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Rockin' Our Turntable: David Lynch's Crazy Clown Time

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 9, 2011 4:20PM

2011_10_9crazyclowntime.jpg "Crazy clown time," chirps David Lynch, with demented glee on the title track of his solo debut. "It was fun. It was real fun." The master filmmaker and artist definitely lives up to his first solo album's title.

Anyone surprised by his decision to make a solo album hasn't been paying attention. He's always been intimately involved in the soundtracks of all his films; Eraserhead, his debut, features some of the most intricate sound design in cinematic history. And aside from his film work he's written lyrics for dozens of songs already, most notably those from Julee Cruise's classic albums Floating Into the Night and The Voice of Love.

Aside from a guest vocal by Karen O on "Pinky's Dream," the opening track, Lynch handles all the vocals on Crazy Clown Time. "You might get someone else, an actor, to play a role. But then there are some roles where you think: 'I want to be that person. I want to go into that world.' So I wanted to try," he said in a recent Guardian interview. "I wanted to see whether I could nail it, assuming I could overcome a lot of fear and embarrassment and find a safe place to work from."

Angelo Badalamenti, his frequent musical collaborator, must have taught Lynch a thing or two. The most gripping moments on Crazy Clown Time feature the same slo-mo shuffle and thick, drony textures of the Twin Peaks soundtracks. "The Night Bell With Lightning," an instrumental track on the new album, wouldn't be out of place in The Pink Room.

Two tracks which were released as a single late last year typify the album's mood. On the one hand you've got the oddly perky "Good Day Today." Reminiscent of Underworld (who later remixed it), it's built on a catchy industrial beat, and the lyrics are all about optimism. "So tired of fire, so tired of smoke ... I want to have a good day today," sings Lynch, his voice vocoderized almost beyond recognition. Another track along these lines is "Strangely Unproductive Thinking," which might be the kind of tune that Tron's MCP might create if it was preoccupied with blissful meditation and good dental hygiene. Likewise, "Stone's Gone Up" and "These Are My Friends" both send out positive vibes--they could almost be described as tender.

The other previously released track, "I Know," captures a cool wind of fear that somehow reminds us of William S. Burroughs' more narcotized moments. Over a spooky stomp of twangy electric guitars and decrepit church organ, Lynch's voice echoes out like an intercepted deep space broadcast originating from a planet where it's always 1952. "I know/I know/The bird, she stopped to sing/Since I went and did that thing/I know/The train takes you now, girl." There's some kind of sketchy heartbreak going on, and the obliqueness of his words just makes it creepier. The title track takes it one step further: although the lyrics ostensibly recount a fun backyard party, Lynch's heavily treated vocal is juxtaposed with a heavy clomping beat, disquieting backward guitar stabs, and occasional Yoko Ono-like yelps. It's absolutely hypnotic. And really freaky.

Sometimes however the vocal effects are just plain heavy handed, and when they're coupled with uninteresting lyrics the results are borderline annoying. Lynch sounds like he's got a mouthful of peanut butter on "Football Game," and on "So Glad" he's whiny, making the tales of betrayal told in the lyrics of these songs come off as pretty silly.

By and large though Crazy Clown Time is a blast, mixing rhythmic hooks, slithery atmospherics, and delightfully eccentric lyrics into a heady brew that's custom-made for those who appreciate the dark side of life. It's certainly an album that every Lynch fan will want. Except perhaps those suffering from coulrophobia.

You can stream all of Crazy Clown Time over at NPR Music