Mateo Messina’s Butter was a difficult score to review. Messina’s best-known work, his composition for the score of the immensely successful Juno, is renowned as creative, prolific, and remarkably representative of the film’s content considering its unique motifs. With Butter, Messina again presents a listening experience in stark contrast to most modern and traditional film scores, but while successful in that regard, Butter will challenge film score listeners with frustrating elements in parallel.
Butter’s first track sets the stage for the score’s energetic, Motown-inspired contents, and right from the start and regardless of one’s exposure to the film, will get your foot tapping and prompt a casual smile. Though the leadoff song is the only one that contains vocals, the primary remainder of the score retains the Motown and moonlighting musical elements of alternating drum percussion and clapping, organ- and piano-driven tunes, and careless fun, all of which easily lend themselves to feelings of childlike nostalgia and tongue-in-cheek humor (furthered by the songs’ titles). Unfortunately, the prevalence of this overall sound with little variability is one of the score’s weaknesses, except on “Smokin’” when electric guitar riffs are incorporated or on “Knife Sisters” when electronic elements are introduced. On later tracks such as the effective “867 Sticks of Butter,” Messina gets a little more soulful and emotive and temporarily ceases the percussion, but too soon later the foundational musical elements return, almost totally abolishing any lasting impression upon the listener.
And “too soon” is Butter’s Achilles’ heel indeed; with the score totaling forty-five tracks and duration of forty minutes, even a listener with an incredibly short attention span will quickly grow frustrated by how often the music starts anew and slightly changes direction. At seemingly the exact point when one becomes aurally invested, the cycle begins again with another track, and I can’t help but think that if they were longer, or joined with organ-driven monochromatic leads at the very least, Butter’s songs would illustrate a much more effective stylistic energy. While I have no doubt that the music is more fitting and rewarding in the film, the structure doesn’t truly lend itself to a standalone score release. Consequently, Mateo Messina’s Butter has an interesting style, but lacks cohesion; it illustrates thoughtfulness, but not continuance; it exudes life, but doesn’t incite passion. Finally, and most importantly, while Butter has energy, it doesn’t have electricity, and for that reason, is solely recommended to fans of the Butter film itself, than to that of film score listeners and collectors.
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