Our most recent encounter with David Lynch – that renaissance man of all things dark, bizarre and dreamy – was his surreal, confusing and lightly scary music video for Nine Inch Nails' single “Came Back Haunted,” which brought together some of Lynch's earliest creative themes (high-contrast photography, alien textures and horrific, distorted faces) and his more recent obsessions with digital animation. It's no surprise then that Lynch's own musical career, which includes collaborations with a wide assortment of artists, also brings together sounds and themes spanning his entire creative canon.
His work with composer Angelo Badalamenti on films like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive is the stuff of legend, and he previously worked with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor on one of his most disturbing films, Lost Highway (my personal favorite, haters be damned). Over the past decade or so, he's devoted considerably more time to music, setting up his own record label and personal recording studio... and he's taken to both the guitar and microphone, recording songs for his last feature Inland Empire, and eventually releasing his own solo album – the insane but entertaining Crazy Clown Time, which turned out to be a modest success, including the single “Good Day Today.”
Much of Clown's heavy beats, spooky blues rhythms, nightmarish sound effects and surreal, minimalist lyrics carry over into Lynch's follow-up record The Big Dream, which came out this week. While the songs on the previous album were distinctly “Lynchian” in their surrealism, Dream may be even more surprising to fans for its slightly more accessible approach. Lynch's life-long passion for creating unique sound textures is still very much in play, but his fondness for guitar – which he plays in a completely unconventional style – is the driving force on this project. Working in a loose, improvisational partnership with producer/multi-instrumentalist Dean Hurley, Lynch has crafted a moody collection of dark, hypnotic electro-rock which captures the eerie dream-energy coursing through all of his work.
Lynch refers to The Big Dream as a “modern blues album,” which is a sort-of-accurate assessment of the tone; blues has always been more of a style and structure than a genre, and Lynch uses the blues form as a launching point for experimentation. A lot of credit should also go to Hurley for his effortless ability to slip into different instrumental roles and styles to accommodate Lynch's stream-of-consciousness approach to songwriting and lyrics, and his beat patterns seem to serve as a springboard for new song ideas.
That said, there's a definite "sameness" to the songs on The Big Dream; Lynch seems to be stuck in a single groove musically, and while the album evokes a dark, spooky but strangely beautiful fugue state (which is how you know you're truly inside the artist's head), the tracks don't stand up quite as well on their own. There are some exceptions, like a surprisingly earthy rendition of Bob Dylan's "The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” the gritty, oddly-voiced shuffle of “Sun Can't Be Seen No More,” and the warm, inviting trip-hop vibe of “Wishin' Well.” When Lynch and Hurley truly click as a team, the result is the ghostly dance-hall number "Cold Wind Blowin" (which I can imagine being played on a jukebox in any of Lynch's films), the '80s gothic-rock vibe of “The Line It Curves,” or the surprisingly danceable single "Star Dream Girl.” Listen up:
Lynch best describes his creative approach to music in the interview clip below: “You're goin' down a road, and then you veer off,” he explains. “It's kinda familiar where you are, but it's frightening. It can be filled with absurdities, surprises, and dreams like crazy... all kinds of possibilities exist there. It's filled with torment too, and sadness and wrongdoing, but... it's pretty magical.” Come to think of it, that's a pretty good summation of Lynch's work in general. If you're willing to just go with the ebb and flow of his ideas, very much the same way you experience his films, you might be pulled into some compelling and hypnotic passages. If you're looking for something with a hook, you're definitely in the wrong place, but I think the creation of a dark, drifting and enveloping mood is really what Lynch is aiming for; it's a borderland between a lazy daydream and an anxious nightmare... again, just like his movies.
The Big Dream is available on CD through Sacred Bones Records, and as a download via iTunes. The download includes the bonus track “I'm Waiting Here,” featuring vocals by Swedish singer/songwriter Lykke Li; it's a shame it wasn't included on the main album, as it's one of Lynch's best collaborations to date.