Scott Walker and the members of Sunn O))) know the depths of darkness, and in their own ways wrest the sublime from it with violence and grace. In 2009, the latter (a drone-doom metal duo of the loudest pedigree) approached the ’60s pop icon turned avant composer and asked him to contribute vocals to the Monoliths & Dimensions track “Alice.” The timing wasn’t right, but it planted the seeds for what would become Soused, an inspired pairing that matches Walker’s spellbinding compositions and harrowing voice with Sunn O)))’s metallic abyss.
For both artists, “Brando” is an unlikely yet perfect introduction to Soused. Imagine the scene: A crooner in crushed velvet opens the stage with dramatic synth strings and a riff that abstracts “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” The familiar, Sunn O)))-level feedback soon enters, but under the direction of Walker, it’s restrained in the face of the ridiculousness that’s just occurred.
“Brando” comes with a stirring short film directed by French artist and choreographer Gisèle Vienne, who’s collaborated with Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley on a number of performances. A teenage boy with tousled hair stares into the distance and locks himself in a dark room, dancer Anja Röttgerkamp (playing his mother, perhaps) moves with ache and acute horror in a cliffside house, and after long shots of fog blanketing the countryside, French actress Catherine Robbe-Grillet — a dominatrix and author of the 1957 sadomasochistic erotic novel L’Image — happens upon a scene of unknown violence. It’s bewildering, fraught with terror that’s unspoken.
Vienne and the band chose not to comment on the meaning of the film, but it does visually echo Walker’s recent interview with The Quietus: “It’s a song of unfulfilled longing. A song of masochistic longing,” inspired by the actor Marlon Brando’s tendency “to get beaten up in the films he’s in.”
Soused is out now on 4AD Records.