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coverpic flag US - California - Full Moon 223 - 11/06/14

Scott Walker + Sunn O)))
4AD / Playground

When the news about a collaboration between Scott Walker + Sunn O))) (from now Sunn) broke, there were a lot of raised eyebrows as well as a lot of curious (and somewhat confused) minds. Clash of the eccentrics and eclectics, uh? The legendary singer-songwriter and composer Scott Walker, teaming up with the drone-metal and experimental-noise duo of Sunn. Come on enter a valley of dark shades and gothic tales. You'd better expect some eerie blend of drama and darkness. The Sunn ain't gonna shine!

Imagine, Scott Walker's career spans more than five decades! He rose as a pop star with The Walker Brothers back in the 1960s. Walker has an iconic voice and his (cult) status as an artist is rather unique. In his early career he had an interest in progressive jazz, but that has changed a bit over the years, as he's been doing orchestral pop ballads, pop music (with a twist), as well as something tagged baroque pop, over to art rock and more Avant-garde stuff. He told MOJO some years ago that he considered himself being (when he moved to Los Angeles in 1959) a "...continental suit-wearing natural enemy of the Californian surfer...". He was a fan of European cinema (such as Bergman, Fellini and Bresson) and the Beat poets, so it's quite understandable that he ended up some years later with (The Walker Brothers' single) "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine" (1966), dealing with loneliness, emptiness and the deep shades of blue. I still recall when I checked out my parents' single collection and when I put The Walker Brothers' 1967 single "Stay With Me, Baby" (first recorded the year before, by Lorraine Ellison) on the family's turntable at the age of six or seven. I also recall my confused first-experience when I checked out Walker's solo album Climate of Hunter (1984) back in my late teens (not long after it was released). The album both attracted me and turned me off. From the days of The Walker Brothers (who weren't brothers and/or family at all. Scott Walker, John Walker and Gary Walker - the three of them all took Walker as artist names, or an alter ego. The gents were born: Scott Engel, John Maus and Gary Leeds. To quote AllMusic: 'They weren't named Walker, they weren't brothers, and they weren't English, but they nevertheless became a part of the British Invasion after moving to the U.K. in 1965.') throughout a long solo career where he has released fourteen albums, spanning the years 1967-2012 (from his 1967 debut, Scott, to his last album, Bish Bosch of December 2012). Sunn (who took their name from the Sunn amplifier brand) on the other hand, have been circling the heart of underground music and experimental doom-drone-metal since they formed (in Los Angeles/Seattle) some sixteen years ago. The Sunn players are: Stephen O'Malley (a.k.a. SOMA) and Greg Anderson. Sunn have produced a long line of recordings over the years, from The Grimmrobe Demos (1998) up to Monoliths & Dimensions (2009). Both Walker and Sunn have had a long line of collaborators. Yes, this is not Walker's first different collaboration, as he's been working with artists/bands like the German singer and actress Ute Lemper (Walker produced her album Punishing Kiss, 2000, which also held a couple of his songs), Brit-band Pulp (Walker produced their 2001 album, We Love Life), and the British-Pakistani artist/singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Bat For Lashes (a.k.a. Natasha Khan). Walker has been a major influence for a number of artists and bands for many years, such as: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, David Sylvian, Julian Cope, Antony Hegarty, Thom Yorke and his Radiohead, The Last Shadow Puppets (who are Alex Turner from The Arctic Monkeys, Miles Kane, ex-The Rascals, and James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, ex-Simian), Marc Almond, Goldfrapp, Douglas Pearce (of the band Death in June), the late Billy MacKenzie (of The Associates), Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree), Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear of Animal Collective), Mikael Åkerfeldt (of Opeth), the Divine Comedy (a.k.a. Neil Hannon), plus a lot of others. Sunn (or O'Malley) have been working/collaborating with names such as the experimental British band Nurse With Wound (who started out back in the post-punk era of the late 1970s), Julian Cope, Japanese noise-flicker Merzbow (a.k.a. Masami Akita), Australian drone master Oren Ambarchi, US drone band Earth's Dylan Carlson (who used to be a friend and room-mate of Cobain back in the day), to Attila Csihar (the singer of the Norwegian black-metal band Mayhem), and the Norwegian black/experimental/prog metal band Ulver, and several others. Including Scott Walker, again and again: Walker appeared on Sunn's album Monoliths & Dimensions. Andersson founded (in 1998) and runs the label Southern Lord Records, which has released most of Sunn's recordings, while O'Malley has been doing album cover art and design for artists including Melvins, Boris, Earth, Emperor, Norway's Burzum. O'Malley has also been doing a lot of co-op work as a musician and/or as a producer.

Soused holds a lot of drama and dark shadows. This is the soundtrack to the perfectly dramatic nightmare. The album unveils five long tracks (lasting from 9-12 minutes, making a fifty-minute collaborative), and the music/songs are both pale and colourful. Walker croons his way through the album (crooning with a twist, that is), while Sunn spin out layers of brooding, sad-ridden soundscapes. As a mixture, this combination is quite efficient and somehow fascinating. When consumed in parts, that is. Soused kills off any overly happiness. But, then: too much happiness can make you unhappy, so.... diving into Soused (is that a wordplay on 'So used'? Well, it can also mean 'drunk', or 'intoxicated') should be safe enough to do. Anyhow, Soused sounds scary and eerie, and sometimes even annoyingly stupid and pretentious. At times, the musical backdrop sounds like a soused Mogwai. Other times the slow-floating, twisted and bent melodies work quite well. From the Marlon Brando-inspired (probably) and brute opening song "Brando", via the magic and mystery of "Herod 2014", to the closing "Lullaby", which leaves you in any other mode, mood, or condition of entering a deep and safe sleep. Of course, most of the tracks is way too much. It's quite possible to OD on slow drones and feverish, creepy sounds topped with the dramatic voice of Walker. Sometimes Soused makes you think: 'Why am I listening to this?' A few minutes later, you think 'Why not'.

This is not a walk on sunshine. It is rather about Sunn-shine. Or, maybe it's like a walk in the rain, but maybe not "Walking in the Rain" (The Ronettes song that The Walker Brothers also did). Like I have said sometimes before when describing some heavy musical work: not for the faint-hearted. This is the sound of epic darkness, with some glimpses of light spread out here and there.

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