Lynch's solo debut album Crazy Clown Time, which comes out today, marks his most substantial foray into music beyond the big screen.
Certainly, the famously polymathic Lynch has considerable experience in this arena: He has produced the albums of wispy crooner Julee Cruise,
collaborated with Danger Mouse on Dark Night of the Soul, and co-released the experimental rock album BlueBob. But Crazy Clown Time, which was recorded over a year at his own studio in Hollywood, is a distinctly solo effort (Dean Hurley, the manager of
Asymmetrical Studio since 2005, served as the album's sound engineer). As with so many of Lynch's projects, the new record is predictably
unpredictable, stamped with his odd, often grotesque, vision in a way that both confounds and inspires admiration. Most listeners will likely agree that the
14-track work is in character for Lynch. But while we recognize the speaker's voice, his vocabulary has changed. What does "Lynchian" music sound like?
The most distinctive feature of Crazy Clown Time is Lynch's singing, which frees every song on the album from the musical genres that seem
sort of, but not entirely, applicable: "modern blues," "rock," "ambient," even "dance." Listen to the first 10 seconds of every track, and the music
style will seem familiar (a stripped-down Portishead often comes to mind). But any sense of comfort vanishes as soon as Lynch opens his mouth. So
idiosyncratic are his vocals that the indie-rock sensibility on the album's first track—the driving, nervous "Pinky's Dream," featuring the liquid
vocals of Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O—makes for the most accessible thing here. Even after repeated listens, Lynch's voice remains unfamiliar
and distant, yet somehow viscerally invasive.
Hurley, the album's engineer, said that Lynch hated the sound of his own voice and sought to tweak it beyond recognition. The result can be blankly
robotic. In "Strange and Unproductive Thinking," for example, Lynch's delivery is rendered monotonous and feathery, with a metallic hardness at the
edges. Stripped of personality, this particular vocal style almost blends into the background. In contrast, the tracks that reveal the distinctively
Lynchian air of eerie unpleasantness—difficult to digest, but too weird to ignore—are those that preserve traces of his normal speaking voice (a nasal
intone that he self-mocked in a Twin Peaks cameo as a hearing-impaired FBI agent who always shouts). In "Football Game," Lynch sounds as
though he has a mouth full of cotton balls, producing a drunken, slobbering slur. In "Crazy Clown Time," Lynch warbles lines like, "It was crazy clown
time! Crazy clown time-e-e! It was real fun." in the falsetto, sing-song fashion of a cartoon character, even delivering a satisfied grunt as a woman
moans persistently all throughout (the song, as Hurley noted, sounds like "a site you shouldn't be on"). In "Speed Roadster," Lynch's "singing" is of a
spoken, irregular quality, like a reeling barroom confession set against the simple backdrop of a steady beat and gravelly guitar: "I know you fucked
Al, he's supposed to be my pal," Lynch drawls. "I guess you'd say I might be stalkin' you."