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Reviews: Matthew Cooper's Some Days Are Better Than Others (Soundtrack)

Matthew Cooper's Some Days Are Better Than Others (Soundtrack)

Belying his recent forays into stoner comedy, David Gordon Green started his career with a pair of oblique independent films: the childhood drama George Washington and the romance All the Real Girls. My viewings of these films had several prompts: recently catching up on Terrence Malick’s first two films (1973’s Badlands and the 1978 stunner Days of Heaven), both of which cast heavy shadows on Green’s work; former Parks and Recreation cast member Paul Schneider’s appearance in both films and co-writing credit for the latter; and the lingering suspicion that the lovely cinematography of Pineapple Express should be seen in its natural habitat. Such curiosity paid off; both films have stuck with me, particularly the inexperienced cast of child actors in George Washington and the worn-in relationship between Schneider and a young Zooey Deschanel in All the Real Girls. Tim Orr’s cinematography guides both films, most notably during a pair of lengthy montages ending their respective second acts. It’s here that Green’s visual storytelling shines brightest.

Those montages are not purely visual, as you might suspect, but they’re not the ham-fisted musical montages skewered by South Park. I immediately recognized the music of the passage in All the Real Girls as the Mogwai remix of “Mogwai Fear Satan” from Kicking a Dead Pig, but the strangely familiar ambient soundscape accompanying the passage in George Washington made me rush to IMDB for the credit. Sure enough, Stars of the Lid was somehow involved. Brian McBride’s side band The Pilot Ships contributed “Pilot Suicide Theory” from its 2000 LP The Limits of Painting and Poetry to George Washington’s soundtrack, and its backwards drones capture the range of emotions swirling around in the film. To Green’s credit, that’s no easy task.

Between “Pilot Suicide Theory” and McBride’s recent score for the documentary Vanishing of the Bees, I found myself wondering why contemporary ambient music hasn’t found its way onto more film scores. (Full disclosure: I rented The Lovely Bones because of Brian Eno’s soundtrack, but not even the use of “The Big Ship” over its closing credits could align the tonal mess which preceded it. Avoid.) Matt McCormick’s debut film Some Days Are Better Than Others had a head-start to finding its score from Eluvium’s Matthew Cooper, since it stars two notable indie rockers: Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag, and the IFC sketch comedy show Portlandia, and James Mercer of The Shins and Broken Bells. The film is currently making the rounds at festivals and limited-run screenings, while Cooper’s score is now available on Temporary Residence.

Given the variety of sounds Cooper has delivered in Eluvium’s discography—the woozy drones of Lambient Material, the solo piano of An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death, the symphonic swells of Copia, the Eno-esque vocals of Similes—his score for Some Days could have gone in any number of directions. Picking up on the film’s thematic exploration of throwaway culture, Cooper opted to record the soundtrack with broken/malfunctioning keyboards, a decision which establishes the score’s aesthetic. There’s a playfulness to tracks like “Drifting” and “Worry and Care” that suggests both a church organ and a run-down carnival. Cooper manages to hit the droning palette of his early records on “Into Dust” and the tinkling, heavily backmasked “Pursuance.”

The best pieces on Some Days recall the interwoven layers of Eluvium’s finest work, 2005’s Talk Amongst the Trees. “Reprieve” carefully balances delicate details and thick blocks of keyboards. The title track starts with that curious carnival organ, but like Talk’s astounding highlight “New Animals from the Air,” keeps adding counterpoint melodies and textures. By the end of the song, the organ has disappeared and the tone has changed dramatically, but when exactly that happens is difficult to ascertain.

Cooper works best in these long pieces, since the shorter interstitials often lack depth. Not having seen the film, I can’t say if the church organ melodies of “It’s Never What It Seems” and “What You Leave Behind” are the perfect accompaniments for their respective scenes, but on record they’re gone too soon and don’t leave much of an impression. This issue made much of Cooper’s 2008 "solo album" Miniatures a fans-only concern, so perhaps he should stick to his stage name.

I hope that the film Some Days Are Better Than Others gives the song “Some Days Are Better Than Others” a fittingly evocative context. It’s the centerpiece of the soundtrack, much like “Pilot Suicide Theory” and “Mogwai Fear Satan (Mogwai Remix)” anchored George Washington and All the Real Girls respectively. It’s an excellent gateway to Matthew Cooper’s work, the best of which comes under the Eluvium banner, so if you’ve seen the film and liked what you heard, start there and then circle back to this soundtrack.

2008 Year-End Wrap Part One: The List

My 2008 year-end list is up, with links for at least one song per album linked to either an mp3 or a YouTube video. I promise that I’ll only utilize horizontal scrolling for special occasions.

Quite a few albums could have easily found themselves in the 20 to 15 range. Matthew Robert Cooper’s Miniatures is pleasant, but too many of the songs sound like sketches instead of finished compositions. Sharks and Sailors’ Builds Brand New has a solid front half, but loses steam near the end. GZA’s Pro Tools has some excellent cuts, but the lack of energy is disappointing. The Constants/Caspian split single might have made it if I’d counted seven-inches, but I’m sure Constants’ forthcoming 2009 release will rectify their absence this year. Fuck Buttons’ Street Horrrsing was aesthetically intriguing, especially “Colours Move” and “Sweet Love for Planet Earth,” but a few of the songs did nothing for me. Lights Out Asia’s Eyes Like Brontide is an improvement over their last album, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of Garmonia. Wire’s Object 47 needed more tracks like “One of Us” and “All Fours.” I simply didn’t spend enough time with Secret Chiefs 3’s Xaphan: The Book of Angels, Vol. 9 to give it proper consideration, but there is always a few albums that slip past me until the following year.

Next up: my two-disc year-end mix and my list of the best non-2008 records that I first heard during this calendar year.

Temporary Residence Limited to Release Eluvium Vinyl Box

Official Eluvium site

I’ve done a good job sticking to my wait-for-the-vinyl policy since I adopted it a few years ago, but one artist that constantly tempted me to break ranks and buy CDs is Eluvium. I kept hearing rumblings about a possible vinyl box set from Temporary Residence Limited, but his catalog—especially the layered brilliance of 2005’s Talk Amongst the Trees, the solo piano of 2004’s An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death, and the symphonic leanings of 2007’s Copia—is so consistently great that I felt guilty for only owning his split LP with Jesu, nearly caving to pick up those releases. (I still haven’t picked up Miniatures, Matthew Robert Cooper’s first release under his actual name, but I’ll order it from Gaarden Records sooner or later.)

Thankfully TRL came through with that proposed vinyl box set, setting up pre-orders at the beginning of the month for a seven LP book that should be delivered before Christmas. Dropping $120 on the vast majority of Eluvium’s catalog (minus that split LP with Jesu, since it already appeared on vinyl, and Miniatures) made my stomach turn as I processed my pre-order, but at least I won’t feel guilty when I see CD copies of Talk Amongst the Trees at Newbury Comics. Given that this is a limited edition of 1000 and TRL followers hoard vinyl like gemstones (I’ve seen the 2LP of Tarentel’s From Bone to Satellite near $100 on eBay), I anticipate it selling out before long. Here are the details of the pressing:

Each record is packaged in its own full-color jacket, featuring exquisite new artwork from Jeannie Lynn Paske, drawn exclusively for this set. The seven jackets are then bound into a beautiful dark green hardbound, linen-cover book, with metallic gold foil stamping and embossed text on the spine, and a beautiful full-color print embossed into the front cover. The inside front cover includes a removable old-fashioned library card, complete with personalized signatures from the artists and designers involved in the creation of this package. The final name on the library card will belong to the purchaser, hand-written and dated when purchased. The inside back cover includes a mind-blowing 12x36" foldout double-sided full-color poster insert, featuring more artwork from Ms. Paske.

Other notes gleaned from the TRL forum thread on the release: the individual albums will not get separate vinyl pressings in the future; each record will be 140 grams, since 180 gram LPs would rip through the packaging; “Behind Your Trouble,” the song from Eluvium’s Travels in Constants EP, was too long to fit on a side of vinyl and was not included; and TRL has a miniscule profit margin on this release. I wish more bands and labels rewarded fans’ patience this well.