Showcases the best of Lynch and his deep chemistry with Badalamenti.
Recorded in 1992 and 1993 but only now seeing release, the self-titled album of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti’s Thought Gang project is instantly identifiable as one of the pair’s musical collaborations. Scratches of downed-power-line electricity crackle and burst through dubby spaces of almost infinite proportions, and a mood of dread permeates the duo’s music. Most notable is the album’s jazz leanings, a genre that Lynch and Badalamenti loosely explored in the scoring of “Twin Peaks” but that is front and center here. Armed with a handful of session musicians, the pair cut what would have been the jazz LP of 1993, and what still stands out even in 2018 as a work of uncommon boldness and singularity.
The uneasy mood is established at the top of “Stalin Revisited,” which scrambles out on the scraping hi-hat titters of drummer Gerry Brown as keyboards add the sound of waves crashing somewhere far-off in the distance before a brief saxophone squeal from Tom Rainer cuts out the noise into groans of bowed, stand-up bass. “Woodcutters from Fiery Ships” pitches Badalamenti’s speak-sing vocals, all over-emphasis on strange observations of prose-poetry, against a sprinting cymbal wash that is simultaneously propulsive and nightmarish. Similarly, “Logic and Common Sense” takes free jazz wailing and chucks it down a ravine, sending saxophones clattering as they honk deeper and deeper into the mix. Lynch’s influence tramples the moments that might have spiraled off into toe-tapping jazz, instead sending tracks down cold atmospheric alleys where fogs of hiss and pockets of dead air sap even the most driving number of energy.
By the same token, Lynch and Badalamenti’s playful side comes out all over the place. “One Dog Bark” is a classic Lynchian take on Beat jazz, its finger-snap metronome upended by the occasional staccato trill of the drums and some lackadaisical blurts of distorted guitar. It’s just the sort of song that could conceivably be on the jukebox at the Bang Bang Bar from “Twin Peaks,” a strange combo of cool jazz, noise rock, hip-hop beat and warped country that in the length of a seven-inch single contains an amalgam of 50 years’ worth of rebellious youth music. “A Real Indication” features Badalamenti’s most enthusiastic vocals, lurching from noirish inner monologue to sudden yelps accompanied by saxophone howls that sound as if they were shoved through the horn with accordion bellows. Bass moans and dubby splashes of chicken-scratch and blues guitar add to the sense of abandon in the track to minimalist chaos with tongue firmly in cheek.
Fans of Lynch may recognize themes or strains here and there that have since cropped up in his work. This is most readily apparent in the album’s final two tracks, both of which would eventually be used extensively for the third season of “Twin Peaks.” The gargantuan “Frank 2000” is possibly the greatest single piece of music to bear Lynch’s name since his musique concrète score for Eraserhead. Those who tuned into the director’s return to television will no doubt recognize the track’s dissonant bleats of horror synthesizer, which dotted the show with brutal stabs of agonized terror. Here, though, those moments of gripping noise are set against a larger field of echoing space that stretches and destroys the synth chords like a black hole crushing anything in its pull. Over the course of 17 minutes, Lynch and Badalamenti effectively lay down the foundation of Burial’s post-Untrue work nearly two decades before the fact, making deliberate composition of crackle, hiss and negative space, with little but the occasional twinkle of chiming keyboards or distended, faint pulses of sound to populate the entropic track. Past the halfway mark, “Frank 2000” briefly erupts into a jazz freakout from the same universe as Miles Davis’s mid-‘70s work, all wah-wah guitar, thunderous drums and free improv bass. This flurry of activity then weaves in and out of the earlier soundspace until the track at last consumes itself in a fading maelstrom of noise. “Summer Night Noise” takes the ambient sounds of buzzing insects and extrapolates an actual composition of shuffling cymbals, creaking strings and whirring synths to mimic the unsettling noises that arise on an otherwise quiet night. Slowly, the moaning bass and guitar take on properties as inviting as they are terrifying, sucking in the listener until it all annihilates in one final gust of white noise and nearly a minute of silence.
If John Carpenter will likely always remain the gold standard of film directors-cum-musicians, Lynch long ago staked out the claim to the silver medal. From the moment he crafted Eraserhead’s soundtrack into a brutalist collection of mechanical noise to match the film’s impressionistic post-industrial horror, Lynch has intrinsically understood the confluence of composed music and noise to deepen the imagery of his work, be it the scores to his films or his own albums. Thought Gang represents one of the high-water marks of the latter, showcasing the best of Lynch and his deep chemistry with Badalamenti. With its offbeat humor, unnerving production and impressive technicality, the album manages to be accessible while containing all the best elements of both men’s musical skills.