Album: CLINT MANSELL – The Fountain (Nonesuch 79901 2006)

mansell.jpgThis album is around six months old now, but I only came across it today. I was sifting through a box of promo CDs destined for Ebay when I spotted a copy of The Fountain. I liked Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (both the film and the music by Clint Mansell) but what gave this extra resonance was the presence of Mogwai and the Kronos Quartet. Having listened to it a couple of times now, I’m amazed how it slipped completely under my radar. This is utterly gripping stuff. With only a promo copy to hand, I’m not certain of the facts behind the album. From Discogs it appears that the Kronos Quartet recorded their parts in California in January 2006, Mogwai theirs in Glasgow a month earlier, and the eight piece choir added their bits in New York. And yet they all seem to be working together so seamlessly.

The music on this CD is a perfect marriage of modern classical and experimental rock. The whole thing exudes menace, but there is also warmth and sadness in equal measure. A lot of soundtrack albums have a central theme which is repeated ad infinitum in umpteen variations, but The Fountain works as a standalone album. Sure it’s cinematic, but it’s not music that requires a visual element to make sense. There are moments when you half expect Lisa Gerrard to pop up and break into sonorous song, and others that feel like Mogwai are straining at the leash, eager to break into a barrage of white noise. This never happens – the tension remains just below the surface. “Xibalba” is as gorgeous as anything I’ve heard in a long time – a cross between Vaughan Williams’ “Lark Ascending” and Brian Eno’s ambient works. The eight minute “Death Is The Road to Awe” has shades of Craig Armstrong about it. It’s an epic, sweeping piece built around a brooding string refrain that builds and builds, but ends before the tension is really resolved. The album ends with the desolate piano piece “Together We Will Live Forever” – a heartbreakingly sad and yet life affirming five minutes.

I’ve not seen the film. The soundtrack album might be enhanced by that experience, but it’s hard to see how. This is a monumental work by Mansell and his collaborators. Apologies for the scan – mine is the promo copy and lacks the full artwork.

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