Album Review – Scott Walker & Sunn o)))


Scott Walker & Sunn o))) -‘Soused.’ (4AD)

You get the feeling that there are still people who wish that Scott Walker hadn’t deviated too far from the path that they would have chosen for him. Having first arrived in the limelight as one third of the Walker Brothers (nearly fifty years ago), the path he has trod has been increasingly leftfield. Yet it’s not just the fact that songs like ‘Clara’ (from 2006’s The Drift) featured percussive sounds including a dead pig being punched. The signs were there on those four, numbered Scott albums, not to mention the last Walker Brothers album, Nite Flights, particularly ‘The Electrician.’

Yet whilst this is still an album that will frighten those who would still have him singing the chart hits from the 1960s, there’s been a considered view that this may well be the most approachable album Walker has recorded since 1984’s Climate Of Hunter. And that’s allowing for the fact that this is a collaboration with the legendary Sunn o)). The fact is: they have evolved from the days when they were perceived as being just an Earth tribute act. And thankfully for us, their trajectory has brought them together (reportedly they wanted Walker to sing on their 2009 album Monoliths and Dimensions, but it didn’t happen).

‘Oh the wide Missouri!’ Walker sings on opening track. It’s almost a tease – sounding almost operatic before the Sunn o)) drone kicks in. Whilst none of this is singalong (did you really expect that? Seriously??), it’s a cycle which kicks in – and the thought occurs that this may be an album you can – whisper it – enjoy.

And that’s the thing: while on paper this album may seem dark and forbidding, it’s surprisingly easy to listen to time and time again. Not is a despairing ‘I have to be seen to like this’ kind of way – but far more – ‘I hear something new each time.’ Sunn o))’s sound has been described as cavernous – and that’s one of many adjectives – but it truly does fill a room, particularly ‘Bull.’ The 12 minute ‘Herod 2014’ with saxophones that sound like dying birds and the heartbreaking almost-chorus of ‘She’s taken her babies away’ doesn’t end up playing out like Lou Reed’s ‘The Kids’ but almost beautiful.

And it’s a record of two artists’ interest and exploration of the avant-garde, but if people can progress beyond the suspicion that avant garde has to equal a) unlistenable and b) pretentious, it’s a very rewarding album.

Oh, and as far as I can tell, there’s no pig-punching on this, either.


Soused is out now on 4AD.

33 1/3 Part 10


Sunn O))) -‘The Black One’ (Southern Lord, 2005)

I guess the reality is that if you find heavy metal too dark, noisy and full of frightening imagery then this album is not going to change your mind.

However, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, the two men who make up Sunn o))) (pronounced Sun, so stop worrying about it!) show that as well as being quite scary sounding and extreme, sonically, it can be powerful, artistic and even beautiful. In teaching fifteen year olds about Aesthetics, I have often played ‘It Took the Night To Believe.’ Most of them cannot take it, just as I could not take Philip Glass when I was their age.

Thing is, it’s not heavy metal as it’s stereotyped to be. OK, so here are riffs aplenty, it’s very loud and they have pretty big hair. But that aside, this is slow, expressive stuff. Most recent album Monoliths and Dimensions has seen the band experiment with brass and choirs, while live album Domkirke was recorded in a Norweigian Cathedral.

Hugely influenced by Earth and Black Sabbath, Sunn O))) take metal and play it slow, incorporating noise, drone and ambient. Yes, they sometimes sound like the heaviest thing you’ve ever heard and the slowest. But the sheer scope and width of the way they approach sound and music is breathtaking. Added to which, they introduced me to the likes of Boris, Merzbow, Earth -and made me relisten to the early Sabbath albums.

Proof that if you take an album in small doses and think outside the box, something really wonderful can be revealed.

Sunn O))) -‘It Took The Night To Believe.’

Jeez, do I have to be nice all the time?


Sometimes, being nice, especially when you’re feeling tired, grumpy and run down is just too much.

So how about something to show that things can be aesthetically dark and brilliant?

First up, Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley (above) run the Southern Lord label, which produces some amazing stuff. They also have their own band, Sunn O))) (just pronounced Sun, in case you were worrrying). Like this, pretty much my introduction to Black Metal a couple of years ago…and which got me into Boris as well.

Sunn O))) -‘It Took The Night To Believe.’ mp3

When I feel a little more educated about it all, I will do a post on the Japanese underground – Boris, Merzbow, Melt Banana and Acid Mothers Temple, for example. Sample this and enjoy.

Boris -‘Flower, Sun, Rain.’ mp3

The Shining is a deeply scary, but very well-made film. Like many people, I first heard of the Melvins becuase Kurt Cobain loved them. This cover shows that anyone who thinks metal lacks inventiveness hasn’t lived.

Melvins -‘Dies Irae.’ mp3

Were/are Carcass thinking man’s grindcore? Whatever…this track, heard by me years ago when I was still at school showed me that the guy who listened to scary metal stuff might have a few aces up his sleeve.

Carcass -‘Heartwork.’ mp3

My understanding is that swiss act Celtic Frost have now split for good, but their album Monotheist was seen as stunning a couple of years ago. I think this track shows why.

Celtic Frost -‘Drown In Ashes.’ mp3

Finally…blink and you’ll miss it! Turn this on by chance and you’ll jump out of your skin…This is one of the shortest songs ever.

Napalm Death -‘You Suffer.’ mp3

Mad, Bad and…interesting to hear #2

A few years back, when still working in a record shop, I was asked by one of the bosses if I could pick up a record on Sub Pop for him when I went to New York. Sure, I said. ‘You won’t forget this one,’ he said, ‘It’s Called ‘Stabbed in the face.” Well, no, I couldn’t forget a record title like that, nor could I ever forget it once I had heard it.

Wolf Eyes sound like the most terrifying thing you can imagine. They make Slayer sound like the Cocteau Twins, and yet…I find myself absolutely mesmerised by the noise they make.

Wolf Eyes-‘Stabbed In the Face.’ mp3

Wolf Eyes-‘The Driller.’ mp3

SunnO))) are another band that look terrifying, and sound terrifying…and yet, oddly beautiful. Their biggest inspiration is Earth, who I would desperately love to hear some stuff by (recently went into a record shop, they had an immaculately packaged album that was £30). Here are two tracks, one that is just them, another from their collaboration with Japanese band Boris, that I heard originally over at AmpCamp.

SunnO)))-‘It Took The Night To Believe.’ mp3

SunnO))) and Boris-‘The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep).’ mp3

Here is a track from legendary noise band lead by Michael Gira, the Swans. Oddly, it was their cover of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ that led to me aged eleven, startiong to find out about Joy Division. I don;t knwo much about them, but it kinds went with the post…

Swans-‘Sex God Sex.’ mp3

…as did this track from seminal post-punkers This Heat.

This Heat-’24 Track Loop.’

As before, if you like what you hear, check it out. You will almost definitely have to go to an independent record shop.