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The Company You Keep by Cliff Martinez (Review)

posted Apr 26, 2013, 8:44 PM by

Cliff Martinez is all about subtlety. To the uninitiated, his scoring work might seem too minimalistic, somehow not palpable or demonstrative enough to bear the weight of a film’s narrative. And yet, he’s proven time and time again that even in the midst of his serene ambient electronic sound, there exists a heart-wrenching beauty that somehow is able to convey a sense of vivid color and elaborate texture. Martinez’s music bridges the gap between most contemporary film scoring and passionate mood, making each of his efforts unique and instilling them with a sustained and treasured efficacy. The Company You Keep, a political thriller directed by Robert Redford, and based on the book by Neil Gordon, showcases another successful film score by Martinez. Its welcoming foundation, built upon legacy Martinez instrumentation, is furthered by strong thematic material and a writhing sense of escapism.

From the very beginning of the score, there can be no doubt of Martinez being at the helm. Layering of guitar, bass, and electronic synth is the central focus of much of the score, presented in various volumes and levels of reverb. The primary melodies normally present themselves at a somewhat plodding pace, which only gilds the effectiveness of Martinez’s music by adding a sense of trepidation. “We Could Have Made a Difference” introduces the score’s unique electronic theme, a mysterious and soothing keyboard sequence resembling a pacified version of Martinez’s Contagion material. The theme’s looping and idyllic nature helps to lend The Company You Keep a fledgling independence, especially when it’s inserted at unexpected moments. Case in point, “Still Got the Juice” begins as an oppressive-sounding synth track that almost aurally backs the listener into a corner with a hollowed core and oddly whirring development, when the “Difference” theme surges in, crystal-clear and soon layered with synth and guitar, making the track quite potent and unsettling. In “Put the Pieces Together,” steely sheets of synth precede an abrasive guitar melody, when the “Difference” theme returns as if heard through murky water. Martinez’s guitar melodies offset the electronic thematic material almost constantly, juggling the listener’s involvement in the score by frequently twisting and turning the aural narrative therein.

On a few of the album’s tracks, Martinez’s wondrous ability to captivate and add emotional resonance are demonstrated, simultaneously relaying sensitivity and bounded restraint in fervent waves. The twinkling background piano of “Diversion” momentarily reminds of James Newton Howard’s Signs before it transcends to a ghostly ambient melody. “Weathermen,” a personal favorite, portrays an alien, detuned, melded organ and guitar passage before toppling into industrial-style effects, after which it slides into cold swells of synth coddled by delicate bass flair, hinting of the magnificence of Solaris. “The Cabin” begins with the same ethereal, melancholic synth backdrop of “We Could Have Made a Difference,” and “Father and Daughter Reunion” continues to develop the eerily beautiful sound by folding in more high-octave muted tones. “I Met Your Daughter” flirts with John Powell’s work on The Bourne Ultimatum, with the track’s dense ribbons of bass and electronic percussion. Martinez’s aptitude for scoring shines apparent on The Company You Keep not only because of the development of his more “expected” sound, but the fact that he doesn’t let differing elements pervade or overpower the musical work he’s constructed. This imbues the score with a sense of yearn and invasiveness, causing it to burrow into the listener’s psyche via some unexplained mechanism.

Cliff Martinez continues his stellar film scoring output with The Company You Keep. Its themes are memorable and genuine, and its ability to shackle emotional resonance to the listener like previous outings Solaris, Contagion, and Arbitrage makes it a mandatory release for Martinez fans everywhere. Dreamy and earnest, even the more silent spaces of The Company You Keep are filled with melodic, heartfelt interplay. Essential.