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Colin Stetson - Hereditary (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Music Album Reviews

Colin Stetson - Hereditary (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Music Album Reviews

The saxophonist’s soundtrack to the unsettling horror movie feeds off his darkest impulses as a composer, amplifying and mirroring the trauma and fear on the screen.

Even before Nicolas Roeg was losing his demons with Mick Jagger and helping David Bowie come back down to earth, left-of-center filmmakers were already reaching out to left-of-center musicians to assist in bringing their strange stories come to life. Today, when word of a Cave or a Reznor or a Greenwood handling the score for some of Hollywood’s most lauded directors comes as no surprise, that kind of news still helps encourage a new class of forward-thinking movie-makers to gravitate toward the fringes of pop music for inspiration. In a little over a year, nü-electronic iconoclast Oneohtrix Point Never scored a gritty, heartbreaking crime drama; Portishead member and Beak> head honcho Geoff Barrow helped the cult-favorite-in-the-making Annihilation shimmer in uncomfortable ways. And of course, the examples don’t stop there.

The most recent and arguably most affecting member of these contemporary avant-garde composers is multi-instrumentalist Colin Stetson, best known for his work with Arcade Fire and the astounding circular breathing technique he applies to bass saxophone. Though it isn’t his first time recording for the screen, Stetson’s score for Hereditary—the much fawned-over debut horror flick from Ari Aster—has audiences holding their breath in fright. Where Stetson’s solo albums use dread and paranoia to undercut his careful attention to post-rock’s sense of limitless possibility, Hereditary feeds off of his darkest impulses.

At its core, Hereditary is a film about grief and the ways a family deals with grief, no matter how toxic or irrational. When Annie (played raw, unhinged and undoubtedly soon-to-be-award-winning by Toni Collette) finds herself un-mourning the death of her frigid, seemingly unremarkable mother sets off a deeply upsetting chain of events, Stetson coolly plays the background. His music rarely jumps or shrieks; it seeps. Reedy wheezes morph into grave moans, keys click and scratch like nails being chewed down to blood, layered clarinets imitate tuned-down strings being run backwards through a rusty pasta roller.

Still, approaching Hereditary on its own terms makes for some tricky navigation. It is functional music, purposely beholden to a larger piece of art. In that sense, it succeeds almost flawlessly—just watch as deformed arpeggios worm their way into the brain of Alex Wolff’s tragically dumbfounded Peter after a terrible car accident. Better is Stetson and Aster’s willingness to let wide-open trenches of silence do much of the heavy lifting throughout the film, only to slowly suck you back down into a dank well of insular terror after the collective exhale has begun. In these rare moments of calm, Stetson’s cautiously beautiful, fairytale-like asides begin to read more and more sinister.

There will be debates over the movie’s payoff (or lack thereof), but it is that scene where we finally hear his cascading saxophone, which is a cathartic payoff in itself. It is the emotional climax that mirrors the film’s charred, disquieting images, and reanimates its very real sense of emotional paralyzation. Much like the film itself, Stetson’s music succeeds because it plays off our basest fears. It’s no real revelation that there’s something in our human nature that longs to know what’s lurking in the shadows. Less ingrained is a willingness to indulge in art the conjures relentless despair, no matter how fathomless. No matter: embrace the suffering; take the plunge.

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