New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: noir music

Chilly Suspense and Subtle Humor in Tori Letzler’s In From the Cold Soundtrack

In her soundtrack to the sci-fi Russian spy series In From the Cold – streaming at SpotifyTori Letzler packs a lot into some very brief passages: the action is nonstop. What’s coolest about this is that she sidesteps the usual tropes: no late-night subway sonics, massed cellos, bongos announcing an intruder on the doorstep. or Terminator coldly surveying the aftermath. Instead, Letzler runs with motorik sequences alternating with chilly, drifting atmospherics. toxic industrial textures and simple, brooding piano riffs. Aircraft are also involved, or so it would seem.

Pussy Riot sing the opening credits theme, like a techier version of the Bad Brains with a woman out front. Letzler’s score begins with an airy, drifting hint of a Carpathian-tinged lullaby, followed by a brief, brisk, apprehensive motorway theme as Abba might have done it. This ride leaves the road fast.

A sparse, moody piano interlude disappears into electronic crackles. The loopy motorik piece after that has some of the lowest tones you’ll ever hear blipping from a sequencer. A love theme rises to the level of sarcastic new wave loopiness, but no further. Backward-masked footfalls in a pursuit scene are a similarly wry, deft touch. The way Letzler finally brings the mountain lullaby theme back around is even more artful. This is good driving music: it’ll definitely keep you awake behind the wheel.

Slashingly Lyrical, Darkly Amusing New Americana From Goodnight, Texas

Goodnight, Texas play sharply lyrical Americana with a mix of oldtime acoustic instrumentation and snarling electric guitars. Frontmen Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf can both spin a great yarn and have a sense of humor. Is their new album How Long Will It Take Them to Die – streaming at Bandcamp – a reflection on the plandemic? Actually not. It’s a mix of cynically amusing pre-bluegrass sounds, bristling highway rock and Nashville gothic. It’s also the best album of the year so far for 2022.

The first track is Neighborhoods, a 19th century front porch folk march with imaginative acoustic/electric production values. It’s a Tom Waits down-and-out scenario without the cliches:

My days are little neighborhoods where different people live
Never two to intertwine, not a damn to give
For anyone or anything outside of what they know
My days are little neighborhoods and in between I go

Hypothermic is a Nashville gothic masterpiece, a creepy fugitive’s tale and an instant contender for best song of 2022:

Gas up
With a credit card
And an alias
That I learned this morning
Dead flies
Round the heat lamp
No receipt, please
Hide face from the camera
Peel out
On a snowbank
But I landed
And I’m back on the highway
Northbound
To Alaska
Hypothermic
Where the sun can’t find me

The band follow that with Gotta Get Goin’, a funny stomping open-tuned oldtime string band tune with a surprise ending. They take a wryly choogling boogie tune into newgrass territory in Borrowed Time: Chuck Berry and Tony Trischka make a better mashup than you might expect.

The stark down-and-out ballad I’d Rather Not is a desperado scenario as Wilco would have done it in the late 90s. Don’t Let ‘Em Get You could be a ramshackle early Okkervil River-style revolutionary anthem, or could be lockdown-specific: “Comes a day when they shed their skins and everything you ever caught up in believing in.”

Jane, Come Down From Your Room, a sad country waltz, is a witheringly detailed portrait of trans-generational trauma. Lead player Adam Nash’s pedal steel sails over the spare layers of acoustic guitars and banjo in To Where You’re Going, bassist Chris Sugiura and drummer Scott Griffin Padden holding the shambling tune on the rails.

Solstice Days – “When the sky was overcast, and the present felt like the past, walking down a road that says Do Not Enter” – has a slow sway and a persistent sense of longing. The closest track to standard-issue 90s alt-country here is Sarcophagus: “Was it time for for examining or was it time for celebration?” is the operative question.

“If I’m gonna catch hell for speaking my mind, I might as well make it count,” is the big message in the album’s centerpiece, Dead Middle, a metaphorically loaded highway narrative which absolutely nails the existential questions and divergent realities screaming out for resolution in 2022. The concluding title track turns out to be a cynically humorous number with lingering hints of western swing.

A Haunting New Thriller Score by Isobel Waller-Bridge

Today’s episode in New York Music Daily’s second annual January-long celebration of big sounds and towering achievements is Isobel Waller-Bridge‘s 25-track original soundtrack to the World War II thriller Munich: The Edge of War, streaming at Spotify. Interestingly, the composer doesn’t go for retro, whether with orchestration or any of the European or American pop sounds of the day. Instead, her brooding score follows a largely desolate, chilly trajectory that often ends up in ambient industrial territory. It would work just as readily in a dystopic sci-fi thriller.

Tara Nome Doyle sings the opening credits theme, You Dream with a drifting, hazy warmth over lushly orchestrated, moody piano pop. After that, there’s a tensely hurried walk to the British royal residence, coldly plasticky atmospherics and ominous cello beneath disquieted violin harmonics – or their electronic analogue.

From there it’s much of the same. The majority of the tracks here are very brief, under the two-minute mark. Waller-Bridge likes to say a lot with a little: there are no grandiose moments here, only unrelenting grey skies. Sad minimalist piano beneath scrapy microtonal strings, mercilessly mechanical footfalls, grim smoke-off-the-battlefield tableaux and a mercifully brief, eerily whistling cameo by Hitler himself follow in turn.

With its swooping violin, the next-to-last segment, They’ll Hang You For That will give you shivers. Doyle brings the soundtrack full circle with a stripped-down German-language version of the opening theme.

Some Catchy Songs and a Real Heartbreaking One

Been awhile since there’s been a playlist on this page. Four songs in twelve minutes for your listening pleasure. Click on the song title for audio, click on the artist name for their webpage.

Night Palace‘s Jessica Mystic is a drifty, wistful Lynchian jangle-and-keys pop song with a ska-tinged alto sax solo. It all works: go figure.

Churchyard. by Ex-Void is a blast of female-fronted powerpop that’s over in a minute 58. The chorus is “I get so bored.” But not by this song.

Joydah Mae gives us Hands Off Our Children, a big acoustic singalong anthem for our time: “Which side of history will you participate in?”

Warning: this last one will bring tears to your eyes. Teenage songwriter Julie Elizabeth couldn’t record her song Silence because she took the kill shot, “Thinking this would save me, I did what you asked me to…I was loyal to the fight, I lined right up to do what’s right.” And now this up-and-coming performer is too badly crippled to perform. Her friend April recorded it – and sang truth to power over a backing track at the freedom rally at the Lincoln Memorial last Sunday.

An Insightful, Powerful New Recording of Harrowingly Relevant Shostakovich String Quartets

While classical musicians are expected to be able to play anything put in front of them, there’s no denying that harrowing emotional content makes it more difficult. So when a string quartet decides to record Shostakovich’s haunting String Quartet No. 8 – arguably the greatest and most relevant string quartet ever written – it’s worth checking out. Classical fans know the backstory well: the composer, fearing for his life as he was being pressured to join the Soviet communist party, decided to go for broke and write his own obituary. As protest music, it is unsurpassed for sheer horror…and for sheer bravery.

How does the Novus Quartet’s new recording – streaming at Spotify – stack up against the other fearless ensembles who’ve tackled it? They play this one in very high definition. For example, right from the first of the innumerable instances where the composer writes his own initials into the piece, the hazy overtones are front and center, especially from Wonhae Lee’s cello. Violinists Jaeyoung Kim and Young-Uk Kim slowly work a somber interchange alongside violist Kyuhyun Kim over elegaic cello drones as the first movement journeys to the grave.

The chase scene in the second movement, the KGB in frantic pursuit, has as much jagged menace as anyone could want, through fleeting references to some of the composer’s other works. Likewise, the sudden crescendos in the gleefully tiptoeing danse macabre of movement three are sharply executed. Movement four is the creepy scene where the death squad comes knocking, in this case done with a bit of restraint that underscores the sense of terror. At a time when big pharma, their puppets in government and law enforcement are waging war against majority populations who won’t take the kill shot, there’s never been a better time to take inspiration from Shostakovich’s insight into how fascists work.

The movement’s conclusion sets up the relentlessly drifting, especially lustrous mournfulness of the quartet’s last movement. The Emerson and Jerusalem Quartets have put out more distantly ominous, and arguably more suspenseful recordings, but this one is strong and needs to be heard as widely as possible, given the state of the world right now.

The Novus Quartet open the album with Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3, which he wrote in 1945, hot on the heels of his crushingly cynical Symphony No. 9. In view of that work’s less-than-triumphant response to Soviet victory in World War II, this comes across as more serious and straightforward – although Shostakovich’s unsurpassed sense of irony is everywhere.

The group tackle the first movement, a Bartokian, reharmonized folk dance, with a visceral starkness, the babushkas at the local market surveying the damage with an energy that’s more wary than weary. From there, the ensemble waste no time in developing a sense of foreboding in the briskly waltzing second movement. Is the tiptoeing, balletesque interlude that follows an evocation of hope and renewal, or a typical Shostakovich caricature of the face of evil? Considering the brisk, pouncing, driving rhythms, chase sequences and witchy coda of the third movement, it would seem the latter.

The quartet let the pall linger in the fourth movement: Kyuhyun Kim’s righteously indignant viola out in front of the solemnity packs a wallop. The group return to an emphatic rusticity in lieu of courtly grace in the final movement’s dance sequence. The war may be over, but the dynamics that fueled it are still there, the composer seems to remind us. These insightful performances deserve an encore from the rest of the Shostakovich catalog.

A Relentlessly Dark, Chilly Soundtrack For a Relentlessly Dark, Chilly Time

Joseph Trapanese‘s epic soundtrack to season two of The Witcher – streaming at Spotify – is a feast for fans of unrelenting, dark music. And yet, throughout the album’s thirty-two tracks, Trapanese works a vast dynamic range, from a whisper to a roar. Plenty of familiar tropes take centerstage: gloomy minor-key vamps, shivery violins, ominously drifting low-register ambience, and the occasional stormy orchestral interlude or horror-stricken swell. There are plenty of less expected sounds as well: gamelanesque belltones, guttural monstrous allusions and rhythms that run the gamut from motorik to Frankensteinian.

Sudden bursts of sound pounce in from the shadows at the edge of a vast desolation. There’s a long sequence that starts out as a surreal, echoey, solitary nocturnal trip on a subway of the mind and grows to a frantic, thundering chase scene. Down-the-drainpipe industrial ambience gives way to stalker footfalls. A funereal Balkan-tinged tableau recedes into the mist and then makes an unexpected return. An oboe sails mournfully above the waves.

Joey Batey, who plays the role of Jaskier in the series, takes the mic for three songs. Burn Butcher Burn is a soaringly vengeful, Elizabethan folk-tinged art-rock ballad. Whoreson Prison Blues is a funny proto-bluegrass tune; there’s another number that seems to be a spoof of mythological faux-Celtic pop.

Don Davis’ Relentless, Harrowing Matrix Score Finally Available on Vinyl

If reissuing classic film soundtracks on vinyl is a meme, it’s long overdue. One auspicious development is the recent release of Don Davis‘ complete music from The Matrix, just out as a triple vinyl record and streaming at Spotify. Much of the score is very still, with tense highs from the strings and occasionally the cymbals. Suspense is everything, until in a split second something goes haywire, or trouble looms and then explodes, often triggering frenetic bouts of activity. Themes or riffs burst into the sonic picture, only to be cut off mid-phrase. Several of the interludes are especially fleeting, under the one-minute mark.

Big swells and striking, loopy phrasing are recurrent tropes: Philip Glass’ film work appears to be a big influence. An anvil rhythm returns as a foreshadowing device. While the overall sense of terror seldom lifts, Davis’ sense of humor occasionally percolates to the surface, whether in a galloping gamelanesque interlude, or a ridiculously blithe passage for solo harp. One of the tracks is titled Switches Brew. A steady, pulsing theme, Switch Works Her Boa gets frantically fleshed out as Switch Woks Her Boar.

There are also a couple of smartly chosen references to a fugitive riff from Shostakovich’s macabre String Quartet No. 8. The last disc is where Davis gets the orchestra’s brass to dig in hard throughout a long series of stormy, bellicose passages. Taken as a microtonally-tinged stand-alone suite for orchestra and occasional keyboards, this is as entertaining as it is forward-looking – which dovetails with the sensibility of the film.

Roberto Prosseda Brings Rare Morricone Solo Piano Music to Life

Ennio Morricone is best remembered for his film scores, notably his Sergio Leone spaghetti western soundtracks, where he built the foundation for what would become known as the southwestern gothic genre. Although Morricone was a pianist, he didn’t write a lot of solo piano music, and much of that material remains obscure. On his latest album, pianist Roberto Prosseda has unearthed some of those works along with some better-known title themes, courageously recorded in Sacile, Italy last spring and streaming at Spotify.

He opens with a starry, spare, neoromantic miniature, The Legend of 1900 theme and closes with the jarringly polyrhythmic modernism of the conclusion of the Four Studies For Pedal Piano. In between, Prosseda has grimly precise fun with the carnivalesque, Lynchian strut of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion: the way Morricone shifts the melody from righthand to left is a typically artful move. It’s fascinating to hear how the composer hides a border-rock melody just beneath the surface of Love Circle, and somewhat deeper in The Tartar Desert.

Prosseda brings a spacious, bittersweet rapture to the Cinema Paradiso theme and a striking dynamic range to the broodingly immersive, Satie-esque minimalism of the First Study For Piano and then the steadier White Dog.

Other works on the program here include the saturnine, rather wistful The Two Stages of Life; the Second Study for Piano, where Prosseda works a startling-versus-calm dichotomy; and the absolutely gorgeous Angels of Power, shifting between a love theme and a moody, baroque-tinged melody.

There’s also a bounding invention, a boldly crescendoing processional, and an altered canon that bring to mind the work of Vincent Persichetti. Morricone was a lyrical composer and excelled at capturing a vast expanse of moods. Doctrinaire Second Viennese School atonality was not his thing.

Magically Diverse Solo Harp Improvisations From Jacqueline Kerrod

Jacqueline Kerrod was Robert Paterson’s not-so-secret weapon on his lusciously noir album Star Crossing, and also his contrastingly sparkling Book of Goddesses. But she’s probably better known for her time as the New York City Opera’s principal harpist…and for playing with a rapper who, if his improbable Presidential run had vaulted him into the Oval Office, would be a more lucid presence than what we have at the present moment.

Yet Kerrod’s arguably most foundational collaboration was with Anthony Braxton. Inspired by touring as a duo with the Tri-Centric icon, she made the best of 2020 lockdown time and recorded an often mesmerizing album of solo improvisations, 17 Days in December. streaming at Bandcamp. It’s unlike any other harp record you will ever hear. Jazz harpists are an individualistic bunch to begin with: Zeena Parkins, with her blend of acerbity and atmosphere; Alice Coltrane and her melodic rapture; Dorothy Ashby, who shifted the paradigm by employing everything but harp voicings, and to an extent, Brandee Younger following in her wake. Kerrod is a welcome member of that rare, celestial body.

The chilling, menacing opening tableau, titled Trill to Begin, no doubt reflects the dire circumstances under which Kerrod made it, almost exactly a year ago. It’s a series of eerie modal phrases against a tremolo-picked pedal note, punctuated by low funereal bell accents and otherworldly close harmonies. What a way to kick off the project!

The squiggly web she builds on her electric harp on the second track is 180 degrees from that. She returns to ominous portents, but more spaciously, in a short piece she calls Gentle Jangle. Jazz guitar-like voicings give way to disquietly circling phrases and icy deep-sky sparkle in An Impression, then Kerrod breaks out her electric harp again for the woozily skronky Sugar Up.

Likewise, Glare is a sunbaked, resonant piece that could be mistaken for an ebow guitar soundscape. After that, she assembles an echoey lattice that brings to mind Robert Fripp’s early 80s work. Kerrod employs a glass bowl to enhance the shimmering, steel pan-like microtones in Glassy Fingers. then takes it toward vortical Pink Floyd gloom.

Next, she coalesces toward a warped music-box theme, following with Fluttering Alberti, where she works a hypnotic/spiky dichotomy. Can-Can is not a latin number but a return to steady, sinister mode. In the album’s longest improvisation, Kerrod sprinkles spare incisions over a gritty low drone which she plays with a bow.

The album’s concluding tracks range from playful electronics, to a ghostly National Steel guitar-like miniature, a gently insistent, Debussy-esque interlude and a cheerily ornamented electric harp finale.

A Haunting, Starry Night with Guitarist Andre Matos

One of the most rapturous, magical albums of 2021 is guitarist André Matos‘ solo acoustic record Estelar, streaming at Bandcamp. He recorded the collection of “comprovisational” nocturnes alone this past May in Harlem, using a cheap practice model from the 1960s.

Among jazz guitarists, Matos is one of the kings of melody (Bill Frisell and Tom Csatari are good reference points if not necessarily comparisons). But where Csatari comes to jazz via Americana, Matos cut his teeth on the blues, and remains a brilliant blues player. There’s a lot of that here, even if if it’s often allusive, adrift in the stars.

Matos’ phrasing here is very spare, so much that fret noise becomes an essential part of the picture. There are no wasted notes and no big chords, just little chordlets intermingled amid gently floating slide licks. While there are dreamy interludes, overall this is a pretty dark record, no surprise considering the circumstances under which it was made.

Most of these tracks appear to be single takes; a few feature overdubs. The first is Ao Relento (Outside), Matos’ desolate, spare slide phrases congealing into a spare, mournful minor-key blues anchored by a persistent low E.

After the rustic Aguda (Acute), a crepuscular atmosphere lingers throughout Miradouro (Perspective), as Matos reaches toward a bittersweet downward resolution. The suspense in Pensomentos builds as Matos hints at where he might take the hypnotically atmospheric central vamp. Luz Subita, true to its title, is one of the warmest numbers here.

Track six, So (The Only One), is absolutely forlorn and the most album’s most Lynchian interlude. With its throaty, keening slide riffs, Fadiga Do Concreto (literally: Concrete Fatigue) makes a good segue, Matos building to a punchy intensity over a drone.

There are wry hints at a ba-BUMP roadhouse theme in Plantas Medicinas…hmmm, you be the judge.

After that, the unease rises amid lustrous resonance in Chuva Miuda (Drizzle). Matos winds up this quietly edgy suite of sorts with the allusively sinister mood piece Consciencia do Mundo. Assuming that world events don’t derail the best albums of 2021 page here at the end of the year, you’ll see this one on it.