Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Ex Machina" by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury

I love Geoff Barrow and his band Portishead - he's one of the most unique producers in electronic music history, if not pop history itself. A million years ahead of their time. Joined by Ben Salisbury to create the score for "Ex Machina", the two craft sounds that move and build, giving a pulse to the slow, dreamy sci-fi film. A lot of rich, deep arpeggiated analog synths appear and disappear, snaking their way through the middle of a murky atmosphere that spreads itself all the way across the stereo field. Multi-tracked clean guitar plays a melodic jangle, and builds into something darker. One of the final scenes is especially impressive, when the atmosphere grows steadily more ominous, culminating in a distorted sine wave. The compositional ideas themselves are not revolutionary, but they are executed so brilliantly that it doesn't matter, and anyway, what we want is a musical nod to the glorious history of sci-fi scores that is augmented by cutting edge ideas. And that's just what we get.

The film was made on a relatively low 15 million budget, but you would never know it considering the slick cinematography and expensive sounding score. I've enjoyed Alex Garland's novels, and his first turn as a director is promising. I had some problems with the film, but I won't go into those because I think people should see it and decide for themselves, which most people can do easily now that it's streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The poster above is from Michael Sapienza Designs, go to his Etsy shop to buy it immediately or risk living the empty life of not having a cool Ex Machina poster..

Thursday, November 5, 2015

"A Girl Walks Home At Night" by Johnny Jewel

What a great vampire flick. There's a lot of classic stuff going on here. The film is in black and white, and a lot of the aesthetic here is an homage to French and Italian new wave, not a style often referred to in modern horror films. The music, by Johnny Jewel of the great Portland synth-pop duo the Chromatics (along with various others), manages to be very cutting edge but also to work within that new wave aesthetic. Even the techno that a coke-snorting, slimy drug dealer listens to is top notch. Lots of incongruous elements are fitted together nicely; an operatic female voice sings over a ragtime piano in an atmosphere of strings; a deep, vintage-y guitar slowly tremolos under a male voice singing in (presumably) Farsi; we also have the more standard fare of low percussion decaying endlessly and soaked in reverb while dissonant high strings freak us out. There's definitely some sonic references to David Lynch's "Eraserhead" in the sound design (or any Lynch film afterward and through Mulholland Drive); infinite drones that perfectly complement the dark, empty streets of the film's setting of Bad City. Much of the soundtrack is Iranian pop, which works well, and also the Portland band Federale, which lends a spaghetti western-ish aspect to the mix. It's an extremely varied soundtrack that somehow manages to work within the world it underscores.

You can currently stream "A Girl Walks Home At Night" on Netflix. Or if you can manage to see it in the theater, I'd imagine that would be worth it.