Matthew Herbert Score

[!K7; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: soundtrack music, avant-classical, electronic music
Others: Rachel’s, Amon Tobin, Dntel, Max Richter, Danny Elfman

Score is music collected from Matthew Herbert's work for six films (Vida Y Color, Manolete, La Confiance Regne, The Intended, the short films Indiscretion and Nicotine), a musical (Le Defi), and one ballet (Set Boundaries). I have seen none of the material for which this music was written, nor have I before listened to Herbert's music. As these prerequisites are not available to me, I must take this compilation as a proper album. As it happens, the material is not strictly arranged corresponding to the music's source project anyway. There is no succinct separation of mood, and the dynamics shift jarringly from track to track as well as occasionally within a given number.

As dubious as a "hip-hop musical" from France sounds, Herbert's impressively jarring turns of mood on Le Defi'’s "Singing in the Rain" save the track from being a reject from the Toys soundtrack. It's true that there is a very soundtrack-framed, prescribed feel to the tracks on this record. At times, there's a near Elfman-esque playfulness to the songs, but it's so stirringly tactile in its many bizarre sounds (think those fizzy prickly poppers on Loscil records and you're a quarter of the way there) as to make you wonder what kind of impossible visuals would correspond. Tactile is actually a really good word for Score. Even when I'm not terribly thrilled with a number, its dense and enshrouding sonic flits hold my attention. Yet there is still something too fenced in, too formal about the experience. It's much like when you see a film like Being John Malkovich and your sense memory is so engaged with it that you pick up a soundtrack that, while innovative and essential to the film, doesn't really hold up on your stereo.

This CD would actually be perfect for the lobbies of all those blessed independently run theaters out there. Hell, for the corporate multiplex lobbies as well. It's entertainingly offbeat in its way, and it also happens to snap like starched cloth and gleam like chrome. Perhaps I've been listening to too much scrappy lo-fi stuff, but Score often sounds a little over-polished to these ears. Yet, at its best, it contains the great sort of beautifully alluring synthetic aural treats that can easily stand alongside any found on Life is Full of Possibilities.

The music from Le Defi is borderline, for the reasons I stated above as well as for this problem of exuberance. Good humors are often expressed in ways that irk where subdued tracks like "Bull and Cloth" or "End" easily entrance. This exuberance may have worked for the musical, but on here it just sounds like garish theme music with a fine coat of hip. Some of the best moments on Score come from tension, so the more room given to let the goosebumps settle, the better life out of context the song's gonna have. The rangy male/female singing choruses on the minimal "Rendezvous" alternately remind me of the intimate dissonance of Medulla and those crisp "O Buttermilk Sky"-type vocal arrangements. In the end, it's one of better attractions here for a given music junky, though perhaps it inspires just the same amount of iffyness as several of the other selections. Both the sullen "Forest Montage" and the mild "Broken Piano" seem as though they were brief enough to skirt this marginality.

Overall, while this is an impressive resume, I'm not sure it totally works as an album. As I'm listening and writing this, I feel as though I'm missing some movie on TV across the room. And when the track in question is the hokey, fart-noise-laden "Running from Credits," I wish I were missing it entirely. I may have liked Brain Donors as a kid, but I'm not sure I find that kind stuff amusing anymore. I digress... Score is certainly worth a listen, just don't be surprised if your strongest ultimate reaction is mere curiosity about the projects its tracks were produced for. Pleasingly tactile as the listening experience is, it just doesn't stick as stand-alone music.

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