There’s a fine line between familiarity and understanding. None know this better than fans of Mike Patton, whose work lends a sense of incredulity regardless of the projects of which he’s a part. Best known for having been a frontman of the band Faith No More, considered by many to be the progenitor of the rap metal (or nu-metal) subgenre, Patton’s continued and furthermore developed his craft in niche-market bands like Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, and most recently the Native American-leaning Tomahawk, never reluctant to vary his instrumental interests or zany vocal savvy. A genius to some and a pure nutcase to others, Patton’s prolific nature and incredible talent is impossible to deny. But a rare occurrence, even for Patton’s catalog, is the scoring of a film, for which The Place Beyond the Pines writer/director Derek Cianfrance hired him in 2012. A longtime fan of Patton’s, Cianfrance had always hoped he’d had a chance to work with the musical visionary, and capitalized upon it to score the film he’d written after 2010’s Blue Valentine.
Not knowing what to expect is perhaps the best quality of Mike Patton’s music. Be it psychotic vocal tendencies, mixed musicianship, or uncharacteristic structure, Patton’s execution always thrusts forth confusion along with an easily identifiable recognition of buried genius, and his score for The Place Beyond the Pines is no exception. Patton is only responsible for half of the album, however, whereas the latter half is filled with no less effective songs from artists originating hundreds of years into the past. But whereas most scores whose songs are seen as muted counterparts to the titular composer’s music, The Place Beyond the Pines wraps both Patton’s music as well as the other eclectic selections into a strongly cohesive, monumental album that will leave the listener mentally and emotionally drained.
Patton’s creations begin with “Schenectady,” an immediately oppressive track whose soft, beautiful, female choral chanting backed by almost detuned string work and carefully picked electric guitar most definitely reflect Cliff Martinez’s Contagion. In spite of the leadoff track’s melody and awestruck fairness, Patton establishes a groundwork of hapless emotional implosion that flows forward with the entire album. This feeling branches into “Family Trees,” whose angelic choir continues at a higher octave while ushering in a sense of calming beauty, before slightly reverberated electric guitar and low-octave piano begin to steer the track’s sound into a threatening din. “Bromance,” an early favorite, reintroduces the casual, almost telltale motes of guitar from the first track before a gentle piano-driven version of its theme is keyed over short issues of strings, bringing to mind the horrifying beauty of Akira Yamaoka’s “Forest” from Silent Hill 2. A harpsichord-like melody permeates “Forest of Conscience” before developing into a jarring but somehow soothing synth backdrop, with slow waves of organic and seemingly electronic piano wash in along with loops of sound effects mocking the chirps of crickets.
“Beyond the Pines” is built solely upon female choral vocals, but later incorporates loops of twinkling guitar melodies prefacing the return of the main Pines theme. The cold contents of “Misremembering” follow, splaying out echoing single notes of hollowed bass upon skittish layers of string work, before producing chords of acoustic guitar tracing a pattern of short synth bursts and coils of strings. “Sonday” is irrefutably potent, with its emotive and depressing cello passages somehow hollowed out and topped with strangely resonating bells and chimes, producing a scathing track that writhes within the listener’s psyche like a mental virus. “The Snow Angel” soon presents a window to a robust instrumental meeting of low- and high-octave piano before folding in alien electronic effects and staccato-like slices of reverb, and “Handsome Luke” acts as a filtered punch in the gut with its electric guitar, female chants, and painful reverb effects toppling over a roiling, staggering, and fiercely affecting din, bringing to mind similar musical cacophony of the more forceful moments from Mark Snow’s The X-Files.
With The Cryin’ Shames’ 1966 hit “Please Stay,” a Burt Bacarach cover, Patton’s compositional work comes to an end but still manages to influence the remainder of the score’s contemporary musical selections. “Please Stay” therefore feels profusely deep in spite of its simplicity, as the sharp juxtaposition of its docile nature really drives a cavernous, empty resonance to the listener. The 17th century Renaissance composition “Miserere Mei” follows, but is a 1998 interpretation of the Allegri classic by Russian composer Vladimir Ivanoff; its utterly beautiful male and female chanting and sorrowful horns bring a classical and deeply chilling vibe to the album. Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres for Strings and Percussion” then enters, a track of orchestral minimalism that exemplifies the more silent and ambient work on James Newton Howard’s The Village while adding a certain dose of reluctant charm and a cloak of charisma. In a strange twist, but keeping with the enigmatic feel of the Pines album, Ennio Morricone’s “Ninna Nanna Per Adulteri” is thrown in unapologetically, with its clockwork-like twitches of bells and chimes dancing with an oddly-repeating female vocal melody. American indie folk artist Bon Iver caps the soundtrack with “The Wolves (Act I and II),” an immensely powerful track that drives home the reticent solace implied by the score’s profound beauty, as singer Justin Vernon’s high-octave vocals reflect nostalgia and joy delivered through passages of deeply touching folk structure.
The music presented on The Place Beyond the Pines is ridiculously powerful, be it the score from Mike Patton or the other song selections that at least on paper might seem unexpected. Words simply don’t do the score or soundtrack justice, as it robs the listener of conflict, instills emptiness and depression, and stabs with shards of hope in its wake. Mike Patton’s The Place Beyond the Pines stands as one of the absolute best examples of score & soundtrack conglomerations I’ve ever heard, and is a purely haunting experience in the most prominent of ways. Nearly flawless, and not to be missed!