Saturday, August 11, 2012

Scott Walker: A 30th Century Man at the 30th Street Station

When I was growing up, I never really considered public transportation as a viable option. The trains and buses in Austin were always too convoluted, too unreliable. If I have the opportunity, then, to take a train somewhere rather than renting a car, I rather enjoy doing it. Navigating an unknown train system is eye-opening and rewarding, but also time-consuming. Knowing this, when I planned my trip to New Jersey, I stacked my phone with several albums.  After 7 hours of travel, however, and very few places to plug in during layovers, charge time was at a premium. I was, however, able to re-charge enough at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station to arrange for a cab to pick me up at the Absecon Station, leaving just enough juice to listen to Scott Walker’s Climate of Hunter on the way there.

I discovered Walker last year, and, once I found the right listening environment, I really got into Tilt. In my ensuing enthusiasm, I purchased Climate of Hunter, but probably too soon to give the album its full due. In reality, the gap between these albums was over a decade long. Climate of Hunter is the singular 80s album from Walker’s sparse oeuvre. Although it shares a noticeably unsettling ambience with Tilt, in comparison to the avant garde leanings of its successor, Climate of Hunter is relatively conventional. There is a plane of sound cutting through the album that exemplifies 80s British pop production practices, with chorused fretless bass and glass shards of squealing, overdriven guitar. Above and below this clear frame, however, Walker still manages to warp the environment to meet his own aesthetic.

We respond to aesthetic beauty because its patterns and relationships strike us as the sort of thing a human mind might create. Music is often perceived in terms of the juxtaposition of musical tension and repose, and these forces often interact in a linear fashion, building tension in one moment and providing resolution in the next. Walker, however, seems to deliberately and simultaneously pit them against each other in the hazy timbres surrounding Climate of Hunter. Delicate dissonances counterbalance his baritone wailing while orchestral strings growl ominously in nearly human tones, creating the sense that Walker has a melancholic love for that which is beautiful, but also an awareness of beauty’s subtle menace.

A stumbling block for me with Walker’s chanting and sometimes wailing style is his offhanded approach to melody. After a certain point in his career, however, writing catchy songs was clearly not of importance to him. I think that Climate of Hunter might be considered pivotal in this regard. It documents Walker struggling to peel back the layers of his pop music background, and embarking on musical path that would lead him down increasingly challenging artistic terrain.


  1. I agree on every point! Despite the 80's trappings I've become very fond of this album: the vocals are stunning and overall I find it quite serene. I only wish it last a little longer.

  2. oops! "could last"