I’ve only recently become aware of the work of Mark Kilian; titles that come to mind are John Carpenter’s The Ward, Traitor, and the George Bush documentary 41. Kilian’s also known for other scores such as Tsotsi, Rendition, and Before the Rains. I embarrassingly have to admit, however, that prior to hearing his score for Bless Me, Ultima, I hadn’t actually heard any of Mark Kilian’s work, but can say with absolute confidence that I’ll soon remedy that. Bless Me, Ultima therefore totally came out of left field, not only because of it being my introduction to Kilian, but because it’s such a deep and emotional journey with incredible and lush instrumentation.
I’ll be honest in saying something else here; normally, the music that’s found on Bless Me, Ultima isn’t my cup of tea. But, part of the delight in listening to a musical score is the ability to lose oneself in the emotional backdrop of the respective composer as well as their and the filmmakers’ intention for where that score takes you. I have no doubt that painstaking effort was invested by Mark Kilian when he composed this score, and one only has to hear the vast assembly of sound to be assured of this notion. The Bless Me, Ultima film, set in New Mexico in the 1940s, weaves a tale of a young boy and a folk healer, and given its origins incorporates a huge assortment of ethnic and tribal instruments. Most prominent in this regard are flamenco-style vocals and Native American flutes (which according to Lakeshore Records, Mark Kilian played himself), but also prevalent are acoustic guitars and slight orchestral elements, the last of which are sometimes used so slightly and buried that Bless Me, Ultima rarely seems to bear the semblance to a film score at all. Right from the start, the flamenco vocals and Native American pipes construct a mighty, touching, and ethnic-tinged theme song that’s repeated several times throughout the score, and the listener is greeted with music like that of a legendary journey through majesty, wonder, and stark, bountiful folklore from a far-off land. The first handful of tracks seem to create the skeleton for Kilian’s vision, each playfully indulging in only the slightest acoustic melodies while softly colliding with string arrangements like wispy, delicate clouds coalescing and swirling into one.
The middle few tracks are where Kilian’s compositions really start to explore each other, seeping into one another and drenching the listener’s ears with slack-jawed beauty and harmonic mysticism. “Antonio’s Disappointment” starts out mimicking Mark Knopfler’s romantic, acoustic passages from Princess Bride before chilling, melancholic strings begin to swell and overwhelm the listener a few tracks later on personal favorite “Ultima’s Owl,” recalling the most soothing and provocative work of James Horner. Over the course of the score, what I initially thought the most curious and inquisitive instrument, the Native American flute, became seamlessly interwoven to the awe-inspiring build of all later tracks, culminating with the flamenco vocals, scant percussion, and quaking bass horns of the score’s most prolific song, “Confessions.”
At some points, I can’t really tell if Kilian’s score for Bless Me, Ultima is trying to be more of a film score or a new intermingled world music album, but therein lies its sheer genius and absolutely stupefying ability to make the listener believe it was constructed by both serendipity and careful, diligent brilliance in parallel. Mark Kilian’s Bless Me, Ultima is incredible in the difference of its approach, in its beautiful causality, and in its wonderful, benevolent structure. Extremely highly recommended in every way, Bless Me, Ultima conjures a world of endless inspiration that will turn and perpetually hold the ear of any discerning musical listener.
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