David Lynch’s first effort as a musician had a few hurdles to clear before listeners could take him seriously—his established career as a filmmaker, the album’s insane title, Crazy Clown Time. That record was the musical equivalent of Lynch’s Inland Empire, deeply experimental and too messy to deliver more than fitful payoffs. Listening to his follow-up, The Big Dream, it’s clear that Lynch and his musical collaborator Dean Hurley learned from the Crazy Clown Time experience. The Big Dream is more like the first season of Twin Peaks: It maintains a solid amount of Crazy Clown Time’s ethereal weirdness, but is also more confident and structured. Over the course of the record’s 12 tracks, Lynch settles into an electro-blues groove as comfortable and consistent as he’s likely to get as a musician.
The Big Dream’s relative similarity to a traditional release prevents the experimental, overtly Lynchian elements from going off the rails. That limits the album’s possibilities—there’s nothing here like the dizzying electro of Crazy Clown Time’s “Good Day Today” (though some might consider that a plus). Instead, The Big Dream wanders through generally compelling variations on the same buzzing theme, from hazy, lumbering “We Rolled Together” to fuzzed-out, rollicking “Sun Can’t Be Seen No More.” The consistency of the blues also fits Lynch’s singing voice much better, as evidenced on tracks like a cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown,” where Lynch’s vocals are heavily processed to create an alien pathos. His voice also works well lathering on the ominous title track, which comes closest to his film work in seeming like some sort of impending, uniquely American nightmare.
If Lynch is actually serious about his musical career, his future might lie in more substantial work with female vocalists. Some of Lynch’s most successful music has been in that vein, including collaborations with dream-pop artist Julee Cruise on her first two records and Karen O on Crazy Clown Time’s most engaging track, “Pinky’s Dream.” In turn, The Big Dream’s bonus track and lead single “I’m Waiting Here” prominently features Lykke Li in the first piece of Lynch’s solo music that can be described as downright gorgeous.
Still, most of the songs on The Big Dream are sufficient evidence that Lynch’s music deserves a listen on its own terms, separate from a footnote to his film career. Tracks like “I’m Waiting Here” and “Pinky’s Dream” make it possible to squint and see an alternate universe where Lynch is a successful, yet offbeat, musician and producer who got really into his laptop after a stint merely dabbling with a camera.