Continuing their tireless campaign to work with every single artist and band threatening to be more bizarre and avant-garde than them, 'Soused' is the fifth collaborative record in Sunn O)))'s one-chord arsenal, following splits and records with Earth, Boris, Nurse With Wound and Ulver. This time around, they meet baritone pop singer -- gone crazy experimental musique concrete alien -- Scott Walker, who you at least have to admit is the most suitable Walker brother for Sunn to do an album with. Nicknamed Scott O))), Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson join together to make some lovely evil drone sounds for Walker to brood over. It's fifty minutes long and Walker's producing partner Peter Walsh probably got knocked out while it was being recorded, after maybe saying something like "Sunn Who???". It's the follow-up to 'Terrestrials' for Sunn and 'Bish Bosch' for Walker.
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I really hoped this was going to be a load of shite. There was something so predictably laudable about the fallen angel of easy-listening pop teaming up with the group who’d helped drag underground metal into the light of critical approval that I couldn’t help willing the venture to fail miserably. The fact that the usual channels of hype went into delirious overdrive in slathering anticipation of such an odd yet somehow logical union only increased my antipathy towards the whole thing.
It’s not that I dislike either of the artists involved either: Scott Walker’s transition from pop’s most depressed crooner to ever inhabit a bed of luxuriant arrangements, to a kind of dark avatar haunting some of the most starkly disconcerting soundscapes this side of Xenakis is undeniably compelling. Likewise, who could ever deny the uniquely intense sonic physicality of Sunn O))) live, where you can literally feel every torturous dissonance coursing through your body? So I guess my misgivings had more to do with Stephen O’Malley and co.’s increasing ubiquity, as well as the fact that Walker’s defection from popular success to avant garde difficultness is all too often invoked as a pathological move; a kind of small victory for the losers.
And so it pains me slightly to have to report that ‘Soused’ is as annoyingly brilliant as all the hype merchants predicted. Just before I came to reviewing it I was warned that the opener almost threatens to break into ‘Sweet Child O Mine’. Which it does, with Walker’s baritone unusually expansive over gospely organs and the suggestive melody of a cock-rockish lead guitar. But this alarmingly light-filled intro soon gives way to a deliciously dense drone, menacingly adorned with stroboscopic helicopter rotors and rhythmical whip-cracks, as Walker’s sings in melancholy rapture about ‘a beating’ that will do him ‘ a world of good’.
The thing that’s so arresting about this opening track, and the album as a whole, is the vividness and originality of the arrangements. The bosun’s whistle that sounds forlornly across the desolate backing gives the track an almost martial feel, while the whiplash rhythm is just genius, particularly for a track that was inspired by Marlon Brando’s penchant for roles that repeatedly involved taking one hell of a hiding. And so we see there’s even a perverse sense of humour lurking beneath the po-faced gravitas, because let’s face it: masochistic desire is something that fans of either Sunn O))) or Walker’s late work should be able to relate to.
The second track, ‘Herod’ is every bit as epic as its title suggests. It starts with the monotonous ringing of a bell, like the sounding of the alarm in a medieval village as a pillaging horde approaches. Then we have the electronic rotor blades again, ushering in a more aggressive drone that's punctuated with an unfathomably brutish, doomladen motif. Elsewhere in the mix we have low stretched-out moans and the primitive screams of what sound like baby elephants being hacked to death. And in the midst of all this Walker relates some of his darkest poetry yet; singing about a mother hiding away her children from some imminent mortal threat, which shifts during the course of the song’s twelve minutes from Herod’s infanticidal army, to a Stasi ‘goon’ and even disease carrying flies- a horrifying scenario that is not very far removed from events we can see reported on our television screens every night. And again, it’s the visionary brilliance of the arrangements that makes the track so potent, plunging the listener into a series of starkly contrasting pools of sound; from the biblical savagery of the opening verse to taut stillness, pulsating womb music, screaming pandemonium and back again.
The three remaining tracks of the album are just as startling and rich, giving a sense that, as with all of Walker’s mature stuff, this is an album you could dig deep into and still come back to it in years and find new surprises. But most surprising of all is the fact that, despite the intimidating reputation of the artists involved, the album is so artfully constructed that it never feels like an endurance test.
9/10 Critical John 6th February 2015
At last Scott Walker has found collaborators able to dilute his double concentrate of grey biocidal drizzle into a confection of taste and beauty. I've always liked Scott, never heard of Sunn O))) and was a bit doubtful about buying this one. As ever it takes a few listens but the rewards are there for the patient with patience. Scott's melodious voice conforms and functions much better in this metallic dronescape than it does in his own creations. Recommending this gutterbomb comes easily.
9/10 Brendan 8th January 2015
What do you get when you take the ubiquitous shapeshifting troubadour Scott Walker and throw him in with perennial purveyors of sepulchral black mass purification Sunn O)))? Exactly what you would expect to be honest - this is Scott Walker writ doom. The undercurrent of molten drone actually blends together to become a white noise tapestry, drowning out all other outlier predilections that often take Walker's fancy and bringing to bear a steely focus that is bother energising and frightening. His themes remain as dark, confused and melancholy as usual, but the noise that surrounds him only fortifies his resolve, and punctuates the bolts of black humour within. It might have seemed that Stephen O'Malley et al would have gripped the steering wheel on this one, but Soused is definitely Walker's trip, with the metallers the unerring propulsion into the abyss.
9/10 The Drift 25th October 2014
I have total respect for Scott Walker and would say that from my perspective the albums Tilt, The Drift and Bish Bosch are some of the finest left field popular music albums out there (yes popular, but far left). Soused is no exception. But, If you really analyse this, it is an annex to the Drift and Bish Bosch. Some of the, dare I say, left field 'hooks' have an uncanny resemblance to the three aforementioned albums (not that this is bad but I don't see the progression); if anything these references, along with more accessible arrangements (assuming courtesy of Sunn O)))), make this Scott Walker's most assessable album since Climate of Hunter. It's also notable that for the most part the implied harmonic shifts offer the same obliqueness delivered in the previous two albums which is engaging, but suggests that this collaboration is not as collaborative as one may think. Saying this, Sunn O))) give a certain flavour and texture which offers something different (although I don't follow the idea of Xenakis mentioned from a previous review since Xenakis comes for a wholly different aesthetic. I do understand that certain surface texture could be associated with some of his work). Whatever I may think, this is another great album from Scott, but distance travelled does not compare with the last 5 albums; only approximately two years between this and Bish Bosch have arguably created an appendix and Sunn O))) appear to be too aware of this thus the aforementioned pastiche/references. Still fantastic but not the surprise I had hoped for. Was there really not enough material for for sides? As I say m appendix.
9/10 ROGER LINNEY 22nd October 2014
"Soused" is the unlikely pairing of heavyweights Scott Walker and Sunn O))).What is this like? The answer superb. Sunn O))) have created a new opening for themselves with this music which is nowhere near as heavy as their usual output. The combination of off kilter abstract arrangements with operatic styled vocals from Walker works an absolute treat over the albums five tracks. This is Sunn O)))'s best collaboration so far. The 2LP deluxe vinyl album is beautifully presented in a tip on gatefold sleeve which comes in a flip back plastic wallet. The album has three sides. The fourth side is blank. Highly recommended.
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