Album: The Man Who Wasn't There: Original Soundtrack

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Album:

The Man Who Wasn't There: Original Soundtrack

Artist: Carter Burwell
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Label: Decca U.S.

Twenty years after their accomplished and unsettling first feature film, Blood Simple, the brothers Coen have returned to their film noir roots with an ominous, monochromatic vengeance. As in all their films, music again plays a crucial supporting role and that means the sonic seasonings of career collaborator Carter Burwell, along with a slate of typically obtuse catalog choices. Though that latter music is hardly the sort of smoky urban jazz usually associated with the genre, its mood and composer are as brooding as they come: Ludwig van…

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Twenty years after their accomplished and unsettling first feature film, Blood Simple, the brothers Coen have returned to their film noir roots with an ominous, monochromatic vengeance. As in all their films, music again plays a crucial supporting role and that means the sonic seasonings of career collaborator Carter Burwell, along with a slate of typically obtuse catalog choices. Though that latter music is hardly the sort of smoky urban jazz usually associated with the genre, its mood and composer are as brooding as they come: Ludwig van Beethoven.

New, abridged recordings of LvB’s “Pathétique,” “Appassionata,” and “Moonlight” sonatas and Piano Sonata No. 25 set the tone, along with a Beaux Arts Trio version of Piano Trio No. 7 (and a brief excerpt of Karl Bohm’s “Che soave zeffiretto” from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro). Burwell’s original music is shaded similarly, subtly different yet equally somber in mood and character. The composer occasionally reprises his compelling, autumnal string writing from The General’s Daughter, progressively darkening the atmosphere to great effect here. The urgent ‘40s romp “Nirdlinger’s Swing” offers up the score’s only bowing to period conventions, a brief shaft of light flickering among the shadows. —Jerry McCulley

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For all of its late-1940s cold war paranoia, pulp fiction dialogue, and frenzied greed, Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Man Who Wasn’t There is their most cool and collected film since Blood Simple. An unassuming barber with a scheming wife (Frances McDormand) and a serious smoking habit, Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is an onlooker to his own life, a ghostly presence set against a silver-toned film noir backdrop. Only when he decides to alter his fate by blackmailing his wife’s lover (James Gandolfini) in order to invest with a traveling salesman (Jon…

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