“If you’re listening to this you must have survived,” moans Scott Walker towards the end of Bish Bosch, his first vocal album since 2006’s The Drift. It’s something of a tongue in cheek acknowledgement that the album has covered some pretty difficult terrain, and the danger of listening to a Scott Walker album is that once you’re in you might not make it out.
Walker, the former pop icon from the Walker Brothers in the 1960’s, has increasingly moved into darker more avant garde territory as the decades have progressed. He is one of the most distinctive and unusual artists around. Each record feels like an event, the concert hall colliding with the gutter, sonic experiments in a quasi operatic netherworld.
His voice is remarkable, an emotionally wounded baritone. It quivers, overwrought with emotion, yet he’s singing, “If shit were music, la la la la la la, you’d be a brass band,” on Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter. Somehow the glib one-liners fall flat, only adding to the feeling of alienation.
The music in the main is sparse, a kind of deconstructed version of rock music. It rises and falls in behind his poetic vocals, often into blank nothingness. He uses machetes on the track Tar, fart sounds on Corps De Blah reveling in the musical slapstick. Yet the way he uses conventional instrumentation is even more terrifying. Sparse, austere, almost clinical, the influences coming from new classical and the avant garde. Yet there are also moments of doomy guitar riffage here, even percussion, sleigh bells and piercing keys.
Brimming with obscure references and a dark abstract absurdism, this is music for the foreground. It asks a lot of questions but answers few. Music this complex, this immersive, this self indulgent is rare. Pray you survive.