The Best Albums of 2014, #3

band013. Scott Walker + Sunn O))), Soused (4AD)

The idea of Scott Walker and Sunn O))) collaborating was one that seemed too perfect to even imagine. “Like that partnership would ever happen.” Well, it did, and fans of the venerable, reclusive Walker, fans of the doom/drone duo, and fans of avant-garde music in general flipped their collective lids when the new album Soused was announced. Not all dream collaborations work, though, and there was plenty of reason for apprehension. And in this case, for good reason, too. I’m very familiar with both sides, but consider myself much more of a Scott Walker fan than a Sunn O))) fan, though I have enjoyed a great deal of Sunn’s work over the years. So I approached the prospect of this album with a few questions. Would the roaring guitars of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson overwhelm Walker’s crazed poet persona on record? Or would Walker’s sheer eccentricity prove too much of a challenge to the comparatively more rigid Sunn O)))? Could these two disparate yet similar musical geniuses come together in the middle and yield a genuinely rewarding album?

In the end, as perfect a balance between the two sides as possible was struck on this extraordinary record. Much to my great relief, it’s essentially a Scott Walker album with Sunn O))) acting as backing musicians, the guitars, drones, and feedback harnessed and manipulated brilliantly and beautifully by Walker and longtime collaborator Stephen Walsh, dark in tone, laced with dry humor, unsettling and bracing at the same time. It has all the elements I look for in a modern Walker album: eccentricity, poeticism, thoughtfulness, horror, mystery. A complete disregard for anything conventional – song structure, melody, lyrics – yet at the same time focused, lucid, linear. Walker matches the power of Sunn O))) step for step, and more often than not dominates, leaving harrowing impressions that continue to leave a lasting impact on me. Whippoorwill. “A beating would do me a world of good.” Pete the Whipper. Ho, ho, watenay. Custodiunt migremus. Acne on a leper. “The most intimate personal choices and requests central to your personal autonomy will be sung.” While the sheer eclecticism of Walker’s Tilt/The Drift/Bish Bosch trilogy is missed, this is a completely different beast, the 71 year-old Walker offering his own, unique take on heavy metal and coming up with music far more visceral and intense than anything the genre produced in 2014.