Nothing quite compares to the dark force that is David Lynch. The noir filmmaker is currently in search of new profound visions through music. A few musical projects have worn his stamp in the past. He has worked with Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks), pianist Marek Zebrowski (Inland Empire), and recently collaborated with Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse on the album and artwork for Dark Night of the Soul.
But Crazy Clown Time marks his first attempt at a solo musical project. All the tracks were written, performed and produced by Lynch at his home studio with engineer Dean Hurley. There is no doubt that many will find themselves listening to this album out of sheer curiosity. After all, David Lynch has morphed into a brand, even creating his own coffee blend, which is for purchase on his website. Crazy Clown Time is the kind of novelty that on the surface feels authentic because we have all come to embrace Lynch as an eccentric who cannot be contained. But in this case, he should have contained himself a little more.
All of the songs on Crazy Clown Time can roughly be divided into two types of production aesthetic. Soggy computer produced loops/effects and the use of real instruments with a blues twinge on the second half of the disc. Lynch has stated that, “All of the songs on the album started as a jam. The jams eventually found a form and lyrics appeared”, and that sounds about right. The addition of vocals by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O on “Pinky’s Dream” do little to kidnap the listener and steer them towards the road Lynch wants them on.
The second track, “Good Day Today”, is an example of how most of the tunes are under-developed and leave the listener on a highway to nowhere. Maybe this is where Lynch wants to lead us. I wouldn’t put it past him. But there is little here to convince us of this musically. “Good Day Today” and “So Glad” sound like music produced by a non-musician. That can be a good thing in some cases, but it comes across as amateurish on this album. There is no nuance in the layering of the various electronic elements on the first half of the album, especially compared with what someone like James Blake is currently doing with electronic sound.
The height of this stream of consciousness comes in the form of the track ironically titled “Strange and Unproductive Thinking”, which is exactly what it is. This applies to the lyrics as well. Lynch’s simple and repetitive lyrics are meant to be directly emotive, but come across sounding juvenile. From “Ball and chain gone / Ball and chain gone / Ball and chain gone”, on the track “So Glad”, to “On this dark dark nigh t/ a song of love / a song of love”, on “Noah’s Ark”, his hushed vocals are overwhelmed with effects and fall flat.
In the midst of these disappointments there are a few things that work. “Football Game” is the kind of music David Lynch should be making. The crunchy re-verb guitar sounds and more defined vocals have heart. This kind of edgy blues fits his temperament and may be what he’s trying to accomplish on Crazy Clown Time. The track is repetitive but compelling. One wishes he would have tapped into this kind of gritty blues more. “The Night Bell With Lightning” promises more of this, but never develops.
All that to say, the second half of the album is the better half. It is admittedly more creepy and the song structures are better. The dirge-like movement of “Movin’ On” works as Lynch settles into a voice that serves the music and ebbs with the undercurrent of the music. Then, in a completely unnecessary move, Lynch rocks a vocoder on the last track, “She Rise Up”, which sounds like a musical continuation of the previous track, “Movin’ On”. The last track is representative of the overused effects on his vocals. He projects so many different personas through the use of effects that they become uninteresting. They result in unconnected sonic experiments that never make a cohesive artistic statement.
Crazy Clown Time is clouded with studio experiments that attempt to hold up weak songs. I hate to make this comparison, but most of the songs on this album are not as unsettling and subversively abrasive as his films. The world is a scary place these days but Crazy Clown Time is not. David Lynch excels at darkly surreal visual expression and as a musical consultant, but his position as a solo musical artist is still in question.