Thursday, 29 November 2012

Scott Walker - Bish Bosch


Scott Walker can be forgiven for retracting his pop days for an obscure career. Born Noel Scott Engel in Hamilton, Ohio, Walker played around with genres and a group before settling with baroque pop in the late 60s. He left his unique self-written baroque pop behind in the 70s as he divulged into pop and country. Bish Bosch can trace its origins back to 1984 with Walker's 11th studio album Climate of Hunger. This release and his next (11 years on) are both minimalistic and bleak, however not as eventful and shocking as his 2006 comeback on 4AD The Drift. With The Drift (his most critically acclaimed album since Scott 3) under his belt, Walker looked set for a dynasty with 4AD. It's taken a further six years for Walker to release his 14th studio album. Song-writing doesn't come easy, it takes time. One thing's for sure, Bish Bosch was certainly worth the wait.

Like The Drift and his 84 avant-garde springboard Climate of Hunger, Peter Walsh returns as producer. To understand the pure genius of Walker, one must put their mind at ease. Imagine being in the studio with one of music’s great innovators of sound. Walker has become a master of avant-garde recording, utilising obscure instrumentation and 'different' sounds to create songs. At the heart of every Walker composition is a lyrically enticing song. Such as the album opener 'See You Don't Bump His Head', where on his return to music, Walker sings: "While plucking feathers from a swan song, spring might gently press its thumbs against your eyes." In typical Walker fashion, his nightmarish lyrics set the listener up for what will be their most sacred listen of 2012. The regurgitated drums hit hard in a sort of Jane's Addiction way. There's no time to address certain features because the instrumentation takes you on a voyage to Walker's mind. Moments of high pitched synthesizers are matched with heavily distorted drums to the out of context and highly valuable guitar riff which catches you off-guard.

The listener doesn’t need to fight themselves to understand this album. Anyone that say's Bisch Bosch is 'too experimental' or 'too left field' is missing Walkers perspective. Corps De Blah is like an alien attempting to communicate with a dog. The off-beat percussion works perfectly as synthesizers and guitars enter and leave with no warning. Three minutes in and you can see why Brian Eno hails Walker as one of our great composers. The sheer audacity of this recording is so intense that it opens up a whole new line of thought. For instance at 3:50 where the listener is exposed to trumpet flatulence? What's that all about? Of course, all the chisel sounds are lovely and they honestly do sit well with the tracks atmosphere, but the real talent and quality comes with the harsh synthesizers and industrial sounds of screeching, distorted guitar and moments of utter silence. Then there's an acoustic guitar, and it seems the listener has travelled in a circle. Corps De Blah is an indication of the direction Bish Bosch has taken, no direction. The final three minutes highlight production quality with loud and layered strings, abrasive guitar and distorted instrumentation. Use your imagination.

"Pain is not alone," sings Walker on the third track Phrasing. This repetitious lyric is sang in such a way that it never becomes just that, repetitious. There's buzzing, a stark drum pattern and a loud distorted guitar on the right side as Walker returns to his opening lyric. He repeats this even during the peculiar samba-esque segment. Things turn a little frosty as the instrumentation fades out and Walker is left asking the listener a question: "Did ya spot the die-cut crosses? Did ya?" The drumming picks up and the soundscapes return with energy to hold all the guitars and synthesizers together. Walker ends with an depressing jeer: "Here's to a lousy life."

Walker does a truly spectacular job of using silence as an instrument. SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter) is one of the best tracks of the year due to A) Walkers extraordinary lyrics and B) Walkers 21 minute composition. “If shit were music you would be a brass band," sings Walker in the opening 90 seconds of atmospheric a cappela. If The Drift was a nightmare, then Bish Bosch is certainly the awakening - in hell. SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter) is an insulting, forward and dense track that takes the listener on an adventure. It's an adventure through visions and dreams that quickly turn to nightmares as Walker screams: "What kind of unnatural son would do that to his own Mother." This track is dynamic and it highlights the textures and detailed instrumentation. The strings continuously put the listener on edge and Walker's vocal goes from one extreme to another.

Throughout this album Walker puts the listener through a facade of industrial sounds. The type of sounds that make you turn down the sound to see whether they're actually part of the recording, or just your surrounding ambience. All the dreary synthesizers reveal a darker, black and bleak side to Walker's music which he's been diving deeper into since 84s Climate of Hunger. Dimple could be the soundtrack to death. The haunting strings and high pitched synthesizers mix beautifully with Walker's deep vocal. Similarly, Pilgrim has all the nightmarish instrumentation, vocals and atmosphere as Dimple... Bit with a light turned on. You know those scenes in horror films where there's an intense build-up in a darkly lit room, then suddenly silence and the light turns on and the viewer see's what they don't want to see... yeah, if Dimple is the build-up then Pilgrim is most certainly the shock horror.

Each and every track on Bish Bosch tells a story. Walker is not only a composer, but a poet. He has made sure that the album is an experience and that every song is an experience in itself. By far the most extraordinary track on Bish Bosch is the percussion heavy Epizootics! There are guitar sounds thrown around the speakers and funky segments which could be considered dance, if not only for five seconds. The horns are fantastic and add a further level of freedom to the sound of Bish Bosch. I love how Epizootics! has been split up into various moods which feature various instrumentation, such as the edgy heavy drumming at 3:30 and the comedic sax at 4:00. The most surprising aspect to this track is the ending. The cataclysmic drumming comes to a close and you hear Walker's clear spoken voice for the first time on Bish Bosch: Sorry, I’m so clumsy. Take that accidentally in the bollocks for a start." 

Tar opens with the sound of two machete’s sliding across each other - quite different to his baroque pop days wouldn’t you say? The best moments of avant-garde music is when sounds are left to the imagination of the listener. You can identify several instruments on Tar, but you never quite know for sure what else has been used to craft that particular sound. The deep and dark synth that closes the track is one of my favourite moments on Bish Bosch. That along with the opening few minutes of closing track The Day the"Conducator" Died (An Xmas Song). Between 1:25 and 2:35 to be precise. The sleigh bells ring in the background alongside a dream pop-esque guitar and Walker repeating the lyric: "Nobody waited for fire." This segment is also repeated later in the track before the heavy guitar segment. Theirs an innocence and optional happiness in these few segments of dream pop. Most prominently in the final 90 seconds where the sleigh bells become the focus and snow-like atmosphere takes over. The track ends with sleigh bells and a xylophone to the tune of Jingle Bells.

Bish Bosch is Walkers 14th studio album in 45 years. He's not the most prolific of artists, but he's certainly one of the most efficient artists. This album isn't like any of his others. Sure, it can be compared to The Drift, but it's completely different. The exquisite instrumentation could possibly be even obscure than that of The Drift. Walker is an extraordinary artist that has not only penned these tracks, he's composed and arranged them too. Still going strong at 69 (soon to be 70), the music industry’s biggest recluse releases the peerless and unconventional album of 2012. 
~Eddie

9.1

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