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Review: Scott Walker + SunnO))), “Soused” (4AD)

Bish Bosch is an exhausting record that takes off at an exhausting pace. Its first four songs occupy more than half of its total running time, and Scott Walker stuffs every minute of that opening half hour with awkward transitions, asymmetric structures and lyrics that, at their best, speak to the intuitive and subconscious mind. At their worst they necessitate an annotated guide and draw the listener away from the already messy music, pulling them through the twisted and endless avenues of Walker’s varied interests. They’re a diversion that leads to confusion as often as poignancy. Walker casually drops references to Frank Sinatra and communism in Romania, then leaps to astronomy and Roman history, and in the middle he skips through something about the spread of diseases among animals, a topic he laces with images of Hawaii, Pope Julius and dead men in zoot suits.

Connecting unlikely — or invisible — dots can be its own reward, even if the picture it forms is ostentatious. It can also be a distraction, with all of the disparate elements sitting side by side as naturally as a bright red paisley patch on a torn white wedding dress. With Bish Bosch the novelty of Walker’s combinations often swallowed the content, transforming his poetry, music and ambition into a muddy and overwhelming wave. Fortunately, Soused avoids this fate.

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Scott Walker's Bish Bosch image from 4AD

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Bish Bosch: New Scott Walker Album in December

I’m about a week late to the party, but if you don’t read Pitchfork or The Quietus—and if you don’t follow 4AD very closely—you might not know about it either. Scott Walker is finally releasing a new album this December, the first since 2006’s The Drift. The album’s official website has a little more information, which you can read here. Evidently, the title’s a mish-mash of Bosch, as in the Dutch painter, and an archaic form of the word “bitch,” as well as a play on the slang term “bish-bosh” (something I’ve only verified via Urban Dictionary):

Bish Bosch is the latest in Scott’s discography to pursue the line of enquiry he began back in 1978, with his four devastatingly original songs on the Walker Brothers’ swansong, Nite Flights, and continuing through Climate of Hunter (1984), Tilt (1995), The Drift (2006). He has continued to mature and develop in a late style utterly at odds with the music that made him a superstar, a lifetime ago, but which is totally honest, uncompromising and transcendent.

Scott began writing his new material around 2009, and recorded it sporadically over the following three years, while he was also involved in composing a work for the ROH2 ballet Duet for One Voice, chorographed by Aletta Collins. Unsurprisingly for a long-term exile from his native America, Bish Bosch is a great melting pot of clamouring voices and languages, swift scene-changes (the album’s geographic reach covers Denmark, the Alps, Hawaii, the ancient landscapes of Scythia, Greece and Rome, and Romania), time-travelling jump-cuts, and metaphors from medical science and molecular biology that seize you by the throat.

Tilt and The Drift are excellent and completely unique records, and Walker is one of my favorite vocalists. If you don’t know him, here are a pair of songs—one from each album—to help whet your appetite:

And one of my favorite songs pre-Tilt, his cover of Jacques Brel’s “Jacky”: