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Howl by Carter Burwell


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Howl (Soundtrack) by Carter Burwell

Composed by Carter Burwell
Lakeshore Records (2010)

Rating: 6/10

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“HOWL represents an indicator of the great things CARTER BURWELL is clearly capable of, but perhaps due to the nature of the film itself, was unable to maintain throughout.”

"Howl's Victim"
Review by Richard Buxton

The story of a poet and his work is perhaps one that is not often told; rather it is the poet who tells the stories. Therefore an insight into their personal world is not one that is often sought after. However, those with any knowledge of “Howl’s” protagonist and his political struggles throughout his life’s work will seek the production out.
Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman employed a number of techniques in their imagining of the life of American poet Allen Ginsberg. Centred on the simultaneously lauded and loathed poem "Howl", Epstein and Friedman employed a variety of styles to portray the key moments in the life of the controversial poet. Ranging from black and white to full blown animation, the story of this highly political artist is particularly vivid. The experience of listening to CARTER BURWELL’s efforts in HOWL however is often a testing one, one that rarely rewards the listener. The music though does undeniably mirror the film it accompanies in its style and technique.
The score opens with what is undeniably the highlight of the soundtrack: “Supernatural Darkness”. The softness of the guitar and the gentle synths behind it create a saturated sound that simultaneously produces a hollow yet lonesome feel. The emergence of chords only strengthens this feeling as the sound reverberates in what feels like infinite space. Such an opening to a score promises a subdued yet mightily effective plethora of music to come. However, this promise never materializes. HOWL takes an immediate detour after the opening track. “I Saw The Best Minds” signals a venture almost into film noir, which admittedly maintains the lonely feel, but sets the precedent for the entire score, a precedent that takes the music into places that border on the nonsensical.

It is in the third track that HOWL loses its way. “From Park to Pad to Bar to Bellevue” consists of three distinct sections all based around the same rising bass motif. The opening creates ample tension and anticipation with its dissonance and is followed by the release of that tension in a frantic climax that is a constant discomfort to listen to. It comes as a relief that the closing moments of the piece return to a more relaxed and comprehensible complexion. This frantic tone though unfortunately continues until one of the rare bright moments of the score: "My Mother".
“My Mother” is a long overdue resurrection of the emotions briefly heard in the score’s opening moments. The strings and the strong sound design combine to create a wistfulness and longing. “Now Denver Is Lonesome for Her Heroes” preserves the re-emergence of the emotional side of HOWL before a swift return to the jazz stylings.
The entirety of the score can be summed up in the track “Prophecy”. Burwell manages once again to develop a touching and melancholic motif and ably develops it before taking all the rising emotion of the piece and scattering it. It is not the emergence of the screeching guitar that disappoints, but it is the now all-too expected return to the dissonant and fractured jazz/noir face of HOWL. This sound continues in “I’m With You In Rockland” and “Angelic Bombs”, albeit in a less grating manner. Even the piano only just manages to avoid being drowned out by the incessant bass and piercing use of percussion.

The conclusion of HOWL comes in the form of a reminder of what could have been. In “Holy” the aching plucks of the guitar return, once again forming a forlorn yet somehow optimistic tone. The beauty of the opening and closing pieces could be mistaken for tracks from another score entirely, such is their vast superiority.
HOWL represents an indicator of the great things CARTER BURWELL is clearly capable of, but perhaps due to the nature of the film itself, was unable to maintain throughout. Howl is an admirable piece of filmmaking that defies the conventions set out by the mainstream and attempts, through its diversity, to provide a unique basis upon which the story of the great poet can be told. It is because of this myriad of visions and techniques, however, that Burwell’s efforts become the inevitable victim. Without a consistent style with which to work, Burwell has done nothing less than accompany the onscreen events, but has been hindered in the process by the complex and fragmented visions of the filmmakers.

Rating: 6/10




Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Supernatural Darkness 2:06  *****
2 I Saw the Best Mindes 2:50  ***
3 From Park to Pad to Bar to Bellevue 4:16  **
4 Weeping in the Parks 1:02  ***
5 And Their Heads Shall be Crowned 2:47  ***
6 My Mother 3:22  ****
7 Now Denver Lonesome For Her Heroes 2:54  ***
8 Prophecy 4:24  ***
9 Moloch 2:58  **
10 I'm with You in Rockland 2:21  ***
11 Angelic Bombs 1:57  ***
12 Holy 3:09  *****
  Total Running Time (approx) 34 minutes  




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