It was 1958, and Heitor Villa-Lobos was contracted to write the film score to Green Mansions, starring Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins. He was shocked – BEFUDDLED – to discover that the film would not be edited to his music, rather than the other way around. The story sounds charming these days, and yet how bizarre is it that a composer should expect his music to be weed-whacked to fit a scene?
This is thankfully not the case for Icelandic sonic necromancer Jóhann Jóhannsson, and his riveting collaboration with filmmaker Denis Villeneuve for the French-Canadian’s recent picture, Sicario. No stranger to writing for film, Jóhannsson nevertheless found himself in the enviable position of being included early on in the process by the director, allowing him to envision his towering score not as an afterthought or punch-up, but as a symbiotic element of the whole. Starring Benicio del Toro, Emily Blunt, and Josh Brolin, Sicario lives in the drug- and murder-engulfed Mexican city of Juarez – and Jóhannsson’s music is as distressing and insuppressible as the plot.
If you dig E-minor, this album is your jam. Relying heavily, and successfully, on low brass, strings and heavy-boned percussion, Sicario establishes its bleak worldview early on and never lets go of the listener’s collar. Like an aural Kraken, relentless gran casa, tuba, bass trombone and melting strings peel back the earth’s surface and blanket the ears in menace. With a ritualistic, ancient-sounding beat, tracks like “The Border” and “Drywall” lock step to a seemingly inevitable demise, while “Target” puts Jóhannsson’s deft string writing on display with the striking use of brutal col legno to disturb the pervasive bass drones.
The album highlight arrives with album closer “Alejandro’s Song,” a stirring number featuring haunting falsetto voices. This is Jóhann Jóhannsson at his best – captivating atmosphere with a healthy dose of emotional coercion and imminent peril. Looking for a holiday antidote record? Look no further.