Film writers and songsters alike both have stories to relate, and what could be better than both worlds colliding? Paul Thomas Anderson and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood have built up quite the commanding relationship over the last few years. Many will remember how Greenwood’s adeptly creepy score for Anderson’s 2007 film There Will Be Blood masterfully proliferated the movie’s central themes of avarice and callous vanity to a tee. Film goers were left leaving cinemas with Greenwood’s music eerily festering in the mind, making the movie all the more memorable.
On that account, Greenwood was hand picked once again to take on the score writing duties for Anderson’s latest movie, The Master, the director’s take on the overwhelming power of cult-like groups in post-World War II America. Once again, Greenwood pulls off encompassing the abhorrence and affliction of this unstable situation by accompanying the movie’s hard-hitting subject matter with melodies just as terrifying.
Greenwood’s knack for mustering up innovation from every nook and cranny has always been apparent in his work with Radiohead but his craftsmanship and adroitness to be able to merge such vast variations of both sounds and genres is even clearer here. As this is his own little project, no one and nothing is stealing the limelight, allowing the listener to sit back and fully appreciate “The Master” at work. Although this 15 song concoction, for the most part, consists of minimal strings, pianos and ambient sounds, anything other than this would have failed miserably to fit in with Anderson’s portrayal of the post-war setting.
The unsettled opening harmonies on Overtones perfectly set the scene and the listener is reassured that Greenwood’s ambitious juices are overflowing. As with pretty much every Radiohead album to date, the tracks on The Master blend a myriad of styles ranging from precise classical music, to genres the dexterous Radiohead have tackled themselves. As a result, the combination proves itself to be both impulsive and graphic. Each and every song manages to capture the strangeness and magic of Anderson’s productions regardless of whether Greenwood is floating off into the dreamlike, unpredictable Alethia or experimenting with lethargic woodwind instruments on Time Hole.
Having said that, listeners can rest assured that The Master is not without its more upbeat sections. There’s a gorgeous arrangement of Ella Fitzgerald’s Get Thee Behind Me Satan, clearly making reference to the film’s adversary with the day dreamy backdrop of strings and subtle piano beautifully vanquishing the mood. Even the spoken word track Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me) manages to encapsulate the secure innocence of pre-war America, completely dissonant to the remaining esoteric recordings. Nonetheless, mix all these ingredients in with the context of Anderson’s vision of America trapped between the less complex pre-war days and the horrific impending events and every single track is a perfect reflection of dichotomy.
Should any Radiohead fans be eager for another helping of one of their latest albums they can think again as The Master slides completely against the grain, with the exception of the odd track; but these are few and far between.
Over recent years Greenwood’s band has had a hack at cinematic sounds, often evoking vivid, cynical imagery compared to their earlier releases. This is just what Anderson required this time round and Greenwood has provided a soundtrack worthy of the filmmaker’s blessings. Since its screening at the Venice Film Festival, anticipation for the film has surged and the soundtrack does everything but soothe impatience. Greenwood has recorded an eerie yet stunning score, and if Anderson’s production is just as aspiring then filmgoers are in for a real treat for the senses.