January 2017 listenings

i remarked in passing recently about the disparity between music i’ve listened to and music i’ve (not) written about, so as an adjunct to my reviews of new releases, i’m going to offer a brief monthly insight into some of the more interesting and/or noteworthy things to have entered my ears. Belatedly, here’s January’s:

Ari Mason – Creatures

i’m totally new to Ari Mason’s music, but stumbled across her 2015 single ‘Dim the Lights’ at the start of the year, which in turn led to me exploring Creatures, her first album. ‘Dim the Lights’ is included and is easily one of the album’s highlights, a really catchy song that i return to unhealthily often, with a half-speed chorus that’s a lovely touch, undermining the song’s sense of pace (the song is available as a free download on a three-track EP). Mason’s voice has a deliciously deep register and a smoky timbre, which in this light synthpop context makes for a beautifully effective combination, shot through with trace elements of melancholy. i wish i’d encountered Creatures sooner; it would definitely have appeared on my best of 2016 list. [Bandcamp]

Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular

It’s slightly disgraceful that i’ve never yet written about Dougall’s output on 5:4, as i’ve been a fan ever since she did the right thing and went solo many, many years ago. Suffice it to say i have everything she’s released to date, which perhaps says something. It’s been a long wait for Stellular (her first album, Without Why, came out in 2010) but well worth it. Standout songs are ‘Strange Warnings’ and ‘Stellular’, but the whole album is a real treat, blending tip-of-the-tongue hints of something retro with an irresistably fresh pop outlook. If this whets your appetite, i highly recommend her 2013 EP Future Vanishes (which features a nice earlier version of ‘Strange Warnings’), the title track of which is one of the best pop songs i’ve heard in absolutely years. [Amazon]

Köhnen Pandí Duo – Darkness Comes In Two’s

Simply amazing; review here.

The Thing With Five Eyes – KOSMOS

Linked to the above release due to the leadership of Jason Köhnen, this is another iteration of what was once The Kilimajaro Darkjazz Ensemble and The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation. Also titled in Persian (كون), KOSMOS includes all four tracks from the group’s separately available EP نور, along with loads of unreleased pieces, forming a stunning one-hour tapestry of post-apocalyptic jazz elements flecked and frazzled with beautiful, brute force electronics. [Bandcamp]

Cristobal Tapia De Veer – The Girl With All The Gifts (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

One of last year’s best movies – and one of the most intelligent films to explore, admittedly obliquely (and with a twist), the otherwise tired zombie apocalypse trope – gets an equally admirable soundtrack courtesy of Chilean composer Cristobal Tapia De Veer. Gentle yet eerie, tender but menacing, it has refreshingly little to do with conventional movie scores, opting instead to surround and nourish the film’s narrative with a score that evokes, alludes and hints, often from a distance, rather than trying to spoon-feed or manipulate at point-blank range. [Bandcamp]

One other brief thought: i was listening quite a bit to Mica Levi‘s score for Jackie last month, and it’s baffling that it should have received the attention it has, including an Academy Award nomination, considering how inferior it is to the music she composed for Jonathan Glazer’s astonishing film Under the Skin a few years ago. She’s clearly an interesting composer – i’ve written about her on several occasions – but much of the attention her music for Jackie has received – particularly from film critic Mark Kermode, who has bizarrely convinced himself it’s of major importance – is sheer hyperbole. To be clear: the score to Jackie is careful, nuanced and at times wonderfully and appropriately weird (though never as much as in the film’s remarkable, highly-concentrated trailer), but much of it, heard in isolation, is plain atmospheric blah, instantly forgettable, whereas her music for Under the Skin, entirely ignored by the Academy, remains one of the most innovative, chillingly effective approaches to film music of the last ten or twenty years, every moment of it impossible to forget. That score absolutely should have been awarded an Oscar, but not this one. Credit where credit’s due.

 

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases, Comment, Listenings
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2 Responses to January 2017 listenings

  1. Daniel Childers

    Striking though it may be, it’s difficult to see Under the Skin’s music having any real influence over the future of movie scores. For one thing, not many actually watched the movie containing it, so the listener base is inherently smaller, and for another, science-fiction movies/games of the 21st century are up against steep competition from both within themselves and from the general independent music scene; I enjoy Under the Skin’s music, but I also find it fairly repetitive, with a lack of content and internal development preventing it from being enjoyable as an album, and the obfuscated movie it’s attached to preventing me from enjoying it as a score.

    The score for Jackie, on the other hand, is positioned in such a way that it could very well have a huge influence on the future of historical dramatization. It rejects the period music approach and straightforward emotive score for something much more emotionally opaque, functioning alongside the movie in an attempt to make the old feel new and fresh, make the historical figures on-screen feel present and contemporary; it’s a bigger gamble than you give it credit for, and in a genre as stagnant as that of the historical drama, it stands head and shoulders over its competitors.

    In a nutshell; I have no intention of ever listening to Jackie’s score in isolation, but if more films adopted its audacity, I’d probably go out to the movies a lot more often.

    • 5:4

      i think the idea of “real influence” on movie scores is already happening, and that Mica Levi’s score for Under the Skin is an integral part of it. To be clear, i’m not claiming this to be anything new – more experimental approaches to soundtracks in more mainstream movies have been an undercurrent going back to the early 1970s at least (think of the ‘score’ in Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre) – but its prevalence and acceptance, both in film and TV for that matter, is definitely on the rise in recent years. Not, of course, in pretty much anything to come out of Hollywood – that’s not what they’re driving at – but beyond this examples are numerous, and are not simply restricted to certain genres: The Forest (Bear McCreary), Ex_Machina (Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow), Drag Me to Hell (Christopher Young), Only God Forgives (Cliff Martinez), The Girl with all the Gifts (Cristobal Tapia de Veer), Maps to the Stars (Howard Shore), Byzantium (Javier Navarrete), Macbeth (Jed Kurzel), A Field in England (Jim Williams), Let the Right One In (Johan Söderqvist), Antichrist (Kristian Eidnes Andersen), The Witch (Mark Korven), Morgan (Max Richter), Goodnight Mommy (Olga Neuwirth), Anthropoid (Robin Foster), White Bird in a Blizzard (Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd), The Revenant (Ryuichi Sakamoto & Alva Noto), Upstream Color (Shane Carruth), Gravity (Steven Price), plus Mica Levi’s Under the Skin of course. A mixture of mainstream and independent films, but which together point to an important, meaningful shift away from more conventional approaches to scoring a narrative and which embrace the more “emotionally opaque” attitude you mention. Furthermore, they’re all engrossing in their own right, away from the screen, which can’t be said for the majority of mainstream soundtracks these days.

      In terms of the repetition in Levi’s Under the Skin score, that’s surely symptomatic of the repetitious nature of the film’s first half (i actually think of it as being variations on a theme)? But more broadly, it isn’t repetitive at all; if you haven’t listened to the score in isolation, you may be surprised at the overall lack of repetition.

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