Oh Cliff. As a longtime fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers it’s a bit strange to see one of their former members becoming a top-class film composer, but no less wonderful for that. Following on from brilliant work for Drive and Spring Breakers, Cliff Martinez’s latest score is for Robert Redford thriller The Company You Keep, but is it the cracker his previous scores have been?
Generally, a Cliff Martinez score is a sure thing. That’s doesn’t necessarily mean stylistically – although he does have a very strong individual style, and it’s not that it’ll have lots of electronics in there. It’s just simply because he’s a fantastic composer and has been for decades. I guess thanks to scores like Drive and Spring Breakers he’s become a pretty big name on the movie score circuit, at least to those who don’t usually mention scores in their movie reviews, but he’s been consistently great for a long time, with a great number of Soderbergh scores under his belt.
SDTK TheCompanyYouKeep CD Cover
I’m happy to state that The Company You Keep continues that run. As with many of the soundtrack albums I review, I haven’t seen the film so I only have the basic descriptions and marketing materials to go by, and from all accounts the film is a decent thriller with Redford on the run after being exposed by Shia LeBoeuf. I don’t blame him, I wouldn’t want Mutt Williams within thirty feet of me. But Martinez’ music is certainly up to scratch, with an undercurrent of tension interspersed with moments of beauty and emotional clarity.
There’s a quote in the press release for the score where Martinez talks of Redford’s direction as being authentic and naturalistic, and that “nothing was overstated in the performances, editing or cinematography”, and that the score had to be “unobtrusive but always meaningful and serving a dramatic function”. Martinez probably sums up the score way better in those words than I can, and they could definitely apply to much of his music.
As you may know from his scores or his alternative music background Martinez is not one for the conventional, and this is illustrated from the opening track, ‘You Have Full Green Light’, which begins with a relatively standard alternating piano notes and string motif before kicking in with a distorted electric guitar to give it a mysterious and dangerous sound. The following track, ‘We Could Have Made A Difference’ is the opposite, bringing a dreamy and ethereal sound with a low bass underneath, and a very heady feel, one which goes from serenity to urgency with the introduction of electronics.
It’s an interesting combination that continues, with some quite beautiful music, sometimes overtly emotional, others going for more of an ambient atmosphere, but also a darker undercurrent with the use of electronics and more offbeat colour that can sound unsettling. There are many occasions where the grungy guitar distortion is brought out along with heavy percussion, for example the overbearing wave of guitar in ‘Somewhere Someone Knows Something’. The darkest track is ‘Weathermen’, an unsettling and threatening piece that straddles the line between music and sound design, quite often sounding like something from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with a wailing guitar sounding like a terrible siren.
But there is light from darkness, with the evocative dreamlike tones favoured in the more emotional pieces such as ‘Father and Daughter Reunion’. There’s a certain beauty to them, and also a sense of minimalism, where you sense Martinez doesn’t want to go too far. In fact, he doesn’t really bring out the more traditional full emotional reportoire until the final track, which lays on the sweeping strings to give a hopeful and optimistic feel that allows the album a satisfying climax both musically and emotionally.
The Company You Keep is a stellar score, full of the less traditional forms we’ve come to expect from Cliff Martinez. There are certainly moments that unsettle, but at the same time there is absolute beauty and emotion to combat the darker tones, and there is enough of both to keep you coming back for more.
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is out now from Milan Records
Words: Charlie Brigden