Monday, November 16, 2009

#44. Scott Walker - The Drift (4AD, 2006)

If I'd been basing this list entirely on my year-end lists as they lay in the early days of the subsequent year we'd be talking about The Drift quite a bit later. As of the first week of 2007 this was in my estimation the best that 2006 had to offer, an alternatingly horrifying and mesmerizing document the likes of which I'd rarely heard outside of Scott Walker's previous major release, 1995's Tilt. On some levels it still occupies that place I guess, it's not that time hasn't been kind to it the way it has to some of my immediate favorites from years past but more that albums I'd initially underestimated crept up on it at a rather quick clip. Does that diminish the power that The Drift holds in it's best moments? Not at all, but it does highlight the one issue that keeps arising with Walker's industrial/post-classical/experimental albums: the minute you get on their wavelength, the minute that the surprise disappears and you have an intuitive knowledge of what's about to happen, the albums have lost their most potent quality.

This is a bigger issue with Tilt admittedly, I've listened to it less and already get more of it than The Drift, but I'm starting to get to that point with the latter as well. It still packs a few surprises; the swells of the chorus in "Jesse" still startle me, the manic quick-change progression of "Jolson and Jones" still puts me nicely off kilter, the end of "The Escape" still baffles me. Every 'psssht-PSSSHT' in "A Lover Loves" sends a chill down my spine and every 'bam-bam-BAM-bam' from "Cue" is a gunshot meant for me that always only grazes my shoulder. It's a denser album to get into on every level, so while I try to make heads or tails of it these things sneak up on me, but they're slowly losing their power. This doesn't diminish the album's considerable greatness, and between the complex and unexpected structures and Walker's deep, harrowing vocals there's a lot of greatness contained here, but it takes away its biggest hook, that constant feeling of unease getting a healthy boost with every sudden swell or random saxophone bleat that you don't expect. It's the rare case where I can't say I think the album's getting worse with each listen, if anything the more I decipher it the more highly I think of it, but that I appreciate it less the more I get into it.

But we're not here to focus on the negatives, are we? Like I said, this is still an intense listen even if it will never knock me off my feet the way it did the first few times. Walker's voice is a marvel in and of itself, such a rich tone applied in such a manner that it never manages to not frighten me in some way. Just listen to the way it suddenly rears up during the chorus of "Jesse" or the mania it subtly adopts as he shouts 'I'll punch a donkey in the streets of Gallway' towards the end of "Jolson and Jones", subtle shifts that make their respective songs among the best moments in his considerably high-quality discography. His voice isn't the main attraction here though; Walker and his collaborators have created a dense, disturbing soundscape for each of the album's 10 tracks, ranging from the quiet, solo menace of closer "A Lover Loves" to the left-field jazz/classical melee of "Jolson and Jones". There's interesting elements in each track, from percussive use of a side of beef - yes, you read that right - on "Clara" to the array of unique guitar tracks that converge during "Psoriatic", all drenched in some of the darkest yet most evocative production this side of top-class industrial music. Walker's transformation from pop idol to whatever you'd call him now is a fascinating course to plot, and given the results have been so singular and amazing it's well worth the 10+ year wait between albums.

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