As a film, ALL IS LOST sounds terrifying. It has but one human character – played by Robert Redford – and it pits him against the elements as he finds himself lost at sea with his boat ripped apart and sinking fast. The film barely contains any dialogue and as such is told through the sound design and Alexander Ebert’s amazing score.
Ebert’s score is an experience. Narratively it really feels like a journey, full of beauty and darkness with an emotional throughline, and it has an uncanny ability to be both gentle and furious at the same time. Indeed, there are a lot of contrasting sounds here with contrasting emotions, and they work together to create a quite unique musical work.
The album’s opener, ‘Excelsior’, kind of sums up Ebert’s ability to create a visualisation in your head with the music. There’s a sense of isolation in its gentle strings, like you’re floating, but with a darker undercurrent led by an almost foghorn-esque tone behind it signifying lurking danger. Ebert paints a very beautiful picture of the ocean and its wonder, but you always feel that something is ready to go wrong and nature, in her infinite wisdom, is ready to show us just how insignificant we can be.
‘All Is Lost’ begins with sound effects of the water all around us, which leads into ethereal and dreamy guitars and an almost lullabye-esque tune hummed by a male. It has a very surreal quality, almost like we’re openly succumbing to the sea with no opposition, with the guitar joined by some beautiful long string lines. But it’s utterly haunting, especially when a gorgeous female vocal comes in at the end, and almost feels like the end at the beginning.
The female voice is an example of the influence Ennio Morricone clearly has on the score. ‘Virginia’s Dream’ is another, with a folksy guitar joined by more humming and eventually whistling to a point where it would probably take you out of the experience if it wasn’t so bloody lovely. ‘Dance of Lilies’ is an idiosyncratic track that has an utterly Morricone feel, complete with a voice wailing in the night. Again, despite the influence it still feels like a part of the score, which is surely a credit to Ebert.
‘The Infinite Bleed’ and ‘The Invisible Man’ both illustrate the desperate side of things, and how the score often functions as a soundscape. The former begins with quiet breathing under menacing synth and almost feels like it’s alive, like it’s swelling under the strength of the water, especially with a low cello that sounds like eerie whalesong. It’s an uncomfortable track, as is the latter with its bellicose strings feeling like waves crashing against you, and a chorus that feels pseudo-religious.
It’s a wonderful moment when the oppressive feeling starts to give way to a less weighty, dreamy feel that feels like, to be it bluntly, salvation. It’s immediately followed by an even lighter track, the meditative ‘Pulse of the Weight’ which uses a delicate glockenspiel to create a serene cue that feels like a deliberate break from the previous tracks, or perhaps a calm before the storm of the following cue, the aforementioned ‘Dance of Lilies’.
‘Lilies’ really is an amazing track, with a real weight behind it. Distant refrains of creaking metal open the track over the whistling before it’s taken by a wonderful guitar and piano melody fighting against the dissonant sounds and drowning them out with the wailing. An idiosyncrating piano and low-level hum brings back the murkier tones before the melody and wailing returns, this time in an echoing ghostly visage that is absolutely ominous.
The final score track is the wonderful ‘Excelsior and the All Day Man’, a cue comprising calming guitar and an organ reprising the wailing theme. Just stripped down, simple, it’s the perfect climax to an incredible score. The album closes with ‘Amen’, a song performed by Ebert himself. It’s a pretty quirky song, but I think it’s just a bit too much, and given that the whole album has been about translating emotion and humanity without using words, the song feels like it’s out of place.
With or without the song, ALL IS LOST is an amazing score, simply brilliant. It’s emotionally affecting, it’s interesting in all the right ways, and it’s just lovely to listen to. Essential.
ALL IS LOST is out now from Community Music
Words: Charlie Brigden