Fiction Stranger Than Truth
Few artists can lay claim to a career with a sharper left turn than Scott Walker (nee Engel), who began his career proper as part of the faux-British Invasion trio, The Walker Brothers, who throughout the ’60s and ’70s earned the UK’s heart, but for the most part swam under the radar on American shores. Since breaking from the group and through the years offering sporadic solo releases of a stark and challenging nature, Bisch Bosch would likely send any casual ’60s lover presently shining his 1967 vinyl of Scott into a despairing bout of confusion.
In approach, Bish Bosch is not altogether too different than Walker’s 2006 release, The Drift, so it shouldn’t prove a total shock to those who have followed his recent work, but it certainly does make a case for intensifying the dynamics of the formula. Case in point, the album centerpiece, “SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter),” makes for a particularly erudite endurance test. Walker employs an expert strategy of being abrasive and confrontational without being loud or screaming. In fact, some of the more bone-chilling moments are the ones where Walker’s lone baritone recites short and disparate lines of macabre poetry, whose eerie content could easily find its way in the paintings of Bish Bosch himself, the album’s namesake artist.
Though you would be hard pressed to call it charming in the conventional sense, Walker’s voice is of course the star of the proceedings. It demands your attention, even if the words coming out make no sense, or delve deeper and deeper into a kind of mortician’s phantasmagoria. It’s strange stuff, indeed. Under any other auspice, when the words, “the sphincters tooting at you”—if you’ll excuse me—expel from your speakers, accompanied by whoopee cushion-worthy swells, it would probably cause you to burst out laughing. However, as Walker strangely intones it, he is almost daring you to do so. In many ways, the singer comes off as a stage actor, perhaps more so in the Beckett school of drama, who is irresistible in his haunting of the stage, if not enlightening in the role. The use of pregnant pauses is also reserved for dramatic effect, as several tracks stop repeatedly, only to be lead back into the fray by Walker’s frenzied wordplay.
The arrangements, especially early on in the album, are less so arrangements as they are natural phenomena that wander onto the scene, then leave just as abruptly. The album begins with “See That You Don’t Bump His Head” and a bludgeoning electronic drum sound that pounds away while inviting a torrential synth to rain over it for a few moments, which gives way to buzzing guitars that pass by in the middle section, only to usher the synthy downpour back again before the song abruptly stops as if nothing ever happened. The arrangements get relatively more fleshed-out towards the middle of the set, such as on the meaty first few minutes of “Epizootics!”
Some albums rest outside the simple classifications of “good” and “bad,” and Bish Bosch is clearly one of those. In its execution, Walker has shown he is still an artist willing to take daredevil risks, diving, in the end, to the breathless depths needed to deliver such an odd and transcendent document as Bisch Bosch.