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Graham Reynolds - A Scanner Darkly: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

  by Adrian Janes

published: 2 / 10 / 2017

Graham Reynolds - A Scanner Darkly: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Label: Fire Records
Format: CD


Graham Reynolds’ reissued soundtrack to Richard Linklater’s film proves both poignant and powerful

There has probably never been a time when people haven’t sought out some means of intoxication or transcendence, whether it be the cult of Dionysus, Baudelaire’s “artificial paradise” of hashish or John Coltrane and heroin. But perhaps what most distinguished the 1960s and 1970s from previous eras was a wider awareness, availability and use of drugs. During this period in California writer Philip K. Dick was part of a circle which so experimented, in many cases to the point of permanent physical or psychological damage, and sometimes death. Out of this scene came his 1977 novel ‘A Scanner Darkly’, the tale of undercover narcotics cop Bob Arctor, whose mission is to discover the source of the drug Substance D, but whose identity is gradually swallowed up by his own growing addiction to it. That it was nearly 30 years later when Richard Linklater made his film, and a decade after sees now the reissue of Graham Reynolds’ soundtrack – performed by Reynolds and his Golden Arm Trio - shows how relevant to our world of opioid addiction and psychoactive substances both book and film remain. In a film so rooted in the consciousness, however deranged, of its characters, the music is often highly effective in reflecting their moods and delusions. The skittering percussion and burbling synth of ‘Aphids’ suggests the skin-crawling insects hallucinated by one junkie, and the disturbance is heightened on ‘Bug Bite Squared’, where these elements are crossed with warped guitarwork worthy of Robert Quine or Lee Ranaldo. For the poignant main theme, which recurs on several pieces, Reynolds tends to use cool, precise vibes and mournful strings, often reducing the latter (as on ‘The Dark World Where I Dwell’ and the title track) to a solitary pained violin. It’s suggestive of the sorrow with which Dick came to regard his fellow users,“people who were punished entirely too much for what they did”. But while this theme and combination of instruments gives the album coherence, there are also strong tracks in entirely different styles. ‘Strawberry Pie’, for a scene set in the quintessential American location of a diner, foregrounds a bittersweet pedal-steel guitar, supported by shining vibes, the agitation of ‘Aphids’ soothed in its luxuriant expression. In complete contrast, ‘Your Move, Peterbilt’, starts with a Duane Eddy-style guitar intro before a raucous sax and drums break in to shatter the initial feel and turn it into something like a precursor for Bowie’s ‘Black Star’, while ‘Are You Experiencing Any Difficulties?’, asked of Arctor by police psychologists as his sanity begins to crumble, evokes his mental state by melding eerie theremin, cavernous percussion and eddying synth. Another stand-out, ‘Do You Like Cats?’, with its ominous, almost dubwise drums, resonant vibes and solemn keyboard, further highlights Reynolds’ talent for producing original musical compounds. Some of the later tracks (e.g. ‘Escorted to the Bright Lights’) head into realms of abstract electronica and improvisation, but there are always fragments of melody breaking in as well, as if to represent Arctor’s struggle to retain the last vestiges of his grip on reality. The final track used in the film, ‘Little Blue Flowers’, returns to the main theme and ends on a blossoming of poignant strings, its slightly hopeful turn mirroring the last scene’s hint of some justice for the all but shattered Arctor, now in rehab. Two remixes of elements of Reynolds’ music then follow, disposable products of the same sensibility that saw fit to graft the theme to ‘American Beauty’ to the dance floor. However these can be safely disregarded for the actual soundtrack, an achievement with moments of exquisite beauty and dissonant power, a faithful reflection of Linklater’s vision, ] as the film is of the book.

Track Listing:-
1 7 Years from Now
2 Aphids
3 Swallowed up in Victory
4 Strawberry Pie
5 The Dark World Where I Dwell
6 Sex, Beer, And Pills
7 A Farm Near the Mountains
8 Bug Bite Squared
9 Pose as a Nark
10 Do You Like Cats?
11 A Scanner Darkly
12 Abrasocaine
13 Part of the Plan
14 Are You Experiencing Any Difficulties?
15 Your Move, Peterbilt
16 Room 203
17 Escorted to the Bright Lights
18 You'll See the Way You Saw Before
19 A New Path
20 Little Blue Flowers
21 Darkly Mix
22 Call Sign/Aleph:/

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