By Charlie Brigden
While artists from the rock and pop world moving into film scoring is certainly not a new thing, it undoubtedly allows the score world to freshen up a bit and not become self-obsessed. Composers like Mica Levi and Jonny Greenwood have hit the movies with a bang, and another wave are on their way, with one of the best of them being rock duo Cat’s Eyes’ score to Peter Strickland’s new film The Duke of Burgundy.
Made up of musicians Rachel Zeffira and Faris Badwan (of The Horrors), Cat’s Eyes have constructed a mesmerisingly sensual work that’s quite hard to pin down, especially without seeing the film. What immediately stands out is the range of emotions it straddles, from serenely calm all the way to intensely tragic. There’s a sense of the idyllic here; with harp taking central stage as well as a host of beautifully evocative woodwinds. It’s bucolic at times, and it feels like there’s a bond with nature here.
But there’s also the articificial, usually hiding just beneath the surface. Take ‘Moth’, which has lovely shimmeriing winds and gently strummed harp, but it all seems too perfect. ‘Pavane’ has a ghostly air and feels distant, like a distant reality trying to slip through, while ‘Carpenter Arrival’ takes eerie vocals and a cold Elizabethan feel and twists it into something beautiful and quite intense. There’s a sense of the old world in general, and some of it sounds like a repression, with more colourful and emotional sounds bursting to get out.
Zeffira’s vocals are important, helping emphasise the more beautiful and off-kilter parts. They float through the cues adding texture and colour, but also offer a more focused performance, particularly in the opening and closing cues (of the music – the opening track is a sound effect of a forest), but also in ‘Evelyn’s Birthday’ where a nursery rhyme-type song dominates, and in ‘Requiem For The Duke Of Burgundy’, a stunning cue with funereal vocals and amazing strings.
The first musical cue – ‘Opening Credit Song’ – and the final – ‘Coat of Arms’ – both have a kinship, albeit at different tempos. The former moves quite fast and is a great opener, while the latter is more reflective and reverential, and both have a similar vocal style, so they’re not only excellent pieces of music but also functional as bookends for the score. And this is what surprised me I guess, how good the album is not only musically but structurally. Again, there’s a freshness here which perhaps comes from working in other genres.
What I love about The Duke of Burgundy is its ability to be able to conjure up images for the music with the greatest of ease. Its sound echoes another score I love – Angela Morley’s Watership Down – and it’s wonderfully fascinating in its embellishments, its texture. Magical.
The Duke of Burgundy will be released on CD, Digital, and LP by Caroline Records on February 16