CD REVIEW: SOUTHLAND TALES

By • November 20, 2007

Composers: Moby, Various Artists
Label: Milan
Suggested Retail Price: $ 13.97
Grade: B+

Few genre filmmakers seem tuned to the alt. music wavelength like writer and director Richard Kelly. Though he’s only had one feature to his credit before Southland Tales, it just happened to be the cult sensation Donnie Darko. Kelly’s choice of songs for it was on the same existential wavelength as his bleak time-travel parable, with songs by the 1980s likes of Duran Duran, Tears for Fears and Joy Division adding a cool chill to its nihilism. But if Donnie Darko had one “top-40” hit, it was the mesmerizing song “Mad World” by the film’s composer Michael Andrews. Both the score and its main title would memorably compliment the film’s sense of youthful doom.

I was a much bigger fan of Darko’s soundtrack than the impenetrably gloomy movie itself. And the critically lambasted Southland Tales certainly won’t draw the same kind of fandom that’s even turned Darko into a stage play. But that being said, Kelly’s new movie finally works just as well as its music, especially because he seems to be in on the pretentious joke of it all. Like a goofball redo of Donnie Darko, Southland Tales pitches a tale of cosmic destruction into the already insane LA landscape – which is even more twisted for a nearly apocalyptic future.

Just as he applied a curious retro vibe to Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly’s taken the same winningly hip attitude in choosing the songs of Southland Tales. Ranging between such styles as doo wop to country and the new wave blues, this cool listen plays like a satirical mix tape for an only-in-America future nightmare. And here It’s California mad dreaming. All the songs have attitude to spare as Kelly uses the tunes to chart his gallery of freakish characters, beginning with the clever burn of the Pixies’ “UK Surf Version” for “Wave of Mutilation.” Whether it’s the romantic golden vocals of Bertha Tillman’s “Oh My Angel,” the organ march of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Howl,” the lush Johnny Mathis-like vocals of Roger Webb’s “Lucky Me,” the country rock of Bigg Head Todd & The Monster’s “Broken Hearted Savior,” or an extended live grunge performance of Jane’s Addiction’s “Three Days,” Southland Tales proves to be as terrifically listenable as it is well-thought out in its song choices.

But whatever time period or style his tunes are in, Richard Kelly knows how to be hip being too smart-assed about it. But that isn’t to say that many of Southland’s tunes aren’t outrightly hilarious, especially Sarah Michelle Gellar’s porn star belting out “Teen Horniness Is Not A Crime” in prime Brittney parody form. Then there’s a Kronos-goof string quartet playing “The Star Spangled Banner” while Rebekah del Rio gives a passionate spin on our anthem, first in Spanish (I think), then English, and ending in a piercing yodel. And leave it to good old boy Waylon Jennings to embody Southland’s rightist villains with the freedom-loving “Me and Bobby McGee.”

For some reason, Darko’s Michael Andrews isn’t back to score Southland Tales. But at least Kelly’s gotten rave wunderkind Moby to pick up the ethereal future vibe, this time with a decidedly lighter touch. While the artist’s instrumental compositions and songs have appeared in such films as Go, The Bourne Ultimatum and Heat, Southland Tales is actually Moby’s second feature underscore after 1997’s Double Tap. And the electronic and sampled dream vibe that he beautifully applies here shows a movie scoring talent that’s begging to be used more. Southland Tales offers four Moby selections, beginning with the lush groove of “Look Back In,” then continuing with the perculating “3 Steps,” and ending with the oddly hypnotic samples of “Tiny Elephants.” It’s all as lushly melodic as it is hypnotically weird, effectively conveying a Southland that seems to exist in several time dimensions at once – all channeled through Moby’s coolly experimental club grooves.

But Richard Kelly’s musical coup for Southland Tales is saved for last, as Moby’s “Memory Gospel” is played for the big onscreen “dance” number. Watching The Rock do interpretive moves with Sarah Michelle Gellar is a spectacular hoot, their unexpected grace embodying the ultimate tango for the end of days. They’re two beautiful fools dancing to the coming apocalypse like its 1999 – or make that 2008 in the case of Southland Tales. It’s a visual nod as to how clever Richard Kelly’s aural / visual landscape is. Sure the world’s over in a few minutes after Moby, but it’s an oddly happy listen.

To buy the soundtrack for Southland Tales, click here.

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