Jul 16, 2013

Music Review: "The Big Dream" by David Lynch

By Ian Cory

It’s been seven years since the last David Lynch feature length film. That movie, Inland Empire, could charitably be called extremely weird, and could bluntly be called an absolute mess. It’s the movie that people who have never seen a David Lynch movie imagine when you try and describe a David Lynch movie. Since then, he’s made it clear that future films may not be worth fighting studios and distributers over, and has retreated into making shorts, a Nine Inch Nails music video, coffee, and two albums. Given the importance of sound and music in his films, it’s not hard to picture this recent foray as the continuation of Lynch’s creative career and not just a diversion.

This is problematic, because it’s hard to picture someone unfamiliar with Lynch’s work finding all that much to enjoy on The Big Dream. To be fair, Lynch’s movies* are equally challenging to the uninitiated, but the rewards for struggling to wrap your head around them tend to justify the initial confusion. Elements that seem haphazard or out place almost always have a greater symbolic significance, and the aesthetics of his films are engrossing and immediately identifiable. To create this mood, Lynch uses every tool at his disposal, and given the medium of film, this is nearly every tool that exists. The problem with his music is that it attempts to establish this same mood alone. And while The Big Dream does have the right sonic qualities as the rest of Lynch’s work, it lacks context. People who love Angelo Badalamenti’s scores or the songs of Julee Cruise don’t love them just because they sound a certain way, but because they fit the nocturnal dream-state that Lynch’s films inhabit. There’s also a heavy element of irony in the way Lynch sets the sounds of doo-wop and 50’s rock against horrifying violence and unnerving industrial drones. Those same sounds, detached from the distinctive imagery, just come across as hollow experimentation here.

That said, if you’re already invested in the world of David Lynch, The Big Dream will scratch a very particular itch for you. It’s certainly more effectively realized that 2011’s Crazy Clown Time, which was overlong and sounded cheaply produced at times. Instead of relying on the goofy vocoder, Lynch pushes his nasal, and occasionally Wayne Coyne-esque, voice through layers of delay and slapback. While Lynch isn’t much of a singer, his voice is instantly recognizable and has a lot of charm to it. More importantly, he surrounds it with some very unique and atmospheric production. As expected, there’s a lot of tremolo heavy guitar strumming quietly in the distance and plenty of raw, rattling percussion. Most interesting are the handful of songs that lean more towards trip-hop, suggesting an alternate universe where Portishead served as Lynch’s muse instead of Roy Orbison.  Some of them, “Wishing Well” in particular, wouldn’t sound out of place next to the work of Clams Casino. Sadly, these do not make up the majority of the record, and we get just as many run-throughs of tired blues progressions and forms. The best these tracks can do is retread ground Lynch has already covered; even his humorous outburst at the end of “Sun Can’t Be Seen No More” is just a less interesting expression of Lynch’s well documented distaste for foreign beer.

There’s also a nagging suspicion that Lynch’s choice of blues forms has more to do with an aesthetic interest rather than a desire to express a particular emotion. Lynch’s lyrics, mostly made up of bland clichés about love and desire or cryptic talk about dreams and women in trouble, also suffer from this lack of direction. Hell, even the title of the record seems like a simplified statement about the things Lynch likes to explore in depth in his movies. For comparison, this would be like Michael Bay releasing an album called Explosions In America. Simply put, it doesn’t sound like David Lynch has much to say underneath the mysterious atmosphere, which incidentally is my main criticism of Inland Empire. Even if music is where David Lynch’s creative energy is going these days, this lack of passion will ensure that his albums will only be a footnote to his more fully realized work in film.

Grade: C

 *Before we get any further, I’d like to clarify that I am by no means an expert on David Lynch films. I’ve seen Blue Velvet, all of Twin Peaks, most of Fire Walk With Me, Wild At Heart, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. I think most of his work, barring Inland Empire and the shitty parts of Twin Peaks, is fantastic, with Mulholland Drive being my current favorite film of all time.

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