Published Jan 29, 2020Following his work on Ari Aster's 2018 film Hereditary, Colin Stetson tackles the much looser and loopy task of scoring Color Out of Space, a supernatural sci-fi film based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, starring Nicolas Cage, and "brought to you by the producers of Mandy."
The first couple of pieces tease that this will be a somewhat traditional soundtrack, though one showcasing Stetson's singular approach to saxophone: dense layers of notes and percussive physicality. On opener "West of Arkham," Stetson supports his roiling spirals with a kind of ambient base tone and higher frequency reed stings that punch through the veil of sound, reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's score for the original Alien, though with a more shivery and unstable aspect. "The Gardners" is the closest thing to a classic film score, with strings courtesy of Matt Combs, introducing the film's soon to be disrupted family.
"Contact" is where the true character of the soundtrack is revealed, with a fluid cacophony of notes and seemingly inorganic material punctuated by the gut punch of a descending bass note, akin to the sinking feelings conjured in Jóhann Jóhannsson's score for Sicario. It also introduces the central and recurring alien "theme" — a simple four note sequence played onetwothree…………………four — sometimes used within conventional musical moments, but more often as kind of a clenched and paranoid twitch. The bulk of the pieces hold onto this phrase as a kind of floatation device as they otherwise consist of violent eruptions amid eerie ambience and sound design, mirroring the second and third act tendency of freakiness for its own sake. A strong coda and end credits theme, "Reservoir," finds the rails everything had gone off of about seven tracks ago and gives the score a satisfying exit point.
Stetson does an admirable job finding ways to maintain a tone of persistent unease, but his compositional skills are tested by the film's reliance on abstract horror with occasional visceral shocks over any kind of concrete story or consistent character beats. Detached from the visuals it makes for a pretty bumpy ride. (Milan)