“Worried noodles” is as good a description as any for the drawings of Scottish artist David Shrigley. His absurdly comic and crudely drawn cartoons are dominated by skewed narration that quickly switches from quotidian irony to something more sinister. Tomlab has taken his 2005 collection of lyrics and illustrations, Worried Noodles
, to its logical conclusion here, re-releasing the book with a star-studded double disc of its words set to song. A two-disc set that includes thirty-nine artists should not sound this cohesive, but Shrigley's darkly humorous tone provides an easy through line. In fact, the compilation's missteps are usually when an artist’s personal aesthetic detracts from the singular voice. It's all a bit much to take in, though the successes easily lap the mistakes.
The first disc is solid throughout, with big names and unknowns all deftly cobbling Shrigley's vision into myriad shapes. Christopher Francis turns a slight list of terms starting in "One" into a woozy Tom Waits dirge. Grizzly Bear's "Blackcurrant Jam" brings its signature vocal harmonies to a sober discussion of the finest of all jellies. It makes up for the lack of comic guile with considerable beauty.
The common absurdity of the source drawings lets disparate sounds feel like the work of a single songwriter. The words adapt nicely to Psapp's glitchy IDM, Hank's revival tent furor, and the foppish troubadour style of Scarlett's Well. Deerhoof's "You, Dog (Kidz Are so Small)" sounds as at home here as it did on Friend Opportunity
from earlier this year, and Yacht's "I Saw You" has a nicely nervous chug. The compilation's best song, “For You” by David Byrne, succeeds so well because he channels Shrigley while remaining comfortable in his own skin. The gentle island rhythms and amusingly banal line readings of "For You" could have been a standout on any number of his post-Talking Heads solo records. It's the most sublime match of artist and source material of all thirty-nine tracks here.
The second disc starts on much shakier ground, and its gems are hidden more thoroughly throughout. Whatever it is that people admire about the Dirty Projectors continues to elude me, with their warbling improvisations sapping the wit that carried the collection's first portion. Experimental clamor tanks the whole front end of disc two, really. Curtains, Max Tundra, and Munch Munch all fail to translate Shrigley's skewed sensibility. Liars' insane dance track sounds like the soundtrack to a nightmarish acid trip at "jungle night" in a late-’90s club. Shrigley himself weirdly strikes out with a hippy-dippy spoken-word collaboration with electronic band Tussle.
The disc doesn't begin to click until Scout Niblett's "The Bell," a Cat Power-ish alt-folk ballad that wins points for delivering its ridiculous “rock star vs. monster” narrative earnestly. Final Fantasy charms through understatement as well, suckering you in with poppy sentimentality that allows head-scratching lines like "The joys of taking heart drugs abruptly give way to misery" to truly surprise.
The back half of the second disc is peppered with differing interpretations of disc-one songs, most of which are an improvement over the previous versions. Lord Cut-Glass's lush "Maybe" and Bombay 1's ambient pop take on "Elaine" score the widest margin of victory. Hot Chip, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, and Les Georges Leningrad underwhelm or baffle in turn.
The compilation would have fared better had a single integrated disc been carefully sculpted, which always seems to be the case with projects such as these. The sprawl, however, does leave us with a strong sense of Mr. Shrigley's artistic voice, even when delivered from dozens of mouths.