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CD Review: Sin City

Sin City *** 1/2


Varèse Sarabande 302 066 6442

24 tracks - 58:16

While it's wonderful when a director takes such obvious care in the placement and selection of music in his films (would that more directors would follow his example), Robert Rodriguez's scores often leave much to be desired, lacking the harmonic and rhythmic complexity we expect from contemporary scoring.

Sin City is no exception. The album's opening cue, "Sin City," is a good depiction of Rodriguez's technique, as it features a straight, driving rhythm, background ambience, and various motives floating in and out. But while there is not much harmonically and rhythmically going on, Rodriguez cleverly focuses on his strength, which is textural manipulation. The sounds he generates are interesting in their own right, especially those for saxophone, which he blares and roughens the edges on, adding a gritty sound to this neo-noir tale. For instance, in "That Yellow Bastard," one of his strongest cues, he combines strings that bow hard to create rasp with overblown brass and piano clusters. While other composers might write dense lines of polyphony to create a sound of ordered chaos, Rodriguez does it with texture in this cue. He then, strangely, builds tension that he never releases, instead simply ending the cue by having the instruments slowly fall away.

The most interesting aspect of this score is not Rodriguez's technique, but rather that he shares writing credit with two other composers. He knew that he would not have time to finish the entire score himself, and as the movie contains three distinct storylines, he chose to ask composers with whom he had worked before to score the separate episodes. By giving each composer the same theme to work from and specific instrumentations to use (as I said, he understands texture), the score is actually unified. It is a marvelous idea and well executed.

Graeme Revell did the Marv episode and brought his typical ambient sound. Revell's scores are rarely full of complex, recurring themes or motives, instead focusing on mood and character. Listen to "The Hard Goodbye," for an example. His use of the sax is languid, and by combining it with our good friend the wailing woman, he creates an atmosphere we immediately recognize as noir, but with a twist. He then sets up an arrhythmic ostinato and allows it to grow, slowly layering electronics and acoustic instruments and shifting meters unexpectedly to create a nice action cue.

John Debney was brought in for the Dwight episode and, as you expect from his previous scores, his section is the most traditional in its orchestration and harkens the most back to 1940s noir stylings. His melody for "Dwight" on flugel and sax is mysterious and with its dark coloring would fit in perfectly in any Sam Spade movie. By the time it appears in the score's best cue, "The Big Fat Kill," it has been compressed in its intervals and accompanied by the string section, shows the moral descent of this episode's main character. This cue is spellbinding.

Overall, in terms of complexity of writing and originality of playing with noir musical archetypes, Debney's contribution is the most rewarding and warrants the most sustained listening, but that doesn't mean there aren't other interesting things to hear throughout. Rodriguez even throws in a concert work by Eduardo Mata that is amazing, but out of place on an album that seeks to be, and is, so unified in tone and effect. Still, as an exercise in collaboration, Sin City excels and makes me long to hear other interesting twists on contemporary scoring.     -- Andrew Granade

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