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.