Depraved, Psychedelic Spoken Word
Shortly before his death in 1997, famed postmodernist author William S. Burroughs recorded a series of excerpts from his controversial 1959 novel, Naked Lunch. These recordings featured an eclectic accompaniment provided by guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Wayne Horvitz and violist Eyvind Kang. However – perhaps due to its incendiary nature – the project was soon buried and remained so for decades.
More than twenty years later, producer Hal Willner has joined forces with enigmatic garage rocker King Khan and a handful of other experimental-minded artists to bring this highly provocative work to fruition. Rather than completely reworking the project, however, Khan has merely expanded upon the unsettling musical textures of the original recordings using his own stunning array of ambient tones.
It should be noted that Let Me Hang You is both unabashedly avant-garde and vulgar. The 13-track album does offer some brief moments of consonance, such as the subdued acoustic harmonies of the opener “The Exterminator,” the bluesy riffs of “The Queen Bee,” and the brilliantly-layered, ¾ passage towards the end of “Disciplinary Procedure.” However, these moments are vastly overshadowed by Burroughs’s gravelly vocal delivery and the artists’ general predilection towards discordant musical figures. The album fully embraces dissonance and chaos. “Manhattan Serenade” achieves an impressively cacophonous and jarring blend of buzzing, squealing, and chiming sounds. “Leif the Unlucky” employs disjointed and discordant guitar figures that can aptly be described as ‘noise art’. The unique instrumental arrangement of “Islam Inc.” willfully refuses to extend its melodic lines to the point where they might be characterized as even vaguely catchy or memorable.
This exceptionally avant-garde approach pairs fittingly with Burroughs’s harsh vocals and exceedingly crude lyrics. Naked Lunch was, after all, one of the most scandalous pieces of literature of the twentieth century, steeped in both drug culture and sexual debauchery. With this in mind, listeners should approach this album warily. It contains some of the filthiest passages from Burroughs’s novel, rife with “defecation”, “jockstraps”, and “baboon a**holes”.
Let Me Hang You is an undoubtedly unique listening experience – to say the least. It has been labeled as ‘psychedelic spoken word,’ which is probably as accurate a classification of this compilation as one will encounter. Fans of avant-garde and psychedelic music alike should find the album’s musical figures to be delectably offbeat, while admirers of William S. Burroughs will certainly enjoy this posthumous adaptation of one of his seminal works. Of course, listeners who fall outside of these basic groupings may find this project to be overly abrasive; however, there is still something to be said for Let Me Hang You’s light-hearted and defiant attitude.