Bish Bosch is Scott Walker’s strangest, grossest and longest project.
Bish Bosch is Scott Walker’s strangest, grossest and longest project. It likely has more words-per-minute than any album preceding it, and the content is something of a limit of musical and lyrical abstraction—both for Walker and a certain strand of 21st century music. It’s also Walker’s last proper solo studio album, and the conclusion of what he described as a trilogy, preceded by 1995’s Tilt and 2006’s The Drift. Of these three canonic releases, Bish Bosch is the most outlandish and furthest removed from Walker’s days as a pop songwriter. While the trilogy’s first two entries aren’t conventional by any stretch, neither compare to the sustained oddity of this 2012 album. Tilt, especially, revolves heavily around A-B-A structures and repetitive grooves, a compositional approach miles away from the linear, constantly shifting slabs of music presented here.
For example, Bish Bosch’s second track, “Corps de Blah,” is less of an avant-rock number and more of a continuously unraveling story-song. What connects this rhizomatic musical tissue—on “Corps de Blah” and throughout the album—are Walker’s narratives. The lyrics on this track range from the impossibly verbose and esoteric (“Epicanthic knobbler of ninon / Arch to Macaronic mahout in the mason”) to the sheerly terrifying (“Nothing clears a room/ Like removing a brain/ Hail the rain”). The murkier verses draw even more attention to the grim depictions of violence, a typical Walker trope that’s more prevalent here than anywhere else. As a sincere content warning, Bish Bosch arguably has more detailed descriptions of decapitation, self-harm, bestiality, organ removal and intimate bodily functions than many other albums out there.
Throughout this two-decade trilogy of albums, Walker collaborated with the same co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Peter Walsh. The core rhythm section of bassist John Giblin and drummer Ian Thomas also return, as do a majority of a variety of instrumentalists. Bish Bosch wears a strong sense of group comfortability, and each musician approaches this frenetic, unorthodox music without an ounce of hesitation. Thomas, especially, shines throughout the album. On “Phrasing,” Walker’s motif of “Pain is not alone” follows the track through sparse ambience, sinister rock grooves and, in a moment of supreme irreverence, a whistle-led clave. Thomas deftly navigates this jagged structure, dropping into each beat change without ever letting them sound awkward. Here, Walker’s surprises no longer shock; they sound planned and purposefully orchestrated, even if sometimes that orchestration is a well-placed fart sound.
At the center of Bish Bosch is the epic “SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole Sitter).” It’s hard not to give this 20-minute track a certain stature within Walker’s massive discography, as it reads as the perfect embodiment of the avant-garde vision he grappled with throughout most of his life. Through patient a cappella sections, messes of electronic noise, chunky rock breakdowns and full-on discordant freak-outs, Walker delivers one of his most winding and delirious narratives. Though abstract, both Tilt and The Drift crafted themselves around core, recognizable political and emotional themes. “Zercon” still carries the torch, but buries any easily parsed meanings under layers of alliterative historical verse, chants of Roman numerals, adolescent disses and—notoriously—severed, reeking gonads.
After “Zercon,” Bish Bosch continues its postmodern genre pastiche with “Epizootics!,” one of the album’s most straightforward tracks. A thumping, devilish swing plays foil to a baritone sax–led drive, all bolstered by a bright and droning horn section that resembles staring directly into the sun. Walker’s repeating intonations of “Room full of mice” over the rolling percussion of “Pilgrim” are a delightful horror, and closer “The Day the ‘Conducator’ Died (an Xmas Song)” makes good on its titular promise with campy sleigh bells and lush, jazz guitar harmonies. By the time it slowly fades out on lightly pitched percussion, the whole album experience feels at once like a whirlwind of impossibly dense, fleeting chaos and like a never-ending sludge through extremism for the sake of extremism.
No amount of listening through Bish Bosch will ever truly unpack its bizarre construction, but its confusion is earned, warranted and well worth celebrating. Within some of the grotesque shock value of the lyrics lies a breath of humanity, but it might take a strong stomach and a patient ear to really uncover these depths.