CD Review: Moon

By • July 27, 2009

Composer: Clint Mansell
Label: Black Records
Suggested Retail Price: $9.99 (iTunes download)
Grade: A

Though 1998’s PI started as an under-the-radar blip on the indie scene, it would ultimately help re-write the game book on how you could make, let alone score science fiction films. For even if it mostly took place in a genius’ apartment, the surreal meeting of minds between writer-director Darren Aronofsky and Pop Will Eat Itself musician Clint Mansell opened up a whole new universe of possibility in PI’s mathematical madness. The “techno” invasion had truly begun for film scores, as this progressive rocker used electronic tonalities in a thematically rhythmic way, one that that showed off infinite tonal possibilities without managing not to sound like any other sci-fi soundtrack that had come before it.

Since his debut on PI, Clint Mansell has grown to become as conventionally capable as the best of them from the romance of DEFINITELY, MAYBE to the action of SAHARA. Yet he’d still manage to put his unique spin into the mix, especially when given the chance to return to the genre, from DOOM’s death metal to the Nirvanic mixture of symphony and synths for Aronofsky’s THE FOUNTAIN. No matter the approach, Clint Mansell had developed a telltale, throbbing sound where the rhythm of the heat built to some unknowable, cosmic discovery. If Phillip Glass had become a punk David Bowman, than Clint Mansell was that astronaut.

Mansell’s professional, and creative universe has certainly gotten bigger since being the confined to the budgetary, and stylistic space of PI. Sure his new score for MOON may promise the planet in its title. Yet this is, easily the most claustrophobic chamber piece that Mansell has scored since his start, as he once again finds music for a shut-in going batshit as a life-changing revelation looms over him. But where PI was all about intellectual insanity, there’s more humanity to MOON’s spiraling loss of self. And the journey there lets Mansell’s find one of his most effectively eerie grooves for orchestra and electronics, but one that doesn’t leave his music’s emotional, and melancholy vibe in the lunar dust.

Though his accommodations are spiffier than an NYC tenement, even rats and coffee stains would probably be more stimulating to Sam Bell than the white sterility of the moon base he’s stuck in. But life scooping up rocks to make Earth fuel gets considerably more interesting when he rescues “himself” after a crash. Is it his doppelganger, or is Sam a ghost? It’s a question that immediately begs for an eerie sound, which Mansell immediately delivers in “Welcome to Lunar Industries,” his throbbing main theme first embodied on piano, and then picking up with percussion and echoing guitar samples- their piercing sound functioning like radar calling with no hope of an answer. MOON is all about this creepy isolation, which can range from the piercing wash of sound in “Two Weeks & Counting” to the suspenseful tension of “I’m Sam Bell,” the composer’s hallucinatory samples swinging in and out- much like Sam’s increasing sense that the typically evil ‘company” is out to screw with his mind- if not to make sure he never returns home.

But if no one can hear you scream in space, then they certainly aren’t going to notice your breakdown. MOON has a surfeit of anguished, emotional themes to convey both Sam’s mental and physical breakdown, and they’re never more powerful than when Mansell uses a solo piano and violin in “Memories” and “The Nursery.” Like his tender guitar score for Aronofsky’s THE WRESTLER, Mansell’s use of solo instruments in MOON does much to convey a hero’s anguish amidst subject matter that usually cries out for more complicated stuff. It’s this balance between subtlety, and Mansell’s experimental use of electronics and strings that make MOON continually interesting, whether he’s going for the ethereal or the pulsating. And where Mansell’s ever-building sci-fi themes ultimately led to a drill to the head in PI, or perhaps heaven itself in THE FOUNTAIN, all rhythmic paths in MOON surprisingly take the composer to a somewhat “happy” ending, as the touching innocence of child-like bells in “We’re Going Home” jubilantly ramps up for a climactic theme reprise of “Welcome to Lunar Industries.”

For a place with no atmosphere, Clint Mansell’s score for MOON positively swims in it. It’s a score that’s a strange as one would expect from the man whose in-your-face electronica first summed up the unachievable number of the cosmos. And now it’s found the heartbeat of one astronaut’s inner universe, a place where all the high-tech coolness around him (not to mention the unexplored lunar expanse) means nothing without a human connection. Mansell’s ability to give a ghostly beat to the spacey cool, and hear down-to-Earth sensitivity makes MOON into a musical odyssey well worth taking.

Get your MOON rock here

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