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Brocker Way - Wild Wild Country (Original Score) Music Album Reviews

The score for this surprise Netflix hit about a religious community in rural Oregon revels in emotional indecision, asking you to choose the truth for yourself.

Near-unanimous gushing for the recent Netflix documentary “Wild Wild Country” offered insight into our social curiosity for bitterly territorial showdowns. In the six-part series, a controversial Rajneeshpuram community flees India to make a new home on a massive ranch in rural Oregon in the 1980s, creating a clash of cultures on multiple levels. The local outcry and federal scrutiny that followed prompted lingering questions about how a supposed land of the free has historically treated those with an unexpected interpretation of that freedom. An unhurried series, “Wild Wild Country” is more interested in obsessively circling around truth than the cold violence of going for the neck of it.

In a documentary where dozens of unreliable narrators and lots of tricky secrets lurk in plain sight, there is a particular onus on nonverbal clues to point toward the truth. With a neo-Romantic impulse that revels in high drama, Brocker Way’s string-centric score for “Wild Wild Country” does this sort of indirect reporting. Way is the eldest brother of the documentary’s co-directors, Chapman and Maclain, a relationship that ostensibly afforded him a much closer perspective on the documentary’s production than most composers would get. Whereas film composers often receive a completed edit just before beginning work, Way composed as his brothers filmed. The 15 pieces gathered on Western Vinyl’s official score stem from hours of Way’s often-tense compositions for an electronically augmented 12-piece orchestra, conducted by fellow film composer Ali Helnwein.

Brocker’s score offers just half of the documentary’s music. With sensitive guidance from music supervisor and Secretly Canadian co-founder Chris Swanson, “Wild Wild Country” uses “downtempo Americana” by the likes of Bill Callahan and Damien Jurado to shape the Oregon landscape’s texture. Way’s work, meanwhile, maps the story’s more uneasy side. His strings often sound mired in feeling; during “An Adventure of My Life,” you get the sense they’re pushing through a blockade. There is a spirit of yearning and distrust here, as when the rhythms of “High Desert” jerk with jolting paranoia, urging you to look over your shoulder.

In the series, the score tends to supply a counter-narrative to what you see. In an early scene, when bemused Oregonians gawk at the Rajneeshpuram for wearing crimson and rolling out a red carpet on the sidewalk for their leader, the music plays neither into reverence nor ridicule. It instead introduces a creeping distance and prowling depth, pushing us not to gape at a foreign presence or believe a mystical promise but to consider how these ideas intersect. “The Guillotine” references Rajneesh leader Ma Anand Sheela’s provocation, “With every crown comes the guillotine.” But the piece doesn’t analyze the idea. It begins with disturbing plunks of woodblock and pizzicato strings, as though a stone has been dropped into a liquid that somehow silences the splash. Piano and violin wind around one another in loops. We are lodged inside a perplexing new system of unknown laws, the music asking us to ponder the mechanisms.

On its own, Way’s score gains power in this emotional triangulation. “Wild Wild Country” left questions unanswered, so the score feels like a souvenir of that uncertainty and the wariness it fostered. Removed from their concomitant plot points, these pieces convey “Wild Wild Country”’s narrative weight. If you need to sell someone on show’s the brutal tensions, you could play the searching, threatening “Be Grateful for This Beautiful Home” for them, rather than the trailer. Way’s orchestration puts you in the magnetic field of the seductive and suspicious. Likewise, even if you have no clue about the character who inspired “The New Man,” eerie electronics and a clicking rhythm suggest someone whose personality puts you on constant edge. A stressed, bending string pulls you in and pushes you away. This is a height of the outsider’s interest in cults—to see the attraction and be frightened at its sight.

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