I was so excited to review this album. SO excited. I was probably more excited to review this album than I was to listen to it, as bizarrely self-indulgent as that may seem. But there’s something about these two artists that inspires people to write – and write a lot – about them and their output, albeit for different reasons. Walker is one of the last true poets in music, his lyrics serving as labyrinthes to get lost within, searching for answers. Check out this absolute behemoth of a review of Walker’s 2012 release Bish Bosch, which serves more as a 4000 word annotation of the lyrics of Bish Bosch than your standard track-by-track review. Walker spends years on his songs, and every single fucking syllable you hear has a vital and profound purpose.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sunn O)))’s pulverizing drone-metal has been widely celebrated as some of the most achieved, ground-breaking music of the past decade in many underground circles. With their notoriously LOUD live shows and cloaked public appearances, Sunn O))) has managed to build up an air of mystery about them matched perhaps only by Walker himself. Which may explain what drew them together initially. The story goes that Sunn O))) approached Walker to feature on their 2009 record Monoliths & Dimensions, to which he declined, only to return a few years later with material written specifically to be played with Sunn O))). And thus Scott O))) was formed and Soused was created.
What separates Walker and Sunn O))) from most other experimental acts is that their music is interesting both in practice as well as in theory. There’s a lot of really neat ideas out there that just aren’t that fun to actually listen to as they are to think about. But despite how out there their music may be, Walker and Sunn O))) always make for a fascinating listen, whether it be due to the tonal curiosities of Sunn O)))’s work or Walker’s innate ear for melody. All this considered, this collaboration album probably wouldn’t end up sucking, which – let’s be honest – most one off collab efforts usually do. And it doesn’t suck. Soused is a great blend of both artists’ sensibilities, hitting that rare synergy where the whole ends up being different than the mere sum of the parts that created it. So then…why do I feel so unsatisfied?
At first I thought I just wasn’t getting it. I’m willing to accept that the genius of the men involved with this project far surpasses my own, and that it would likely take a few listens and an abandoning of expectation to understand the M.O. of the Soused. I really want to love this album, you see, being a huge fan of everyone involved in it. Yet even after giving it far more attention to any other record that doesn’t initially captivate me, after poring over Walker’s typically enigmatic lyrics and attempting to immerse myself in Sunn O)))’s menacing drones, I still feel nothing. After a while, all I was left to do was consider that maybe the problem wasn’t me; maybe Soused just isn’t all that great of an album.
Compared to his last three efforts, Bish Bosch, The Drift, and Tilt, Walker’s lyrics and melodies fall a little flat and flirt with self-parody. And Sunn O)))’s backing instrumentation lacks the power and individuality that their other releases contain; listening to Soused, without the knowledge of the albums’ context, it’d be easy to think it was just another, albeit sub-par, Scott Walker release. Ultimately, the issue with Soused arises here: with Sunn O))) failing to make much of an impression, the record is left to rest on the shoulders of Walker, who just doesn’t seem capable of handling all the heavy lifting.
It’s important to note that Scott Walker’s releases are incredibly sporadic due to the pain-staking plotting of the lyrics. The six years between Bish Bosch and The Drift is a relatively short period of time in the context of Walker’s discography. The fact that Soused arrives only two years after Bish Bosch leads me to think that Walker rushed the songwriting process for this record, and that resulted in something less than extraordinary.
At this point I feel the need to reiterate that Soused is not a bad record by any means; it probably serves as the best entry point to either artists’ careers for newcomers, with the album’s five tracks serving as digestible representations of each’s ethos. I also haven’t completely given up on the notion that I just haven’t gotten it yet. Walker in particular isn’t one to make mistakes, and given his status as one of the most revered cult artists in history, there’s no reason for him to release anything he doesn’t feel 100% committed to. But until it hits me, whatever profound key I’ve been missing to unlock the brilliance of this record, Soused remains merely okay in my books, and that’s a word I never thought I’d use to describe anyone involved in this project. Neither is ‘compromise’.
Ridiculous Made Up Genre of the Day: Scott O))) (I didn’t even have to make that one up)