Scott Walker + Sunn O))), Soused, album review: A brilliant avant-rock collaboration

Sunn O)))’s immutable drones roll like lava, with pained lowings slashed by serrated bursts of rhythmic noise and swishing knife-blades

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The Independent Culture

For most artists, a collaboration with Californian heavy-metal drone-rockers Sunn O))) would constitute a step out onto a dangerous artistic precipice.

But, given how far out Scott Walker had stepped with 2012’s complex and challenging, allusive and abusive Bish Bosch, the five tracks which comprise Soused seem almost mainstream by comparison.

We’re still in testing avant-rock territory: still wrestling with troubling – sometimes repellent, sometimes bawdy – imagery; still assimilating sounds rarely encountered in rock music, notably the bullwhip cracks scarring the back of opener “Brando”. But, dimly discernible behind the fog of looming guitar drones, these are relatively straight song structures, with recurrent refrains and enough scraps of thematic linkage, such as the references to Brando movies, to keep one searching for meaning among the lyrics.

Over angst-wracked noisescapes, Walker’s aloof tenor declaims with lordly relish such lines of curdled horror as “She’s hidden her babies away/ Their soft, gummy smiles won’t be gilding the menu.” The heroic mother of “Herod 2014” is later described as having “slipped through the dark like a mother moray”. Sunn O)))’s immutable drones roll like lava, with pained lowings slashed by serrated bursts of rhythmic noise and swishing knife-blades.

With its atonal guitars tortured over a low hum, “Bull” is akin to wandering through an industrial complex at night. But even amid this grim terrain, Walker manages to toss in a bawdy metaphor such as “they’re leaping like a Riverdancer’s nuts”. It’s a sign that, however abstruse his art may be, he retains a grasp on blunt, bluff reality, to the point of mocking his own asceticism. It’s this grounding that makes the closing “Lullaby”, featuring his discordantly shrieked refrain of “lullaby, lah-lah”, so ambivalently appealing, at once jarringly astringent yet melodiously memorable. Which is a trick not many can pull off.

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