Jonny Greenwood - The Master (soundtrack) / by Doyle Armbrust

The sumptuous, Copland-esque chords of “Overtones” draw back the curtains on The Master: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, but within seconds they’ve devolved into a low-frequency swarm. Similar to the Scientology-like sect at the heart of the film, this early contamination of Americana tonality in Jonny Greenwood’s score feels familiar at first, then disorienting. Employing a full orchestra for his second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson (the first being 2007’s There Will Be Blood), the Radiohead guitarist draws on the sonorities and harmonic landscapes of composers like Ravel. Take “Alethia,” where a harp’s altered pentatonic scales buoy a languid clarinet and flute duet, begging for a full-frame shot of a face curled in silent conflict.

At its best, Greenwood’s score is marvelously discomfiting. On “Baton Sparks,” string and woodwind pads depart from a halcyon, tonal horizon into a bewildering amalgam of plummeting string glissandi, to vertigo-like effect. While the paranoia and superficial, post-WWII American wholesomeness captured in Anderson’s film finds a fitting frame in the composer’s orchestrations, revelatory moments like this are too few and far between.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on October 11th, 2012