The Drift is a masterful album, having the feel of being pieced together over a number of years. Scott Walker’s last album, apart from the film soundtrack to Pola X, was Tilt back in 1995 and it is quite conceiveable that The Drift has been taking painstaking form since then. Holding nothing back, it’s an oppressive, beautiful, stark album, sometimes dense, sometimes desolate, with the power to shock in its changes between the two and remaining forever impacting. The emotive pieces are often incredibly cathartic, sounding so both for the artist and for the listener.
Walker’s vocals are as powerful as ever, if not more so in their current settings. His crooning was always haunting and vaguely draining, and similarly his work has always had that strong element of darkness behing it, even in the late 60s pop days — now though the darkness has taken over,The Drift offering perhaps the most haunting and draining crooning and uneasy listening yet, leaving the pop element to fade away in to the background.
The songs paint vivid, challenging images — the special package of the album containing a lyric book which sets the songs out on paper as poems. These images are sometimes brutal portraits: “I felt the nail driving into my foot/while I felt the nail drving into my hand” (“Hand Me Ups”) or more haunting, lingering repetitions: “With an arm across the torso/face on the pale monkey nail” (“Cossacks Are”) and the mantra “Curare!/Curare!/Curare!” in “Jolson and Jones”. The album displays an erudite and morbid feel — darkest greens and reds cloud into pitch black on the sleeve artwork offering a perfect statement on the mood contained within.
The songs paint vivid, challenging images.
Following on from Tilt and harkening to the methods of other genius like Brian Wilson, The Drift showcases the use of the studio as an instrument, with an intricate, powerful montage of sounds, the vocals even being effected and looped as well. The lengthy songs are often backed orchestrally, as has often been the case with Walker’s work, with prominent use of strings and brass, however, the conventional rock line-up of guitars, bass and drums is a heavy feature (although not necessarily used conventionally), and there is also a distinct presence of electronics. More generally though is a focus on sound, and on collage — used to dramatic effect.
The album offers much sustained string discordance, similar to Michael Gordon’s Decasia composition (soundtracking Bill Morrison’s film of the same name), as well as a common sound of dull, industrial noise, echoes and reverberations. The songs also pull together sounds recalling many things strange such as electronic wildlife/forest/bird interpretations (“Clara”), a horrific science-fiction attack (with acompanying animalistic vocals sounding half Khanate’s Alan Dubin and half Donald Duck — “The Escape”). The noise of animal terror is offered in “Jolson and Jones”, spaghetti western guitar phrases appear in both “Jesse” and “Cossacks Are” and a snippet of a radio broadcast discussing Slobodan Milosevic finds its way into the work in “Buzzers”. Percussion is often heavy and occurs in various forms such as “Clara”’s whipping and punchbag boxing sample and the kick drum banging invocated in “Cue”.
With its opening of stirring white-noise and discordance “Cue” also offers example of the mantra-like horror soundtrack mood which permeates across the record, it’s sharp burst into wailing high-pitched string screams continuing this mood but in a different vein — there is also a variety of moods and feelings which are conjured and moved through across The Drift. There is a distinctly post-punk feel in the drive of “Cossacks Are” and “Hand Me Ups” with rhythms similar to The Birthday Party or the Manics’ The Holy Bible work and “Jesse” retains a slower, sustained minimalism, yet still rising from its whispered “pahs” into something just that extra bit affecting. “Buzzers” opening section is even a bit coctail-lounge jazz, specifically in its rhythm, but then if Scott Walker is playing a jazz club, his opening acts are Diamanda Galas and Lydia Lunch.
It is not an album for everyone, and not an album for every day either, but it’s quite literally breathtaking and it is definitely an album of the year.
The following track “Psoriatic” also returns that hint of a more playful upbeatness in its recurring bassline but then as with almost all of the tracks it switches to something different, in fact offering perhaps the best example of the production montage with its alternating sawing, wind and vocals, joined in their later appearances by table-rap percussion and kick drum. To remind us that you can never get by in expecting the unexpected though, the last track of the album, “A Lover Loves”, has The Drift following the format of Climate of Hunter (with “Blanket Roll Blues”) and _Tilt_ (“Rosary”) ends with a short, almost straightforward ballad, less elaborate and more melodic, offering a much more accessible beauty — although typically there’s an element of insanity, this time much more cheerful though, the track interspersed with an attention-grabbing “Psst Pssst Psst Psst”.
Already an obvious influence on many of the most famous leftfield singer/songwriter characters of the last half century (Nick Cave, Julian Cope, Jeff Buckley etc), with The Drift Scott Walker has cemented what was already cast in stone — that he is one of the most inventive, talented, intriguing and worthwhile personalities to grace the music industry. It is not an album for everyone, and not an album for every day either, but it’s quite literally breathtaking and it is definitely an album of the year.