In his movies, director David Lynch explores the darkest, weirdest, and most twisted corners of the human experience.
Witness the opening shot of Blue Velvet, where a camera pans through an idyllic suburban setting before diving beneath one of the bright green, perfectly manicured lawns to reveal the beetles eating away at them from below.
A similar feel pervades Lynch’s first solo album, Crazy Clown Time, which time and again takes a seemingly innocent scene—children running through the backyard, nighttime treks to football games—and twists it into something vaguely menacing. In interviews, Lynch, whose interest in music traces back to a song he co-wrote for Eraserhead in 1977, describes his sound as “modern blues,” which is a bit like describing his film Mulholland Drive as a “modern noir” (supposing that film noirs typically dispose of conventions like plot, continuity, and clarity in lieu of extended masturbation scenes featuring Naomi Watts). Dark and disjointed, the music on Clown Time more closely resembles Tom Waits’ most out-there experimentations than other, more easily recognizable forms of the blues.
The consistently unsettling album arrives awash in queasy tremolo-heavy guitar, programmed drums, and clipped bursts of noise (gunshots, howling electronics). Save for a guest appearance from Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O, who brings a sense of desperation to the surrealist nightmare of “Pinky’s Dream,” Lynch provides vocals throughout, sometimes singing through a vocoder—the willfully odd “Strange and Unproductive Thinking,” which includes more references to dental hygiene than the typical Rick Reilly column and comes across like a cyborg making its shaky debut at an open-mic poetry slam—and other times adopting a reedy twang that sounds something akin to Jimmy Fallon fighting off a head cold to bang out his impression of Neil Young.
Removed from the musical backdrop, a majority of Lynch’s lyrics sound relatively tame. When he repeatedly intones, “So glad you’re gone/Ball and chain gone” on “So Glad,” it initially sounds like the plainspoken talk of a new divorcee. But delivered in cryptic tones and paired with shadowy instrumental accompaniment, a more nefarious picture of wrongdoing emerges. Ball and chain gone? Why, what have you done with her, David? Similar feelings pervade the weary “Speed Roadster,” a tale of obsession on which Lynch sings, “I might be stalking you” like a man who’s already invested in his share of wiretaps. Then there’s the innocuously named “Football Game,” which gradually evolves into a bleary menacer. “You better run, baby,” Lynch drawls as guitar chords melt and stretch like glass put against an open flame. “I hope you can.”
Occasionally, Lynch adopts the same weird-for-weirdness-sake approach that can submarine his films. This is particularly true of the title track, a ponderous, seven-minute-plus tune where the director—speaking in a nasal, high-pitched voice—provides a weirdly detailed description of a child’s party (“And Timmy jumped so high!”) atop a droning musical backdrop replete with over-sexualized moaning. “Strange and Unproductive Thinking,” which might be the most apt title on the album, sounds similarly unmoored, a drug-induced experiment better left on the studio’s cutting-room floor.
Indeed, while the famed director makes a somewhat convincing turn as a musician, he could have used a good editor to help shape and refine his disconcerting soundscapes. —Andy Downing