[18 May 2005]
The Problem with Soundtracks
Does every soundtrack really need to be pressed onto a disc and immortalized? In any record store, you’ll find dozens and dozens of instrumental soundtracks for countless movies: good, bad, indifferent. While a soundtrack compilation album often can be an interesting musical experience, particularly if it consists of primarily new tracks from worthwhile artists, the presence of all these orchestral scores pressed onto compact disc always puzzled me. Sure, John Williams and Danny Elfman will occasionally score a memorable title tune, but does anyone really need, say, the orchestral score for the wretched television mini-series of The Stand? Where’s the audience for The Butterfly Effect soundtrack?
On most occasions, soundtracks are not really complete works, but rather music designed not to exist on its own but to rather support a pre-existing narrative. Nine times out of 10, if you notice a movie’s score during the actual movie, it probably isn’t doing its job properly.
The producers of the indie film The Graffiti Artist found a worthwhile, and probably cheaper, solution to creating the soundtrack for their film: Instead of hiring a large orchestra, they got popular French DJ Kid Loco to provide the backing music. Kid Loco was known for his downbeat chill music, which made him a perfect choice for providing mood music on a quirky, under-the-radar art film. Plus, the soundtrack could be marketed as a proper Kid Loco album, heightening attention to the film itself. In theory, this would be a soundtrack, once freed from the many soundtrack clichés, that actually would be strong and creative enough to stand on its own. The results, however, fail to make any sort of argument for the worthiness of soundtrack albums.
Kid Loco’s music probably works in the context of the film. Maybe if I had seen it in advance, and had some visuals to go along with the meandering music, I would have a stronger reaction to its soundtrack. On its own, however, The Graffiti Artist Original Soundtrack is 80 minutes of dull stretches of down-tempo electronica, with few actual musical ideas, none of which are particularly interesting. The bad signs came before I even began listening to the music. Rather than breaking apart the music into digestible chunks, Kid Loco has kept his long instrumentals as wholes, supposedly to capture his song’s movements. So the first three tracks are 15 minutes, 22 minutes, and 12 minutes respectively. Kid Loco also has not named his compositions, probably to let the music speak for itself, which would be fine if the music actually said anything.
The first track sets the pace, and instrumentation, of the entire album. DJ Loco throws in some sitars and flutes, and then he throws in some repetitive acoustic guitar, and, once he feels that the mood has been set, he throws in some percussion (lots of tablas). Then he then he doesn’t really do anything. He will take away one or more of the elements, only to bring it back later, but there’s no real sense of a musical journey. There’s nothing offensive about Kid Loco’s compositions, but within a minute or two the music has faded away into the background. Kid Loco has accidentally created an album that is roughly equivalent to those “Nature Sounds” CDs that people use to calm themselves down. It’s pleasant enough, but inessential in nature.
Frustratingly, the second track begins in the same exact way, except there’s more of it. Jerome Bensoussan’s clarinet work distinguishes it a little from its predecessor, as he tries desperately to add a little jazz in the otherwise new age-y proceedings. But then the tablas come again, and it sounds exactly like the first track. Upon every listen, I faded away halfway through track two, and really had to keep reminding myself that I was listening to an album I was slated to review. I now know how frustrated the first reviewers of Metal Machine Music felt, desperately trying to pay close attention to something so flat and monotonous. I really like the laidback funk of track six, a welcome respite from the bleached-out “world” music of the rest of the album, but that may just be because it is the shortest track on the album.
If the plan was to use Kid Loco’s soundtrack to market the movie, I fear the producers’ idea may have backfired. If The Graffiti Artist follows the same movements (or lack thereof) of its soundtrack companion, it would be a dull, pointless film (and considering that a cursory glance at IMDB features comparisons to Gus Van Sant, that’s not a complete impossibility). In any case, Kid Loco is a talented DJ who did his job, providing appropriate music for an album, but the soundtrack to The Graffiti Artist is just another in a long line of original soundtracks that should never have been released commercially.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/kidloco-graffiti/