There were intermittent soundtrack and score contributions of varying magnitudes, as well as a couple other low-key projects, but The Drift is Scott Walker's proper follow-up to 1995's Tilt, an album that also happened to trail its predecessor by 11 years. If 1984's Climate of Hunter put the MOR in morose, Tilt avoided the road completely and went straight toward the fractured, fraught images inside Walker's nightmares. It was entirely removed from anything that could've been classified as contemporary. The Drift isn't an equally severe leap from Tilt, but it is darker, less arranged, alternately more and less dense, and ultimately more frightening. Maybe it'll make your body temperature drop a few degrees. Working with what Walker has referred to as "blocks of sound," only a few of the album's 68 minutes have any connection to rock music, and many of those minutes are part of a harrowing 9/11 song that also obliquely references "Jailhouse Rock" as Elvis Presley cries out ("I'm the only one left alive!") to his stillborn twin brother. The songs swing from hovering drones to crushing jolts. The blocks that make them, then, differ tremendously in weight, from one that could be pushed by an index finger to one that could only be hauled by a forklift. Whenever a vast shaft of space opens up, it is eventually stuffed with drastic, horrific dissonance. While a song might contain a constant element or two, they're all in a constant state of unease and flux. Walker's voice matches the activity levels of the sounds, providing a kind of paranoid croon one minute and then, during another, casting almost demonic projections that are nearly as rattling as the accompaniment. From the outset, the album seems impossibly insular and impenetrable, especially if you've been led to believe that Scott Walker's name is synonymous with recluse, but it has everything to do with real lives (or, more accurately, real deaths). Walker is acutely aware of what's going on with the world outside his supposed candle-lit bunker; he's only finding very unique (OK, bloody minded) ways to bring them up. Any mystique behind the recordings is laid to waste by one scene from a documentary, titled 30 Century Man, which shows Walker -- a baseball hat-wearing sixty-something man from Ohio -- instructing another man on how to thump a slab of meat. It looks and sounds absurd, of course (the participants seem to be aware of this), but then again, the results are used in a song inspired by the public executions of Benito Mussolini and his mistress. Broken spells aside, how much more bleak could this album be? None more bleak.
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