While I’m certainly no “classic rock" nut, or even someone who enjoys the music of the ‘60s that much, I almost always find myself shocked out how many musical geniuses came out of that period. The thing about the ‘60s is “rock and roll" had basically just been formed and streamlined into popular culture only a decade before so experimentation wasn’t really what we consider it today. Adding something like a sitar or some other foreign instrument made a song experimental, and this is really just laughable compared to the standards now a days. While bands like The Velvet Underground and The Beatles certainly started to contort people’s general idea of music by the end of the decade, the real shocking work from the artists that gained popularity in the ‘60s really came after the end of the decade. Lou Reed did experiment with noise on the record “White Light/White Heat" but his real exploration of it came later in the ‘70s with “Metal Machine Music". While the Beatles were certainly paving new grounds in the ‘60s, what is usually referred to as their most experimental record, was released near the closing of the decade, as well as their members most experimental releases being released in the ‘70s. Even, David Bowie’s ‘60s releases would be considered tame, compared to the direction he took his music in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Although it could be challenge, in my opinion the most experimental artist to come out of this time is a man known as Scott Walker.
Scott Walker began his musical journey in the group the Walker Brothers who received respectable popularity with their 1966 single “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore". The single basically drew its success from that of the British invasion’s sound and was really not respected that much. Following the Walker Brothers’ success Scott decided to go solo to chase after musical integrity over popularity. He released four “self-titled" albums in the form of Scott 1, Scott 2, Scott 3, and Scott 4. These self titled releases helped show Walker’s unique and very operatic voice, incomparsion to the relatively tame singing he had done with the Walker Brothers. After these releases Scott Walker took a long hiatus until he released “Climate of Hunter" in 1983. “Climate of Hunter" was released to poor reviews, and even poorer audience reception and again Walker retreated back into hiding. After another twelve years of not releasing anything, Walker eventually released “Tilt" which is regarded in the same unlistenable vein critics labeled “Metal Machine Music" upon its release. “Tilt" was certainly one depressing listen, with its odd percussion and extremely dissonant melodies, backing the extremely operatic Walker. Well, “The Drift" is basically Walker’s attempt to one up himself and creates an even more harrowing and frightened journey into the mind of a man’s nightmares.
While “The Drift" is not completely devoid of actual musical instruments, it does tend to use odd techniques such as slamming a baseball bat against a slab of meat too create some of its percussion tracks. Walker seems to also be very fond of reversing string playing as well as the use of odd sounds effects (What sounds like wood being sawed on “Jolson and Jones"). “The Drift" is certainly no “American Idiot" and its subject matter shows that with song topics ranging from the Mussolini to Elvis Presley. Basically it’s a harrowing tale rich with stories of death, depression, and a sound that perfectly compliments it. Walker’s vocals haunt the already twisted instrumentals on the album, in a way which only Walker could. While he certainly doesn’t possess the vibrato of some of the most popular Opera singers, Walker’s subtle use of the technique really helps the music take on an entirely new nightmarish level.
Comparisons could be drawn to Naked City, or some of John Zorn’s acolytes but “The Drift" is really a singular album that’s only contemporary is “Tilt", Walker’s previous release. While Walker’s experiments in noise are certainly not “one of a kind", the way he applies these “blocks of sounds" is what makes him such an original artist. Sure, bands like The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, or Merzbow have experimented in the sounds of dissonance, but Walker’s combination of the modernist classical period, with the harrowing nature of his voice makes the music stand alone in the noise genre. Toby Driver, lead singer of Kayo Dot, seems to be on the same wave length as Scott Walker, with his recent solo album as they both are combining the warm sounds of classical noise with the use of harsh vocal performances. Also both artists seem to take their time getting to the point; Walker does not have a single track on the album less than four minutes excluding the closer “A Lover Loves".
“The Drift" is certainly one of the most interesting and darkest albums I’ve heard in recent years, and that certainly does affect its replayability. The depressing and intensely dark attitude of this album makes it be played only during times when I feel I can deal with those emotions without being completely overtaken. The album is basically unrentless in its despair until the closer “A Lover Loves" which is a quiet almost acoustic piece that is completely centered on the beauty of Walker’s voice. However before that we had to deal with what sounds like an exorcism recorded on tape in the form of Walker’s harsh use of vocals on the track “The Escape". Also the shocking moments such as the down played string section on “Cue" makes listening to this album while in a depressing or frightened mood almost unbearable because they will constantly have you looking over your shoulder, or weeping in your hands which I have both done due to this album. Yet, something extremely beautiful is found underneath this ghastly mix of vulgar sounds. “The Drift" is essential the aural equivalent of watching a car crash, while it is both horrible and depressing it as at the same time a beautiful and very intense experience.
Although “The Drift" is certainly not an album that can be played over and over again, it is most definitely a one of a kind experience. Any listeners who are interested in avant garde music or experimental music in general should definitely at least try out the album, as it is one of the most interesting and creative releases of the decade. Scott Walker simply doesn’t create an album on “The Drift" he creates an aural portrait of his nightmares, and that is what makes it succeed in it’s vision.