Previous film scores by Nick Cave
and Warren Ellis
have been filled with a sense of atmospheric desolation that assumes tension, foreboding, dread, and ultimately violence, and preface the notion of the story on the screen. That said, their score for John Hillcoat's The Road -- adapted from Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel of a father and son's journey across the barren landscape of what is left of America -- is a shift away from that technique. The 17 cues here are filled with very slight, spare, even skeletal pieces for violin and piano, with a few brief blazing moments of dissonant percussion-driven noise that point to the unfolding terror in the narrative. These are courtesy of an orchestral string section and added percussion, such as on the freakish “The Cannibals.” These moments are few and far between, however. On “Memory,” the orchestra leads the way, evoking something nearly pastoral, but burdened by so much sadness that it is actually an elegy. The longest piece here is “The Journey”; it contains traces of the film’s musical theme, adorned with percussion and strings, and conjures some atmospheric dread and inherent disaster -- and recalls some of the pair's other work -- but even here it feels like a minor-key interlude with sonic effects designed to add tension and a mournful tinge. “The Cellar” is the most arrestingly dissonant piece with its aggression and dynamic explosiveness, but it's a brief cue of less than a minute and a half. Most of what’s here is simply quiet and dignified, and serves the cinematic narrative as a bridge between father and son, who experience the many things they encounter through different eyes. As music, however, without that visual context, it’s so minimal that it feels like a series of pieces that never quite resolve. Ultimately, when heard apart from its cinematic counterpart, it is the least memorable of the scores Cave
have recorded together, but is a pleasant, if not riveting, listening experience.