long to come about. In fact, Sunn O))) approached the singer to appear on the 2009 album Monoliths & Dimensions, but were refused, Walker instead choosing to write an album with the group in mind. On paper, there’s something unexpected about the pairing: Sunn O))), the group whose rotating cast of members has always included Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson at its core, have expanded the doom metal blueprint far beyond their original, Earth-indebted sound.