October 30, 2018 Thought Gang – Thought Gang (Album Review)
Thought Gang – the brainchild of Writer/Director David Lynch and Composer Angelo Badalamenti – first came to be during the making of 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Two songs by the enigmatic duo were featured on the official soundtrack for that film, but the remainder of the recorded material sat shelved for close to two decades. Now, on Friday, November 2, 2018 the entire esoteric Jazz collaboration will see the light of day thanks to Sacred Bones Records of Brooklyn, New York.
To give a little backstory, Lynch and Badalamenti first worked together on the former’s breakthrough film Blue Velvet in 1986, and the result was Lynch working with Badalamenti exclusively for his next five feature films: Wild at Heart (1990), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Lost Highway (1997), The Straight Story (1999), and Mulholland Drive (2001), as well as the original run of Twin Peaks on ABC in 1990 and 1991.
Once this partnership began, it was not until Inland Empire in 2006 that Lynch made a film without Badalamenti, choosing to helm the music himself. The pair resumed their fervent collaboration with the Twin Peaks revival on Showtime in 2017. The irony of this pairing is that Badalamenti was initially hired only as the vocal coach for star Isabella Rossellini; instead, Lynch and Badalamenti ended up collaborating on a number of original songs and oversaw the selection of existing material for the resulting soundtrack, and their musical pairing immediately exploded for the next two decades.
Thought Gang is book-ended by what can best be described as white noise: “Stalin Revisited” opens the album and “Summer Night Noise” brings the album to a close. Lump in the penultimate track, the nearly seventeen minutes of “Frank 2000,” and close to half of the album’s listening time is spent straining to hear trace elements of distinct instrumentation. “Frank 2000” does maneuver itself in and out of some righteous electric bass, first with a brash, thumpy technique, and then into the more familiar realm of funky bass, backed briefly and ably by guitar and drums. (Well-known bassist Reggie Hamilton is featured throughout the album.) But overall, the song’s progression follows that of a nightmare, as does “Summer Night Noise,” whose contents are anything but the calm, wispy sounds you might expect to hear on a warm summer night.
Listeners might be inclined to pigeonhole this album entirely into the Twin Peaks universe, due in part to the era during which it was recorded – namely, the production of the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me prequel – as well as their most recent collaboration, last year’s Twin Peaks: The Return, refreshing that landscape. The famous theme song from the initial run of the show left a distinct impression on the music and television landscape, but the tracks herein fall in closer step with “The Bookhouse Boys” from that first series. The title “Frank 2000” could also be taken as a reference to Frank Silva, the set designer whose image briefly startled Lynch and resulted in Silva being cast as the amorphous Killer Bob in Twin Peaks.
The frantic jazz of “Logic and Common Sense” stands out as the most obvious attempt at a traditional track, rather than the “modern music” label Lynch has applied to the entire project. “One Dog Bark” is another attempt to fit within this generic mold, as it presents three minutes of finger-snapping brilliance, with typical Jazz standards of staccato drumming and walking bass mixed with the sound of exactly one dog bark.
“Woodcutters From Fiery Ships” has spoken dialogue from Angelo Badalamenti, including a few hidden portions where his distinct Brooklyn accent takes over. The subject matter is exactly what one would expect from Lynch and Badalamenti: a man quietly watches his neighbor then takes stock of the animals in his yard, before undergoing an assorted collection of surgical procedures, and so on. Perhaps this was merely the dreams of a previous night being put to paper.
Two tracks already saw the light of day on the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me soundtrack. “A Real Indication” features more spoken dialogue from Badalamenti, on top of low, bowed, tortured strings mixed with subtle piano and echoing guitar. (It was for this track that Badalamenti first put forth his sing-slash-speak vocal style; the sound so surprised Lynch the first time that he literally gave himself a hernia laughing with excitement.) “The Black Dog Runs at Night” is a slow, creeping bass line punctuated by animal screams and a rambling voice which repeats the title over and over. “Logic and Common Sense” (in a different version) and “Summer Night Noise” previously appeared in the third season revival of Twin Peaks.
“A Meaningless Conversation” is a rambling syncopated mess which features another speech from Badalamenti slapped over lockstep drums and horns, broken only slightly by muffled strings outside the common rhythm. The vocabulary here sounds as if it was washed through a thesaurus, and is disrupted by a series of yelled choruses. The very last lines sound strained and pained, almost as if they were spoken in a guest spot by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (there is no indication this is the case).
Based on the small pieces released to date, the long-shelved eponymous album from Thought Gang is exactly what listeners would expect from David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti: moments of bright, salient art otherwise surrounded by the dark imagination of David Lynch. Devoting almost the entire second half of the album to creepy white noise diminishes the impact of the overall product, and the straight-ahead numbers such as “A Real Indication” and “One Dog Bark” leave the question of what a “normal” album from Lynch and Badalamenti could sound like. That said, just as with their film work, normal is neither the goal nor even a possibility. For these reasons, CrypticRock awards 3 out of 5 stars to Thought Gang, while still holding out hope for what one more pass could have created.