Crazy Clown Time (album)
by Jason Coffman
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David Lynch is best known, of course, as a filmmaker, but he has been involved in music and sound design both for his films and separately in the past. However, his new album Crazy Clown Time is his first full-length album as a solo artist. While it seems unlikely that Lynch will return to feature filmmaking any time soon, Crazy Clown Time may be a piece of work in another medium but it fits comfortably into his overall body of work. Following 2006’s epic Inland Empire, Lynch has been working more behind the scenes as a producer of other people’s projects, like his son Austin Lynch’s Interview Project and Werner Herzog’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?. Lynch’s recent work behind the camera has been tied to music, directing a concert for Duran Duran and a short film to accompany Interpol’s song “Lights,” so returning to music himself makes sense.
The result is something of a surprise, however— unlike the music Lynch co-wrote and produced for Chrysta Bell on the Inland Empire soundtrack, which was heavy on strings and ethereal vocals, Crazy Clown Time often recalls the sound of the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Opening track “Pinky’s Dream” begins the album on a tense note with propulsive post-punk drumming and a guest vocal by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, opening up on the chorus with guitars but returning over and over to that claustrophobic arrangement on the verse. The next track, the single “Good Day Today” completely upends any expectations set by “Pinky’s Dream” by being a very straightforward, gentle but upbeat electronica song with Lynch singing through a vocoder. Unlike the dark opening song, this sounds like something you would hear pumping out of a Wet Seal store at your local mall.
And thus the album alternates between the eerie guitar twangs that sound like they were recorded at the roadhouse in Twin Peaks (most notably the instrumental “The Night Bell with Lightning”), electro-disco tracks (“Strange and Unproductive Thinking,” which sounds like Lynch is reading from a book on transcendental meditation— through a vocoder, of course), and low-key minimal trip hop (“Noah’s Ark”). Lynch’s vocals are never presented without some sort of effect or distortion throughout the album, which sometimes works in his advantage (especially on the creeping “I Know” and the just creepy “Crazy Clown Time”) but on at least one track seems more like a goof than anything else. Lynch literally sounds like he has a mouth full of marshmallows throughout “Football Game,” which ends up lightening the mood after the slithering dark atmosphere of “Noah’s Ark.”
If there’s a major problem with Crazy Clown Time, it would be the lack of much in the way of hooks or traditionally memorable melodies. Most of the songs are built on a constant repetition of a few elements with Lynch’s vocals laid over them, and this sometimes grows tiresome. One surprising element of the album is how little there is in the way of “positive” emotion present, given Lynch’s focus on transcendental meditation in recent years. Most of the songs present traditional themes of doing or being done wrong. The narrator of “Football Game” catches his girl with another man and warns her “You better run, baby/ I hope you can.” In “Speed Roadster,” another (?) narrator is accusatory— “I know you fucked Al/ He’s supposed to be my pal”— but may not actually be involved with the girl in question (“I guess you might say I might be stalkin’ you”). Only “Good Day Today” and the mid-tempo closer “She Rise Up” (“She rise up/ Shinin’ like the sun”) feature any sort of positive lyrics to match their sounds.
While Crazy Clown Time is certainly worth a listen for Lynch fans, and anyone looking for something predictably “weird,” there’s not a whole lot to latch on to to bring most listeners back for repeat plays. While initially seeming like a strange side project, it actually fits in with the work Lynch has been doing since Inland Empire, although it’s hard not to listen to it and not wish that Lynch would get behind the camera again. Even if it’s just to film the stuff going on in “Crazy Clown Time,” which sounds like a description of a classic Lynch-style scene of unease.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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