By Charlie Brigden
“It’s terrible! It’s brilliant!” harked the reviews of Ryan Gosling’s Lost River. While such divisiveness is common especially across the strands of the internet, the opiners of both extremes were unusually vociferous. However, when it comes to the soundtrack everyone seems to agree that Johnny Jewel and friends have done a fine job.
For Lost River, Jewel – who originally did music for the Gosling vehicle Drive before Cliff Martinez came onboard – has pulled together a crack team from his own music label, Italians Do It Better. Jewel appears with all of the acts, such as Glass Candy, Symmetry, and Chromatics (who were also on the Drive soundtrack), as well as on his lonesome and he’s done a remarkable job of making the record sound coherent and consistent on the whole. The exceptions come from the addition of voices from the cast, either through dialogue or singing, as well as older tracks (such as Billy Ward’s ‘Deep Purple’).
The album actually opens with actress Saiorse Ronan singing a track called ‘Tell Me’, and it’s a beautiful way to start, with Ronan’s lullabye vocals over a lovely sweet building melody. Immediately following is ‘Yes (Love Theme from Lost River)’, which is just amazing. It has such a mesmerisingly ethereal feel and feels transcendental but also so familiar, with echoes of Drive‘s ‘A Real Hero’ (also by Jewel) with the beat and the ghostly female vocals.
But while much of Lost River revels in beauty – with the hopeful 16, the dreamlike 13, and the eerie 31 – a great deal has a more threatening edge. ‘The Dead Zone’ is an example of this, with percussion that sounds like old rusty pipes, almost like it was recorded in Freddy Krueger’s furnace lair. ‘Carousel’ has a creepy music box-style melody over more menacing percussion, but it’s follow-up ‘Carousel Part 2’ is a masterpiece of tension and threat. I get a bit tired of people using John Carpenter as a touchstone for electronic soundtracks, but this really is a Carpenter homage with a bit of Brad Fiedel thrown in for good measure.
Other parts homage Pino Donaggio, but so much of it relies on Jewel’s own work, and it’s brilliant. His label acts certainly have their fair share of greatness, with the haunting rendition of old standard ‘Blue Moon’ by Chromatics and the Glass-ish ‘Behind The Mask’, but this is Jewel’s solo show and he pulls it off with aplomb. The only thing that doesn’t necessarily come off is some of the dialogue, but again I haven’t seen the film so there’s no context there for me.
Not seeing the film, I can’t say how the music works in context but as an album Lost River is fantastic. Johnny Jewel’s talent is there for all to see, and this can only enrich his reputation. Highly recommend.
Lost River is out now from Italians Do It Better on CD and Digital; a vinyl edition is forthcoming