Jóhann Jóhannsson ‘Sicario – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’ (Varèse Sarabande)

A film soundtrack that makes the most of things that go bump in the night

Film soundtracks have a habit of being, well, film soundtracks. As important as music in films is, it should never be the main attraction. All that money spent on making a movie only to be overshadowed by the music. It would never do.

That said, there’s something rather lovely about film music without the picture and as a result there are plenty of OSTs that pass with some ease into your record collection. A quick flick through my shelves finds Ry Cooder’s ‘Paris Texas’, Michael Nyman’s ‘Brazil’ and ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover’, Peter Gabriel’s ‘Birdy’, Vangelis’ ‘Bladerunner’…

Earlier this year Berlin-based Icelander Jóhann Jóhannsson, who you may know as a solo artist with releases on FatCat, 4AD and Touch, or for his collaborations with the likes of Marc Almond, Barry Adamson, Pan Sonic, and Can’s Jaki Liebezeit, went overground in a rather major way when he picked up Oscar and BAFTA nominations and bagged the actual Best Film Score gong at the Golden Globes for his ‘The Theory Of Everything’ soundtrack. With a dozen or so films to his name, Jóhannsson is fast becoming a composer in demand, which brings us to ‘Sicario’, a dark thriller starring Emily Blunt as an FBI agent… lawless US/Mexico border… war against drugs… clandestine journey… you get the idea.

While there are plenty of memorable theme tunes, making an entire soundtrack stand up as an album is a whole different ball game. The first few tracks here bode well – slowly building heartbeats, quietly intense drums, sinister descending strings. Many of the tracks are short, pop song length, and have evocative titles like ‘Target’, ‘Convoy’, ‘Surveillance’ and ‘Summer Meadows’ (actually not the last one). They sort of feel like labels rather than song titles. ‘Convoy’ is for the convoy scene, right? Big trucks trundling along dusty roads and all that.

There’s a lot of percussion at work here, five different drummers apparently, which Jóhannsson says was partly inspired by Swans, the group not the big white birds. Always a good sign when people name-drop Swans. “I wanted to capture a kind of relentlessly slow and mournful but still ferocious and brutal energy,” he explains. It’s something he does with ease. This is a dark, unsettling work. The industrial thrum of ‘Surveillance’ is quite the racket, while ‘The Border’ has us fair jumping out of our skin when, without warning, it pounces at you. If indeed sound can pounce. Which it can. And does here. Regularly. It’s all about the textures and the production is truly lavish. To be in the room when the 65-piece orchestra builds to its menacing crescendo on ‘Night Vision’ must have been a rare treat.

So while there are tracks here that no doubt work well in the film, on their own you can’t help feel they’re too short for you to become involved. You want it to work like some of the best ambient albums do, structured as one, long piece of work with peaks and troughs, rather than what feels like a collection of snippets. That said, if you like you music evocative and visceral, get some headphones on, turn the lights out and be scared half to death… by music. Which in itself is both no mean feat and quite a ride.

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