When the always interesting Anton Newcombe sat down to write the new Brian Jonestown Massacre album, Musique de Film Imaginé, he set out to write, “a soundtrack, my own creation, a tribute to great directors and filmmakers.” The difference to your usual film soundtrack being that no film to be soundtracked existed!
Movie soundtracks are a fascinating subject in their own right, but Anton’s project raised an interesting topic;is film music in itself, a genre? A style of music that exists regardless of the presence of films, a type of music that possesses its own style and way of being written? Have we reached some sort of post-film era where we no longer need visuals to appreciate the visual arts? Well based on the fact that Musique de Film Imaginé is basically just an okay Brian Jonestown Masscare album and isn’t exactly changing popular culture probably not, however the interesting question of does the music we often refer to as cinematic actually have much to do with cinema remains.
Of course many bands have gone one step further than Anton and actually found a film to soundtrack. The like of Jonny Greenwood, who’s efforts on There Will Be Blood, The Master and We Need To Talk About Kevin sound tracked some of the finest moments of cinema in recent years, Trent Reznor who, along with Atticus Ross sound tracked Gone Girl, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network, and Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who seem to largely deal with Westerns such as The Assassination Of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford and The Proposition, but also worked on The Road and Lawless, has shown that mainstream musicians can take on the likes of Hans Zimmer, Yann Tiersen, John Williams and the other heavyweights of the film-scoring scene.
Cinematic music’s scope does seem to now extend beyond the realms of simply scoring films; it has become an adjective applied to a variety of music that seems to favour texture and musical context over more traditional song structure. Post-rock bands in particular seem to create music that deals in melodic story telling, instrumentation that slowly unfurls, and creates atmospheres and moods without the need for lyrical interjections. Other bands create similarly cinematic moods by other means; Timber Timbre’s superb Hot Dreams seemed to inhabit a world of cop cars, and sleazy motels, The Twilight Sad sound like they’re soundtracking a psychological thriller and Mark Kozelek seems to embody the sound of every underdog flick going. Some music just sounds cinematic, whether it was meant for the big screen or not.
Other Lives are the trio Josh Onstott, Jonathon Mooney and Jesse Tabish. Jesse is the lead singer and they’re all multi-instrumentalists, playing piano, guitars, bass, keys, trumpets, violins, percussion and by the sound of it whatever else they can lay their hands on!
It’s hard to think of the music Other Lives make without the word ‘cinematic’ coming to mind. They produce rich tapestries of ambitious folk-music, a middle ground of the orchestral post-rock of Godspeed! You Black Emperor or Sigur Ros fused with the beautiful west-coast harmonies of Fleet Foxes or Midlake. Their music is full of ideas, brooding pianos, complex, textural percussion, haunting, melodic vocals and increasingly on new album Rituals the use of processed beats, behind more traditional instrumentation.
The band are from Stillwater in Oklahoma, the city that gave the world Garth Brooks and The All American Rejects, though perhaps most famous as the home of Red-Dirt music: a mixture of folk, country, blues and rock. For Rituals they relocated to Portland, which the band say infused their record with a sense of the “spontaneity of travel and being isolated.”
The band originally formed in 2004, under the name Kunek, and released one album, before quite sensibly changing their name. As Other Lives they released a self-titled album back in 2009 on TBD Records. The superb follow up Tamer Animals followed in 2011, it’s success saw them support the likes of Bon Iver and Radiohead as well as an array of impressive festival slots. Their third album Rituals is out May 4th again via TBD Records.
The ambition of the band is arguably their most impressive asset. Everything they do seems to have a sense of importance and grandeur. The arrangements are dense and the attention to detail is incredible.
Rituals is less a bold step forward from their previous output and more a subtle refocusing. The vocals remain moody and melodic in equal measures, the lyrics present more for feeling than context, they become just a part of a greater melodic story. Each squall of violin, each flutter of percussion and every stab of piano chord is as much a part of the albums impressive narrative as the lyrics, and the bands admiration for instrumental music and post-rock is clear throughout.
The highlights are less whole tracks, than short moments within each; the meandering piano and intense percussion at the end of It’s Not Magic, the rattling strings and haunting woodwind on No Trouble, the Timber Timbre like waltz of English Summer. Throughout, the wonderful tiny moments form pictures on the beautiful patchwork quilt of the album as a whole.
That said, the stand out track is probably the title track, placed at the end of the album, it’s the one moment where there seems to be sunlight poking through the gloom. The soaring echoing vocals, creating a feeling of togetherness, as if the world has come together as one to mark a vital moment, the “creatures of ritual” that they are. The brass sounds triumphant, yet maudlin, the violins sad but hopeful. It’s a song that feels like both the end of one event and simultaneously a new beginning. It says the night was hard but the morning still comes around, the earth still turns and life goes on. It’s really rather magical!
At nearly an hour in length, and with little let up from the tense, dense arrangements, the albums all encompassing gloom can be too much. It’s better appreciated in short bursts of intense listening rather than as a background wash. Give the album the attention it deserves and its elusive charms will become clearer on each run through.
Rituals is out on TBD Records on May 4th.