Listen With Your Eyes

The Sea and Cake and Polvo guest.

Face it: most soundtracks these days are assembled by overpaid music

supervisors with one index finger on the Billboard charts and the other on the

speed dial. Which is why they all sound alike: scattershot combinations of

disposable alt-rock hits, by-the-numbers covers of one-hit wonders from 1976,

and B-sides "inspired by" movies they don't appear in.

Luckily, exceptions do exist; take John Hughes III. He served as the

supervisor on "Reach the Rock," and if his name rings more bells than the film

title, you're probably thinking of his dad -- the man behind "Pretty in Pink,"

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Home Alone." Papa Hughes also wrote and

produced "Rock," which opened last year to mediocre reviews and promptly

disappeared (a video release is due this summer).

The younger Hughes heads the Chicago-based indie Hefty Records. It was his

idea to recruit John McEntire, drummer for Tortoise and countless other

outfits, to score the movie.

And a fine idea it was -- anyone familiar with the spaghetti-western

atmospherics of "Along the Banks of Rivers," from the 1996 album Millions

Now Living Will Never Die, knows how easily Tortoise's wordless reveries

lend themselves to imaginary movies. While I haven't seen "Reach the Rock,"

I've got no problem summoning visuals and storylines to accompany tracks like

"Stolen Car," "Quinn Goes to Town" and "The Kiss" (RealAudio excerpt).

"Rock's" closest cousins in soundtrackland may be Ry Cooder's guitar-rich

score for "Paris, Texas" and Hal Hartley's evocative compositions for his own

films ("Henry Fool," "Flirt"). McEntire plays just about everything here

(drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards) himself, and the end result has the same

loping pace, subtle shifts of focus and disdain for conventional song

structures as the average Tortoise offering.

McEntire's bandmates are also on hand: not just Tortoise (whose album-opening "In a Thimble" [RealAudio excerpt]

succinctly captures their strengths) but Sea and Cake (whose fragile, lilting "Window Lights" [RealAudio excerpt]

provides the disc's only vocals). Add

previously unreleased material by colleagues Polvo, Bundy K. Brown, and

Dianogah (sounding here like Tortoise, Jr.) and you've got a thoughtfully

constructed, remarkably consistent sampler of the thriving scene primarily

centered around Chicago's Thrill Jockey label.

What makes this music so compelling is its balance of aggressive sonic

experimentation (the ominous opening moments of Brown's "Drift," patches of

speaker-crunching distortion throughout the album) and listener-friendly

accessibility (the irresistible chorus of "Window Lights" and the poignant

melody of "The Kiss").

Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, the album is a bit on the skimpy side,

but then brevity has its rewards in a genre prone to aimless noodling.