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Record Reviews: Jonny Greenwood, Bishop Lamont, Melchior Productions

Jonny Greenwood
There Will Be Blood (soundtrack) | Nonesuch


(Click to enlarge)

If you’re chasing the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood because of the Jonny Greenwood/Radiohead connection, and are expecting electronic beats, angular guitar solos and maybe a cameo by Thom Yorke, there’s bad news. But if you’re looking for devastatingly dark string-and-piano dirges and free-floating bummage, well, grim ones, you’ve got a new soundtrack to life. Plug in your earbuds and the world turns black and deep as oil. Flowers once vibrant look doomed, pedestrians bankrupt. Beginning with a two-note call-and-response portent that hints at Ry Cooder’s iconic pedal-steel mnemonic from Paris, Texas and Alexandre Desplat’s monumental soundtrack to Birth, Greenwood’s score for Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is a tense, sparse masterwork that sounds absolutely nothing like the composer’s rock band. Violins strangle soft piano melodies, string sections scratch at emotions like fingernails to face, but there’s nary a guitar lick to be found, let alone a steady beat.

Anderson’s film traces the life of an early-20th-century oil man, and Greenwood’s score follows him like Pigpen’s dust. The protagonist’s theme, “Henry Plainview,” is a woozy, swirling abyss. Strings and horns moan like cursed sirens; well-lubricated cellos glide with violins and violas up and down the register, dizzying, untethered. “Prospectors Arrive” is a flowing piano-and-string affair that contains a beautifully meandering melody which drifts like a canary feather in a coal mine, a touch of color within darkness.

Considering the film is more than two and a half hours long, Greenwood’s mere 33 minutes of score more than carries the load, managing to provide ample fuel to power the epic locomotive that is Anderson’s movie. Vast swaths of silence in Blood serve to magnify the moments of music. Lithuanian composer Arvo Pärt’s landmark “Fratres” makes an appearance in the film, which makes sense; Greenwood’s score is obviously influenced by his work (you can hear Ligeti and Xenakis in there, as well), in addition to the jittery strings of Bernard Herrmann. But what’s most impressive about Greenwood’s achievement is that it succeeds on its own terms, as a soundtrack to a deep, devastating film. It’s hard to write music for burying corpses. That Greenwood pulls it off is a testament to the depths of his vision not as a moonlighting rock guitarist, but as a composer creating music in service of a force greater than his own.

—Randall Roberts

Bishop Lamont
Caltroit (mixtape)

Despite having a name more fitting for an underling of Roger Mahony, Bishop Lamont might be the best West Coast rapper you’ve never heard of. But with an Aftermath Records debut, The Reformation, slated to drop in the first quarter of ’08, and several reported guest appearances on Dr. Dre’s long-awaited Detox, Lamont probably won’t remain obscure for much longer. Of course, this is Aftermath we’re talking about, an opaque Bermuda Triangle of a record label where Dre has been known to jettison artists at the drop of a protein shake. This time next year, Lamont is as likely to be the most famous new name in rap as he is to be a trivia question (see Hittman, Truth Hurts).

Wisely, Lamont has steadily released a series of buzz-building mixtapes since signing with Dre two years ago, the latest of which, Caltroit, is an impressive collaboration with producer/rapper Black Milk, a Fat Beats–signed crate digger who might be Detroit’s best bet since J Dilla passed. Straddling the increasingly nebulous divide between the “underground” and the “mainstream,” Caltroit features guest appearances from a wide range of Motor City vets (Elzhi of Slum Village, Royce Da 5’9”, Phat Kat) to subterranean left-coast staples (Rass Kass, Tash, Planet Asia), to Aftermath labelmates Busta Rhymes and Stat Quo. Lamont’s mentor Dre even turns up on the coda for “On Top Now,” big-upping his latest Aftermath prospects and reminding people for the 3,222nd time that they are “from the West Coast” and “on top.”

But it’s not until “Goatit” that you actually start to think that Dre’s hyberbole might be accurate, with Milk supplying a stomping, Dilla-haunted beat full of December Detroit grime, and Lamont rapping like a desperate man fleeing a collapsing bridge. Backed by heartless organs, a rubber-band bass line and wailing gospel pleas, Lamont showcases a rare combination of speed, clarity and punch-line lyricism reminiscent of early Canibus, the late Big Punisher, or Dre’s last great signee, Eminem. Not only is it the best verse on the guest-laden affair, it’s one of the better ones this year, and certainly enough to leave you hoping that The Reformation and Detox finally see the light of Dre.

—Jeff Weiss

Melchior Productions
No Disco Future | Perlon

Johann Peter Melchior was a skilled German porcelain modeler of the 18th century, carving out intimately crafted scenes from clay, carefully placing them in a 2000-degree oven, and pulling out miniature masterpieces. Thomas Melchior? A skilled German producer who carves out intimate, warm tracks from unlikely elements, lets them bake in sweaty clubs, and puts out minimal techno masterpieces.

Melchior has been making techno for nearly 20 years in some form or another. (He was a member of the backing band for Deee-lite’s Lady Miss Kier on her first solo tour in the mid-’90s.) His work under the Melchior Productions alias, however, has been his main focus since 2002. Here, on his second full-length album under the alias, he reaffirms his dedication to minimalism, paring back each rhythmic element until clipped digital raindrops serve as the unyielding pulse and luscious chords pull you in. As always, though, his true talent lies in letting listeners fill in the melodic, rhythmic, and vocal blanks: On “Coming Up,” he throws you the first half of Pink’s immortal dance-floor couplet and dares you not to respond “so you better get this party started.” Thomas: I think you already did.

—Todd L. Burns


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