Cinematic is an overused and clichéd adjective when it comes to describing music, and I’m sure I’m as guilty as anyone in its use. But it’s a fairly useful shorthand – you know instinctively what someone means when they use it: those panoramic shots of Monument Valley, night time cityscapes, noir-ish shadows and light or the brooding creeping menace of something very nasty lurking. Of course, there’s more to actual cinematic music than that. There are the comic interludes, the recurring character themes, the rustic and exotic shorthand for cultures and places. It’s not all big and dramatic.
In that sense, Swede Petter Lindhagen’s debut album is very definitely a cinematic work. The main theme that bookends the record is one of those tunes that sounds infuriatingly familiar, but completely unplaceable. It has shades of Morricone, sixties spy films and Anton Karas’s Third Man theme. “On a Train” also exudes that nagging sense of déja vu. It clips along jauntily with a simple guitar and xylophone melody and a laid back string/brass chorus. Deep in the background of both tracks is an almost inaudible feedback siren which seems at total odds with the mood, like finding a spaceship landing in the middle of Manon des Sources.
“Life is a Joke” sounds like Air jamming with Grails. No, really. “From a Great Distance” actually has the widescreen, minor key romanticism that fits the cinematic convention, although it chooses to climax in quiet contemplation rather than audio fireworks. Back to Vienna for the gentle “Tired Tape Machine Waltz”, an ivory tinkler with a dark underbelly as it drowns in sci-fi sine waves and radio babble. For the dénouement we meet A Hawk and a Hacksaw somewhere in the Balkans, but the deep feedback siren that I mentioned earlier suddenly leaps out of the background, before disappearing again leaving our jaunty Gypsy melody to continue. A snatch of studio chatter ensues before we return to the main theme, in slow waltz time.
Somewhere Safe is the soundtrack to a film in Lindhagen’s head that must verge on the surreal. It’s a weird mix of familiarity and unpredictability. The melodies are all eminently whistleable, and yet there are plenty of “what the hell just happened there?” moments. It has a veneer of innocent whimsy played out against a background of terror. The more you listen, the more the surface sweetness is undermined. It’s an album that needs to be heard as a whole – plucking out individual tracks will deprive them of all context.
1 Somewhere Safe 3:38
2 On a Train 3:03
3 This Winter 2:40
4 Like Glass 4:32
5 Life is a Joke 3:22
6 From a Great Distance 6:30
7 The Tired Tape Machine Waltz 5:08
8 Ghosts in the Machine 9:14