When pop crooner Scott Walker plunged into the abyss on 1995’s Tilt, he initiated one of the most radical transformations in the history of recorded music, rejecting the tuneful chamber pop of his ’60s-’70s output for a pitch-black sludge of musique concrète, avant-classical, and industrial art-rock. Walker hasn’t looked back since, doubling down with 2005’s The Drift, and now Bish Bosch: an album as erratic, scary, unhinged, darkly hilarious, and wildly imaginative as any in recent memory.
Replacing The Drift’s murky, viscous slog with rapid-fire sequences of tension and release, Bish Bosch is defined by its jarring contrasts between musical extremes. Ominous electronic and orchestral drones barely establish themselves, before giving way to noisy, abrasive blocks of punishing drums and brawny guitar stabs.
Exotic instrumentation (harpsichords, Samba percussion, zithers, ukuleles), textural shifts, and lyrical themes (Julius Caesar, fart noises, Polynesia, Yo Mama jokes) pop up and recede impulsively, building an array of musical possibilities as dense, thorny, and encyclopedic as a Pynchon novel, with Walker’s quivering, operatic baritone as its sole, anchoring force.
Difficult as it is to proclaim Bish Bosch 2012’s best album, (its hulking weight and unyielding grimness renders casual listening a near impossibility) no LP this year has matched its gutsiness and sonic adventurousness, or consolidated so many ideas into a single musical statement.
With everyone from from McCartney to Rod Stewart sacrificing their integrity to fill arenas and Christmas stockings, Walker remains an anomaly among 70-year-olds in the music biz. May he continue on his long, strange trip down the rabbit hole.