Before The Flood is Leonardo DiCaprio's climate change passion project, directed by Fisher Stevens. The documentary aims to educate and open the discussion on how to fix one of the most pressing issues facing our planet. Distributed for free by National Geographic late last year, the film features an original score from an eccentric collaboration between composer duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gustavo Santaolalla, and post-rock band Mogwai.
The unlikely collaboration began when Fisher Stevens asked Atticus Ross if he'd be interested in working on the film. He spoke to frequent partner Trent Reznor and together they worked on some ideas for the soundscape of the music. Having only two weeks to turn in a finished score, Reznor and Ross decided to ask some fellow musicians they admired to lend a helping hand. Enter Stanaolalla and band Mogwai. Most of the writing process would consist of Reznor and Ross writing a piece, sending it off to the others to build upon or destruct any way they liked, and them sending it back. Whether it be particular melodies or just chord changes, these composers would work off each others ideas to ultimately craft a cohesive sound that blends all their unique styles into one homogenous score.
The album consists of lengthy suites ranging anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes, totaling a whopping 97 minutes of music. As a pure listening experience, it suffers from such long freeform musical structures. However, most projects from Reznor and Ross are constructed in such a way, where broad strokes of music are written to then be edited and broken down to fit the flow of the film. Many of these cues are great standalone pieces of music. "Before The Flood" is the title track that encapsulates the tone of mood of the score. Those familiar with their work won't be surprised here. Minimalist electronic rhythms take center stage and are accented by Santaollala's guitar rhythms to create a low key yet propulsive track. Piano will occasionally breakthrough to add a touch of humanity, but the score as a whole largely stays under the radar.
Before The Flood works beautifully as an atmospheric concept album, with engaging rhythms and a nice blend of different musical personalities to keep it interesting. However, it never feels like a complete experience. The writing process did not allow room for a traditional narrative structure to shape the music into something more than just an open-ended stream of consciousness. It feels lacking in this regard despite the great ideas that can be found within its wealth of music. Perhaps an abridged sampling would better suit the listening experience.
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