David Lynch is my favourite filmmaker. My obsession with Blue Velvet has confused and frightened multiple girlfriends, and I have spent more time interpreting passages from Twin Peaks than any healthy 25-year old should. Furthermore, since I began following his career in earnest, I have discovered that Lynch and I share a similar dedication to seemingly contradictory vices and lifestyle choices such as meditation and caffeine. In short: I really like the guy, which helps to explain why I was initially reluctant to explore his music.
I purposely avoided Lynch’s first album, Crazy Clown Time, when it came out a couple of years ago. Offputting title aside, I was worried that the director’s artistic vision might not translate well into music, and that I would be disappointed by his album a result. I was also saddened by Lynch’s self-imposed retirement from feature filmmaking, and was tempted to boycott his music in protest. For the most part, however, I really wanted to like his music, and was worried that I wouldn’t.
It turns out that my worry was needless, as David Lynch’s newest release The Big Dream is an exciting, unnerving, and at times, unsettling experience for the listener, which should satisfy any fan of his films, or innovative blues music more generally. The album bears some resemblance to Bob Dylan’s output since Modern Times, with a little Lou Reed thrown in for good measure. But ultimately, The Big Dream is a record only David Lynch could make, and perhaps unsurprisingly, would fit in well with the soundtrack to any number of his films.
The Big Dream is a slow burner, only revealing itself as a statement after repeat listens, and relies heavily on mood. The lyrics are minimalist and stark, often harrowing [“Cold wind blowin’ through my heart / the game is over / you win / I lose”]. Lynch’s singing voice is far from versatile, though it has evolved into a beautifully odd instrument, relying on dramatic phrasing and various filters and effects to sustain the album’s dark aesthetic.
The real revelation here is Lynch’s guitar playing, best revealed on the highlight from this set, “Star Dream Girl”. “Crank up that radio” the singer demands in the song’s opening bars, and the listener cannot help but oblige: a deceptively simple, tastefully-distorted blues riff builds to a full-out, full-band stomp, with Lynch’s space-age paen to an elusive love interest taking the listener on down the Mississippi to the backwaters of Mars.
There are some stumbles and missteps on The Big Dream — Lynch’s nasal, heavily- manipulated vocal on “We Rolled Together” becomes tedious, as it is on “I Want You”. However, at two in the morning with a healthy dose of tequila I might feel differently, as this is obviously not an album meant for daylight, much like Lynch’s films.
No American filmmaker in the past thirty years has used music to greater effect than David Lynch. Who can forget Dean Stockwell channeling Roy Orbison in Blue Velvet, or Rebekah del Rio’s stunning a capella performance in Mulholland Drive? Given the director’s obvious penchant for echo and reverb in popular music, it should come as no surprise that The Big Dream is awash in similar effects. Lynch paints auditory pictures of dark and light throughout the album, relying heavily on bare-bones electronic pulses and rhythms, and guitars and vocals drenched in echo and reverb. The album-closing “Are You Sure” is a prime example, enticing the listener into an almost trancelike-state. In characteristic Lynchian fashion, he concludes what has been to this point a mostly dark, and at-times desolate artistic statement on a hopeful note — “You just might fall in love,” he sings in the album’s final moments.
In his films, David Lynch has always triumphed exposing the extremes of dark and light, terror and comfort, hope and despair, and The Big Dream turns out to be no different. At the very least, the album should convince diehard Lynch fans that the director’s self-imposed, semi-retirement from filmmaking is bearing some very interesting artistic fruit indeed.