The scene: an art-school class of music geeks and movie buffs, mostly black-shirted, with messy, cigarette-scented hair.
— OK, class, let’s start with some free association. I say “experimental, evocative musical score”, and you say…
— Of course.
— Good choice.
— You there, smirking.
— Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott.
— Yes, excellent animated illustrations.
— You in the back, in the Austin City Limits t-shirt, what did you say? Graham who?
— Graham Reynolds.
— (Class in unison) Who?
Cut: to review.
Let me, your humble and blown-away PopMatters reviewer, introduce Graham Reynolds’s Golden Arm Trio and their most recent release, The Tick-Tock Club. These 12 captivating pieces practically project themselves from your speakers. Every listen conjures up a new 37-minute flick in your head.
The Austin-based Golden Arm Trio — actually not a trio at all, but the 36-year-old Reynolds and about, oh, 24 friends — have created a masterful work here. There’s the high-hat and horn-fueled sinister spy-jazz of “20 Million Ways to Die in Chicago”, which is two-thirds abstract Ellington and three parts amped-up orchestral adventure. Ultra-impressive “Disco”, displaying no trace of the genre of its name, is the liveliest and most interesting piece I’ve heard this year, from any genre. Its sawed strings and thumped piano build over four-and-a-half minutes, with careening guitar lines and horn squalls that burst into a lovely and menacing cacophonic mess.
The liner notes explain how several tracks are related through re-imagined repetitions of theme, melody, and instrumentation. Two of these tracks are directly inspired by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. A melody that first appears as a haunting cello and vibraphone duo in the opening track “Dmitri Dmitryevich”, a Shostakovich tribute, receives a six-minute orchestral expansion in closer “DSCH”. Just as these two compositions bookend The Tick- Tock Club, they would also well escort a film’s opening sequence and rolling credits.
The listener is presented a range of sonically visual options in the “scenes” within The Tick-Tock Club. The title track, appearing after the brief intro piece, is Mancini on acid — three minutes of surreal drama, where hyper horns and swirling strings compete for an exciting aural apex. Strings dominate the elegant “He Lies Like an Eyewitness” and the minimalist “Eventide”. “Greyhound”, with its compositional echoes of the Masada String Trio, pairs a cello with a piano for stunning effect. The jaunty “The Duchess of Parma” recalls the cartoon scores of Scott and Stalling, while setting the scene of a space-age bachelor pad.
Multi-instrumentalist Reynolds is well-aware of The Tick Tock Club‘s utility as a soundtrack. The album’s web site encourages listeners to write accompanying stories, and several have. After you’ve tackled this challenge, you can craft another script based on one of the site’s alternative track sequences, one of which front-loads the up-beat and driving pieces and ends with the more classically-oriented, melancholy ones. The site also explains that “The Tick Tock Club Film Project” is in the works, with a handful of Austin filmmakers working on short films to accompany this music. Let’s hope that the visuals live up to the audio.
Moreover, this isn’t Reynolds’ first foray into film music. He has scored five features, dozens of shorts and more than 20 silent films, most prominently, the soundtrack to Richard Linklater’s animated adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. Reynolds has also written five symphonies, two operas, and countless chamber music pieces. He is now working on a ballet, an album of Duke Ellington material, and a concert-length adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey for the Austin Children’s Choir.
Despite these classical associations, Reynolds employs his Golden Arm Trio moniker to assert his most cinematic and edgy rock-influenced work. This is the Trio’s fourth album, and it is one that will educate and surprise students of filmic-crime-jazz-rock-improv-noir-string music.