David Lynch: Crazy Clown Time

Play It Again Sam/Courtesy

Regardless of the medium he works in, David Lynch has a penchant for twisting kitsch into the weirdest shit you’ve ever seen. In his celebrated surrealist films, such as “Mulholland Drive” and “Blue Velvet,” tired storylines and familiar characters go through the fractured filter of the director’s mind. Cliches reemerge as reconstructed versions of themselves in surprisingly original works.

An innocent Midwestern girl trying to make it big in Hollywood becomes embroiled in a cryptic network of symbols that reveal a murder; an all-American boy-next-door trying to solve a crime ends up in a sadomasochistic love affair, and so it goes.

The release of his album Crazy Clown Time might be a surprise to those who know Lynch only from the movie screen. Though filmmaking has helmed his artistic career for decades, Lynch has consistently dabbled in painting, music and even furniture design. Never one to get tied down by the constraints of one medium, he shares the credit of co-composing the soundtracks of several of his films.

Moody and metallic, Crazy Clown Time fuses elements of synth-driven electro-pop — think The Juan Maclean and Kavinsky — with blues, disco and the ramblings of the down-and-out and dejected. Most of the lengthy songs repeat dark rhythms and pulsating, reverb-heavy guitars and keys. A high note rarely escapes out of the gloomy atmosphere of the album, save for Lynch’s screechy crooning, which the effects often warp into a cold, robotic drone. Like his films, the album uses accepted tropes as a springboard for experimentation, resulting in a work that’s at once fun to listen to and intellectually provocative.

Lynch’s films borrow as much from music and visual art as his latest musical release borrows from the narrative and cinematic. While Crazy Clown Time is by no means a concept album, each track comprises a microcosm driven by its own characters and narratives. Like Lynch’s screenplays, the lyrics explore the shady corners of normative social relationships, where the monsters of the subconscious are able to infiltrate when least expected.

Most of the songs on Crazy Clown Time span about five minutes — their repetitive rhythms leave Lynch plenty of time to monologue, half talking in rhyme and half singing. The different vocal effects on each track give the impression that each tirade represents the inner workings of a different madman’s mind.

On “Stone’s Gone Up,” Lynch relates a tale of rejection in a breathy whisper. He hisses a well-anunciated speech over a danceable backbeat of bass until he cuts himself with a melancholy chorus filled with tension. Lynch doesn’t have a traditional pop music voice, but he uses his cat-like voice box to the full potential of its strangeness a la pre-throat-surgery Joanna Newsom. His voice takes center stage on the title track “Crazy Clown Time,” where he describes a party scene turned into a bizarre, violent orgy. Lynch howls in a discordant falsetto over an incessant drum beat and echoes of a slow, surf rock-inspired guitar, relating a play-by-play of what went down.

Similar to the way the deranged and the trite intersect in his films, brooding lyrics and a pessimistic sonic palette invade the ambient rhythmic compositions of Crazy Clown Time. These songs couldn’t be pumped at a party (unless you really want to alienate your guests), but their head-bumping beats act as a gateway for the creepy semantic content to settle in the listener’s mind, calling from the bleak, grimy corners of a seemingly polished society.

Nastia Voynovskaya is the assistant arts & entertainment editor.