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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Scott Walker

Around Halloween last year, I suddenly found myself wanting to listen to perhaps the most anomalous record I own, "The Drift." Perhaps it was the scary vibe of the season driving me to it, but the urge surprised me anyway because I didn't expect to ever feel that way about that album. I only knew of it as the freaky set of tracks that my ipod occasionally got to when I was doing a random playlist (when it came on at a party once... hilarious results). I thought it was just a hyper-pretentious mess of avant garde-isms served thrown at a wall style. You can't really say much about the sound of "The Drift" other than it has to be heard to be believed, but I used to say that hearing it was the equivalent of being ripped to shreds by gargoyles. I guess that was before I really sank into the flow of the album, and it has revealed its power to me over time like some records tend to do.

I had heard that Scott Walker's discography approached the outer limits of experimental music over the years before he reached the point he's at now. I think this is definitely true. I went back and checked out "Tilt" not too long ago which was released in the nineties -- having only heard The Drift before this, a strange thing happened... I heard actual melodic cadences and a recognizable, rhythmic meter. He wasn't howling like a ghost outside any recognizable, tuneful phrases. I laughed at hearing that! So, if you ever read that The Drift and Tilt are kindred albums, that isn't true sonically. I guess Tilt goes for the whole blacker than black evil vibe but it doesn't have the freaky sounds that The Drift does.

The Drift is a real test of endurance. It won't be a memorable listen in terms of the melodies you'll remember or the lyrics that stood out. It'll just be a vibe thing. Apparently Walker said that he was working with "blocks of sound" instead of thematic statements, like a traditional composer might do. I think that's a great way of looking at The Drift, actually. Different sections and movements in songs aren't introduced by way of the usual signifiers... leading chord changes and the like. He'll go from an odd, quiet section where he's quietly trembling with his voice (a weird, vampiric opera sounding thing) against what sounds like a spoon striking an empty bottle, to a full on screeching attack with his voice distorted and the strings wailing like they are choreographing bombs falling onto a city. Nothing is settling about the album in the slightest. It's the aural equivalent of watching a movie like "The Grey Zone": constantly startling, all tension with no release. The only real catharsis is.. Damn, wow, it's finally over.

In terms of The Drift's absolutely singular uniqueness, I am beginning to respect and agree with people who really liked the album. In this so-called postmodern age, you don't often come across something that feels like it doesn't borrow from anything before it. If you have to make noise to get to originality, that's one thing... It's a whole different thing, something I consider to be genius actually, to sculpt seemingly noisy formlessness into a complete/coherent statement or work of art.

I'm really interested in digging into Walker's discography further. A few options are there: I could buy that "Five Easy Pieces" disc set, there's a documentary about him I think... I kinda wanted to know if any authors or readers here were fans of his work and could make recommendations.

The funny thing is, like I've already said, I started from The Drift. Going back to hearing his apparently "pop" beginnings is probably going to be really, really interesting.

Another side note: the scariest sound in the world occurs at the very end of the last song, " The Escape." Listen to it late at night, by yourself, loud, and on headphones. You will pee.


  1. Yes there is a docu about him, directed by Stephen Kijak, who also directed Cinemania. It has scenes in the studio during the recording of the Drift, and an interview with Scott+ much more.

    His earlier music?? that goes back to around 1958 if you want to dig back that far! He started writing b sides for the Walker Brothers in 1965 there are some gems there too. Solo career started in 1967 Scott 1-4 all worth listening to, Scott 4 being for most the highlight of his career. 5th solo album Till The Band Comes In is much underrated IMO. Two country albums followed that, then an ill starred reunion with the Walker Brothers. This ended with an album called Night Flites, Scott contributed 4 of his own compostions for this, notably The Electrician, which you should seek out immediately, there you can see the progression that ended up with The Drift. I have been a fan since 1966 and still anticipating every move he makes, there has never been anyone like him.

  2. Thank you very very much!

  3. You're so right about that sound at the end of The Escape. I was listening to it at 1am through headphones - it made me throw the headphones across the room in terror, and I couldn't sleep for 2 whole nights afterwards!

    I never ever thought I would listen to that album again, and yet it's the one album I have to listen to over and over again. Maybe just to convince myself that some of the things I remember are actually real, and not the product of a hideous dream.

    Scott's earlier work is relatively gloomy for the most part (The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More is hardly cheerful, for example). However, it is beautiful music, albeit in a very different way.

    Try his tracks on The Walker Brothers' album "Nite Flights" (tracks 1-4). They're a middle ground between the 2 styles. The album is basically 3 solo mini-albums by each member, so don't expect much after the wonderful 4th track.

    (Oh, The Escape is the last-but-one track, by the way. You were probably to traumatised to notice anything after that!)