David Lynch- The Big Dream 6.9
The central image to David Lynch’s confounding, confrontational, creepy and yet brilliant 1995 film Lost Highway is its final shot. It is a ground-level view of an empty, extended stretch of road that passes uneasily by. Upon the announcement of this, his second album, Lynch streamed the video of a non-album collaboration with singer Lykke Li entitled “I’m Waiting Here.” The video is almost identical to the closing shot of Lost Highway, showing a sped-up visual of a winding, empty stretch of road. The song is beautiful, atmospheric and light, yet just a little unsettling at the same time for some reason. The video is an example of how Lynch’s music is very self-referential. His music represents his artistic voice as much as his films and characters do. It probably helps that Angelo Badalamenti, the brilliant musician who has scored almost all of Lynch’s work to date, is Lynch’s main collaborator here. Badalmenti’s guitar playing and soundscapes are what give Lynch his main sonic impact, just like in his visual projects, and are the album’s best feature by far.
This album almost sounds like a futuristic Tom Waits record. That is, if Waits had the entirely unique, unmusical and nasal vocal delivery that Lynch has. Lynch’s vocals, as expected, are pretty far out there. He doesn’t do much singing; most of his vocals are at least semi-conversational. His voice is both this album’s biggest weakness and one of its main drawing points. If you are familiar with Lynch’s film and television work, his off-putting voice isn’t at all surprising. You feel like you know it already even if you’ve never heard any of his music before. To others, his voice may be an obstacle too steep to overcome. Indeed, some of the songs do get bogged down by his bizarre, arhythmic vocals. But, the songs, as strange and unpredictable as they are, often make for a fascinating, eerie bunch.
The opening title track is one of the album’s best. The song’s slow, mysterious crawl is made infinitely better by Angelo’s nuanced, creepy guitar playing, which sets the album’s strange tone right off the bat. “Star Dream Girl” is the closest thing to a normal song that this album has to offer. A bluesy rockabilly track, Lynch sounds most natural here; intoning as if behind the speakers of a car radio. “Last Call” is extremely slow, with some truly strange vocals from Lynch. But again Angelo saves the day with an amazing, atmospheric guitar figure in the song’s chorus. “One foot had a red sock/the other blue/it’s Tuesday baby/where are you” Lynch intones in the most awkwardly deadpan way you can possibly imagine. After the dusty ballad “Cold Wind Blowin’” come the two highlights of the album.
If anyone can capture the terrifying atmosphere of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of Hollis Brown”, its David Lynch. Probably the scariest song Dylan ever wrote, it tells the tale of a desperately poor South Dakota farmer who is driven to madness by his incredible misfortune and by the needs of his starving children. He snaps, killing his wife, his five children, and then himself with the last seven shells in his shotgun. Lynch and Badalmenti brilliantly capture the desperation and haunting nature of the song in their rendition. The last, incredible lyric of the song “There are seven people dead on a South Dakota farm/somewhere in the distance seven people born” is especially chilling when sung by Lynch’s thin quiver of a voice. “Wishin’ Well” is a propulsive, electronic piece that comes alive with pretty synth arpeggios.
The second half of the album serves only to remind you that you are indeed listening to an album by David Lynch. The songs get far more strange, the territory far more bizarre. “Say It” and “Sun Can’t Be Seen No More” are up-tempo and bluesy, but both tracks have an incredibly strange undercurrent. “The Line It Curves” is a slower, more pretty track, that uses Angelo’s soundscapes to its advantage. And, after all that weirdness, the ballad “Are You Sure” closes the album on a mostly normal note. Lynch keeps the odd vocals to a minimum, and lets Angelo add ambiance the way he does so well.
Listening to this album is the same as watching any of Lynch’s films. Or even watching an episode of Twin Peaks, his crime drama TV show that famously just kept getting stranger and stranger until no one wanted to watch it anymore. A lot of it seems familiar, a lot of it fascinating, but something about it is just…… off. Part of you wants to keep absorbing yourself in whatever Lynch is presenting you, and part of you really really doesn’t. Even though Lynch isn’t much of a singer or songwriter, his musical vision is almost as intriguing as his cinematic vision. This album proves that Lynch is a fascinating figure of both music and film, and someone who truly should be regarded as a national treasure.