Although it may show off my cavalier attitude towards music criticism, I grabbed this disc because of the title, Music for Movies Unmade. You see, I used to listen to songs from my favorite albums and think about how I would incorporate them into the coolest soundtrack ever for films that didn’t exist anywhere but in my head. I’m not a filmmaker or screenwriter so far, but it was an amusing pastime for a geek like myself.
Typically, the songs were sort of categorical: Joy Division’s “Twenty Four Hours” for a cyberpunk sci-fi flick; They Might Be Giants’ “Ana Ng” for a Lynch-esque scene; or even R.E.M.‘s “Disturbance at the Heron House” or “King of Birds” for a moment when the main character is isolated and alone. Sadly, I never actually developed any of these “soundtracks” beyond the idea stage, since in some way it might have propelled me to go to film school and become the next Tarantino or Smith. Er…well…maybe not, but the point is that my “soundtracks” and my films went unmade.
That being the case, I felt some kind of kindred spirit must have emerged from Vivid Low Sky to make an album that was somewhat in league with my high school imaginings. Had I seen it in time, I would have jumped at the chance to own and review Arling & Cameron’s Music for Imaginary Films before PopMatters’ own Rob McLaughlin could snag it. But there’s a difference between my own theoretical “soundtracks” and even Arling & Cameron when it comes to Vivid Low Sky. More than anything else, that difference is lyrical content.
Vivid Low Sky is the more-or-less-solo effort of guitarist David Koslowski and is a purely instrumental endeavor. I say more-or-less-solo because he’s pulled friends in to help him flesh out the sound from indie bands such as Gerty, Jawbox, Plow, and Airport ‘77. However, this is definitely Koslowski’s project, as all the music on Music for Movies Unmade was written by Koslowki and he performs the majority of the sounds that make up these songs. Koslowski himself is a guitarist for Gerty and vocalist/guitarist for Liquor Bike, all of which just goes to show that guy really gets around.
Koslowski got the idea for Music by writing tunes to accompany the images on TV when the sound was turned all the way down. So, my estimation of Vivid Low Sky as an output kindred to me was a little off base, but that’s the fault of my own assumptions. What Koslowski came up with rests firmly on its own merits. Because the tracks are instrumental, they don’t come across as pop soundtrack material. Instead, they seem like the more subtle plays of sounds and music that would be the backdrop for expressive scenes and dialogues. Almost like the rock version of an orchestral soundtrack to accompany something like Star Wars or Last of the Mohicans. A really clever indie filmmaker, with a good sound editor, could pick up this disc and make the whole album become the soundtrack for a quirky, edgy film.
But by bringing up the aforementioned movies, I don’t want to imply that Music for Movies Unmade is a brilliant work of genius. It’s not. It’s merely inspired. In places, the album really loses its luster quickly for the listener. On the other hand, maybe that’s part-and-parcel of a project such as this. It becomes a complete soundtrack when even the artist him or herself conceptualized each song as unique. The fact that some songs repeat guitar patterns and sounds, that chord progressions are picked up and repeated, that the tracks tend to wander into each other, these are the things that would hold a musical composition together rather than work against it. Despite the recent upswing in indie rock instrumental bands, focussing on a movie theme like this forces the music into the constraints of the theme’s traditional format. It’s a long, rainy day, each grainy, popping flicker of light through celluloid captured in an aural spectrum.
Although I wouldn’t put this effort in the realm of Mogwai and other wunderkinder of instrumental rock, it’s not that it doesn’t carry its own identity and charm. There’s even a misspelling of a song title in the brief hand-written liner notes (“Crown” from “Bumble Bee Crown King” is spelled “Crwon” jauntily). And you gotta love an album that lists among its credits the name of the cute model on the CD sleeve, referring to her as a “cover starlet.” Rather than standing out as the album that captures your attention and centers itself in your world, this is a disc that will subtlely creep in behind your senses and set your mood, for better or for worse.
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