Few artists have pursued such a relentless, calculated destruction of their original aesthetic as Scott Walker, who’s traveled a very long road from his debonair early days with the Walker Brothers, singing old-fashioned love ballads and despondent torch songs with a full-throated baritone. That road, so persistently pointed toward full-tilt weirdness as to have offered no hint of Walker second guessing his musical choices, now leads him to a collaboration with drone-metal heavyweights Sunn O))), who record punishingly dark ambient pieces and conduct black mass-style live shows in hooded robes. This initially seems like a strange partnership, but at this point in their careers the two are a perfect fit: Modern-day, 71-year-old demented hepcat Walker delights in pitching his voice out over creepy sonic voids, which reverberate with dense textures and odd sounds, and few can create such sludgy inkpots as well as Sunn O))), a band named after the amplifiers of which they make such heavy use.
An album like Soused is thus both profoundly bizarre and comfortably predictable. Walker continues in his now-usual far-out mode, crafting arch, poetic gibberish backed by eerie doomscapes, and Sunn O))) fleshes out the atmosphere. Both artists have a taste for lush, intricate backdrops, and while in Walker’s case the music usually feels like baroque pop decomposed into something garishly rotten, Sunn O)))’s heavier, more ambient work here helps instill a murkier sense of looming doom. This kind of enhancement feels essential, as Walker’s spooky approach to corrupting his original squeaky-clean image has gone way beyond its initial Lynchian dissonance. His recent work has been so extreme that it’s hard to imagine how much further he can push it, without recruiting new collaborators capable of operating on his uncanny wavelength.
Soused achieves this expansion, adding new dimensions to Walker’s oppressively gloomy rococo mood music, deepening and differentiating the usual ambiance of lurid dread. Nothing here is surprising, from the nightmare clarion calls on “Herod 2014” to the jerky transitions from quiet menace to thumping noise on “Fetish,” but the heavy foundation laid by the band intensifies the ominous atmosphere, rendering that dread more earthy and basic, finding forceful new undertones for Walker’s mystifying shouted proclamations. That makes for another album which, if not exactly pleasant to listen to, is at least experimentally interesting, continuing Walker’s aggressive program of abrasive sonic assaults.