Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

“Crazy Clown Time” an imaginative, yet flawed album

Film director David Lynch is known for highlighting the weirdness inherent in the mundane. His bizarre portraits of American life include the surreal horror of unexpected fatherhood, the literal nightmare of abuse and crime in a sleepy logging town, Dennis Hopper ripping on nitrous oxide behind the façade of white picket fences and whatever the heck “Inland Empire” is supposed to be. His worlds are not for everyone, often leaving viewers confused and frustrated with the apparent lack of logic employed in the screenplay. But for those who appreciate his dream world, it can be a place where the dark side of humanity is explored through the absurdity of dancing prostitutes, severed ears and Nicholas Cage talking to fairy godmothers. Those are the fans who will most appreciate his newest creative endeavor; his debut electronica album, “Crazy Clown Time,” which was released in November 2011.

Courtesy hicns/Flickr

“Crazy Clown Time” starts off strong with “Pinky’s Dream,” featuring appropriate guest vocals from Karen O. It is unfortunate that she does not appear on more of the album, as the most distinctive sound present in almost all of the songs is Lynch’s distinctly squeaky, nasal tone, albeit distorted through a variety of filters. Anyone who has listened to an interview or DVD commentary with the director can pick his voice out from behind any electronic warp though. It’s not that Lynch’s voice is grating, it’s just far from the average singing voice, and occasionally a bit too silly. More vocal variety could not have hurt, especially from Ms. O, whose yelps and wails complement the eerie, bluesy tone in “Pinky’s Dream.”

The second track “Good Day Today,” is the most commercially viable, although “Pinky’s Dream” also sounds fairly mainstream. A steady bass and simple electronic chords support straightforward lyrics: “So tired of fear/So tired of smoke/Send me an angel/Save me/I wanna have a good day today.” A later verse replaces fear and smoke with the sound of gunfire, a rare moment of metaphorical transparency in Lynch’s work. But while “Good Day Today” and “Pinky’s Dream” are catchy and ready to be consumed by a mass audience, the rest of “Crazy Clown Time” swings between dull, goofy and too weird for pure listening pleasure.

Tracks like “Noah’s Ark” and “I Know” rely on a basic electronic aesthetic, with catchy but simple riffs repeated over and over, often verging on the territory of Adult Swim bump music. A minute could be cut from almost every song on the album, and nobody would miss it. These more electronic-minded songs do show the influence Lynch picked up around his 1997 film “Lost Highway,” where he collaborated with Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson. They’re dark, but they’re a little dated and ultimately the least interesting tracks on the album.

Then there’s “Strange and Unproductive Thinking,” a seven minute and 30 second oration on the nature of thought, bliss, questioning and the nature of life itself, ending in a discussion about the benefits of dental hygiene. Poor care of the teeth, it seems, will lead to “Strange and Unproductive Thinking.” It is a philosophical rambling with a practical punch line. The track with the same name as the album, “Crazy Clown Time,” is the least pleasant to listen to. Lynch speaks in a grating falsetto about four teenagers having a deranged good time. Also seven minutes long, “Crazy Clown Time” is first annoying, then uncomfortable and, if you make it to the end of the song, downright disturbing. It is the most “Lynchian” song on the album.

Lynch often cites his childhood in the ’50s as a heavy influence on his work, with musical influences like Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers. The only place these cited influences are evident in the music is in Lynch’s guitar, which he plays himself. He’s no Jimi Hendrix, but his guitar ability is sound. Lynch’s riffs are soft and bluesy, originating from this ’50s influence, but drifting off into a more mysterious sound. It’s a blues guitar you might encounter in a dream if your dream was an endless dark road where the only stop was a neon lit diner with a stripper waitress and a demon in the bathroom. It trumps the synthesizer and Lynch’s voice as the most effective element on the album.

But the most obvious influence on Lynch’s musical style is the work of his longtime collaborator, composer Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti first worked with Lynch on “Blue Velvet” but has scored six of his feature films, plus the TV series “Twin Peaks.” Badalamenti’s skill lies in creating skin-crawling mood music, but he sometimes slips into a soapy, cheesy place. It is no surprise Lynch’s solo music sounds very similar.

But Lynch also evokes Badalamenti in that “Crazy Clown Time” feels like a soundtrack. Many of the songs tell stories and are successful stand-alone pieces of art, but would probably shine as supporting actors to Lynch’s films. While listening to “Crazy Clown Time,” it’s easy to picture a modern redux of Lynch’s ’90s high school murder drama “Twin Peaks.” Except this time, Laura Palmer would have the wardrobe of Gossip Girl and the cinematography of early “Lost.”

It is Lynch’s greatest flaw and strength that he cannot shake his cinematic instincts. At its best, his music sparks imagination, something that most of today’s mainstream fare cannot boast. But almost every track would be better with some kind of visual, especially a Lynchian visual. And visuals are what give Lynch his reputation. For a filmmaker who began his career as a painter, it’s impressive that the album transcends a simple mash-up of all his favorite musical influences. But it only passes that point barely, and only because Lynch is such a strong personality and creative force. It would be impossible for Lynch to make anything that wasn’t distinctly his work. It is that uniqueness that will follow him in whatever creative endeavor he pursues next. That said, let’s hope it’s a film.

Victoria Knobloch can be reached at [email protected]

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