December 17, 2003

David Byrne "Lead Us Not Into Temptation"

Soundtrack albums are funny, tricky affairs. If the composer in question is already established, it can make things even more interesting--or boring. After all, if your fans are expecting one thing from you and you don't deliver, then you won't satisfy your audience--presumably the ones who would be the only ones interested in your record anyway. So it can be a bit dicey.Then again, if you're an artist who has a reputation for experimentation, it could be an interesting format for you to play around with. David Byrne's done several soundtracks in his life (The Last Emperor, True Stories), and he's certainly a master at playing around with genres and confounding expections. So it's no surprise, really, that he would release an album of (almost) all-instrumental incidental music for an independent film made in Scotland.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation is the soundtrack to the movie Young Adam, and though it's pretty safe to say you'll never see the movie, as an album, it stands up quite well on its own. The music is dour, of course; it's arty and bleak and devoid of words. For recording, Byrne recruited members of such hip Scottish bands Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai and The Delgados to help him out, and though the music never sounds like any of those bands, Lead Us Not Into Temptation is an album that is full of the same kind of dour, sad atmosphere not unlike those bands. (No loud screeching post-rock, thank goodness.) At times, the music is almost ambient in nature, with a piano twinkle here and there that recalls Harold Budd in only the best of ways. Of course, with the beatnik/arty nature of the film, I'm reminded a lot more of Angelo Badalemanti; it's hard not to listen to "Seaside Smokes" and "Inexorable" and not think of Twin Peaks. No vocals appear until the last two tracks, "Speechless" (which should rightly be called "Incoherent," as you can't understand Byrne's vocals) and "The Great Western Road." Though not particularly memorable, they sound like a fairly strong imitation of Arab Strap.

Young Adam may not be a memorable film, but Lead Us Not Into Temptation certainly does not suffer for it. Though at times a bit monotonous and a little bit depressing, it's still good to know that David Byrne is capable of making truly moving music. You don't really need song titles or a moving picture to appreciate Lead Us Not Into Temptation. Just hit the play button, and let it soundtrack you--it's the perfect soundtrack for a cold and gray Sunday afternoon, and for that, I'm grateful.

--Joseph Kyle

No comments: