Sunn O))) + Scott Walker Soused 4AD
Fair to say that expectation weighs heavy with this one. Sunn O)))’s Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley first approached Scott Walker with a single-track collaboration in mind for 2009’s Monoliths + Dimensions, but nothing materialised. We should be thankful, then, that what came of that rebuttal was this more extensive work: Soused is an enthralling, perplexing record, as resolutely original as it is emotionally engaging. Walker’s inimitable vocals may be the draw for many, but its core remains the primordial low end one would expect from O’Malley and Anderson. It’s hard to understate this; the pure – and it is pure – weight of sound is crushing in its totality, bordering on tactile even via shitty headphones, an infinitesimal pinpoint of light-sucking intensity.
Brando kicks things off in expectedly idiosyncratic fashion: drifting, sunset-haze guitar licks and iridescent strings quickly give way to percussive whip snaps, Walker’s unnervingly vaudeville vocal line and that subterranean low end, an analogue cyberpunk pulse reminiscent of Dilloway and Lascaleet’s collaborative oscillatory workouts beating underneath (a reference that feels oddly appropriate given the aesthetic similarities to noise – in a cumulatively physical, rather than overtly stylistic fashion – that Walker has displayed in tracks such as Bish Bosch’s See You Don’t Bump His Head). It’s an astounding start.
Nothing that follows misses its mark. Herod 2014 is perhaps destined to be Soused’s de facto centre piece, as much for the exhaustingly dour biblically-derived narrative and grimy figurative lyrical passages – “Bubonic blue blankets run ragged with church mice”, anyone? – as the Butcher-esque saxophone squeals and bottomless pit atmosphere. Certain passages within sound uncannily like David Bowie’s Labyrinth cut Within You, chopped up and reduced a few hundred percent in timestretch; a reverent and beguiling prospect.
Bull – the track featured on the brief promo video preceding the album’s release – and Fetish veer, at times, as near to conventional ‘rock’ orchestration as Sunn O))) and Walker get, the former featuring something close to a bona fide riff and trad heavy metal vocal before staggering back into the weird, the latter mixing it up with passages of acousmatic noise concrète, down-tuned cello and a little Badalamenti-esque lilt.
Soused peaks, though, with Lullaby; nine-or-so minutes of creeping dread and gaudily operatic half-hooks, factoring Walker’s most giddily unnerving vocal and lyrics (“Hey non-e non-e / Why don’t minstrels go from house to house howling songs the way they used to?”). The “chorus” passage, Walker shrieking slightly off key above tightening strings and a portentous riff, is genuinely, creakingly pathotic, the malign atmosphere only topped by the lo-fi digital bleeping running throughout the rest of the track, a solemn wake-up call for a trip to the tomb. Wonderful, head-razing stuff.