A review of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' "The Girl With The DragonTattoo" score

While it isn’t quite Option 30’s cover of “Der Kommissar”, I’ve decided to review Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” anyway.
The temperature is lowered a hundred degrees the second we hear the hollow wind at the start of the album. It doesn’t get much warmer. Yes, there’s sunlight to contrast the icy, creeping dark, and, sometimes it serves to warm us, but, more often than not, it’s cold sunlight, too far away to do more than hurt our eyes.
Practically every track has a wash of sound or some sort of distorted warble, sometimes they detract, like in “One Particular Moment”, but, in almost every other case, it adds tension, distress and, most importantly, cold.
I’ve discovered how Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross managed to get such a desolate, cold feeling on the majority of this album: the use of instrumentation (the hammered dulcimer is a simple, beautiful instrument, but they make it chilly and unnerving by doing something that sounds like hooking one up to an old modem receiving an error message) and scant vocals of Mariqueen Maandig, plus the keys and pitches at which things are played.
Most everything sounds just a little wrong.
Very alienating and cold.
 David Fincher now has his very own Ghosts.

Disc 1

  1. Immigrant Song – After the empty howling of the frozen North wind sweeps down upon you, the drums kick in, their surface crusted with ice that’s shattered with each blow and yet reforms almost as fast as it’s being destroyed. The vocals, like a frozen blade slash across your face and, just as you’re certain you’ll be lost forever under the huge, apocalyptic avalanche of ice and sound at the end, it’s finished, you’re finished…and the album, the thirty-nine track, two hour and fifty three minute score has just begun. 
  2. She Reminds Me Of You – There’s something predatory about this. The wailing, lost moan speaks of things vast and beautiful and dangerous, like a moonlit plain, pocked with holes covered in snow, waiting to break your ankle and strand you there to die of exposure.
  3. People Lie All The Time – A diseased thrum pervades this piece like blows sounding on a massive, stone door. The scrambling, wavering strings serve as a warning: don’t open this door. A huge note at the end signifies that we’re too late, the door was opened and everything is undone. There’s a stunning sense of finality to this, even though it’s only the third track on the album.
  4. Pinned and Mounted – This track goes to a few different places; none of them places you’d want to go. A piping organ towards the end creeps up on you like something small and deadly, a psychotic child with a knife.
  5. Perihelion – One of the most disturbing tracks on the album. It opens like a glowing, infected eye, spilling its poisoned light on fields of atrocities. Towards the end, when that rusted, metallic cry comes in and then the half digital, half demonic chattering madness…it’s hard to keep listening, an aurora borealis over Hell. This is a strong argument for Trent and Atticus to score a horror movie.
  6. What If We Could? – Could this be the only warm track on the entire album? The only piece that isn’t comprised of icicles in the dark and shallow pools of gray water covered by particle-thin sheets of frost? For a moment, for this moment, everything’s okay, everything’s going to work out. There’s hope. A sad hope, but that still counts. Then the light at the end of the tunnel turns red…
  7. With The Flies – Some tracks on the album work when placed next to one another, but none as much as “What If We Could?” and “With The Flies”, if only for the juxtaposition. The creeping terror inherent here is just so unsettling.  Both the title and the content indicate something horrible has taken place. This and “Perihelion” are both reminiscent of Akira Yamaoka’s work on the Silent Hill video game series.
  8. Hidden In Snow – The background is tar and the hammered dulcimer is insects trapped and dying on its surface. Listen to this on the right set of speakers and the pervasive bass will alter your brainwave patterns. There is a sickness here.  
  9. A Thousand Details – A bit reminiscent of “Driver Down” from the “Lost Highway” soundtrack, there’s a wonderful sense of desperation, of pursuit taking place within this track. Feel that crunchy guitar. This one is all about disaster, explosions and the motherfucking end of days.
  10. One Particular Moment – Out of the wailing, teeth-gritting void comes some of the most beautiful piano on the album. Eventually, some simple, effective strings are added and the melody emerges from the cloud of dissonance like the sun on a cold day. Only for a moment though, before it’s swallowed up by a huge wave of fuzzed out synth. At the very end though, if you listen closely, after the wave has receded, you can still hear the ghost of that melody, floating off into nothing.
  11. I Can’t Take It Anymore – Mariqueen’s gauzy vocalizations add to the cold of an already frigid piece.
  12. How Brittle The Bones – On a disc of dynamic, fluid, interesting tracks, this one stands out by not standing out. A simple, dull interlude.
  13. Please Take Your Hand Away – This is both reassuring and unsettling. The big, slightly blurred piano offers solemnity and resolve, but everything else around it is jittery, unsure of itself. Something about those tumbling, falling notes at the end sound like giving up in a state of confusion. This is a great ending to the first act of Reznor and Ross’ latest opus.

Disc 2

  1. Cut Into Pieces – Brings you right back in. It’s sharp and uncomfortable, more technological that anything we’ve seen so far. The ending is zombie crickets and cell phone interference
  2. The Splinter – A lot like “How Brittle The Bones” as far as it’s unimpressive.
  3. An Itch – Everything happening in this track is great. The sound of sound itself tearing that pings back and forth, the paranoid pacing, the slightly detuned piano which runs throughout…one of the best tracks on the album.
  4. Hypomania – Some thing is following you down a dark, wet tunnel. Something lumbering, inexorable. You run because you’re terrified, but it doesn’t have to because there’s only one exit and it’s standing between you and it. At the end of the piece, you face a bricked-over doorway and feel hot breath on your neck…
  5. Under The Midnight Sun – Something broken stumbling across vast, empty, freezing tundra. You can actually feel the wind when you listen to this. The end is pure Silent Hill, as the limping thing returns to its lair and dies.
  6. Aphelion – This begins with the sounds of space rushing at you, but not empty space. There’s something there, waiting. Then a small, insistent melody. Delicate. Too delicate for a place like this. Suddenly, the space is shut out and you’re confronted with the melody, but just for a moment. There’s a music box buried under ashes somewhere in the wasteland...
  7. You’re Here – A juxtaposition of high, fragile sounds and a heavy, thudding bass beat. There isn’t enough development for this to become interesting.
  8. The Same As The Others – The high, lonely squeal off to the right combined with the deep, cavernous rumbling is pure Yamaoka. The melody has a ponderous, lost feel to it, also very Silent Hill.
  9. A Pause For Reflection – The skittering, sparkling, dancing hammered dulcimer (like light) is given form by the simply thudding and depth by the roaring ocean in the background. When that glacial background comes forward and the rest recedes, something interesting happens. This is a track that goes from small to large, shallow to deep; like a body of water. A body of water under a sheet of ice.
  10. While Waiting – Mariqueen Maandig’s voice works wonderfully paired up with the bells on this. The track is short, but it accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish: it tells of the deep, rising, of something under the sun-dappled surface of the water, something old, something hungry.
  11. The Seconds Drag – One of the most straightforward and literal tracks on the album. A clock ticks as, well, the seconds drag. More percussive than most. Eventually, there’s some light programming that weaves into the ticking, but, in the end, the title says it all.
  12. Later Into The Night – Plodding and deliberate. The use of a simple, repeated melody really you to feel the passage of time. There’s a sense of maybe you’re closer to the machinery than you should be. Broken jack-in-the-box. All this, but it feels a bit thin, like something’s missing.
  13. Parallel Timeline With Alternate Outcome – The name is more interesting than the music, but just barely. One of the most varied tracks on the album, starting and ending in totally different places. It’s restful at first, warm, everything bad is happening on the outside, in the cold. This is like walking through a forest, beautiful yet eerie, then finding a body…first a cloud of flies, then a bloodstained shoe, then a second shoe with a foot still inside it… then a whole pile of bodies. The end guitar is fucking terrifying. Another great end to an act.

Disc 3

  1. Another Way Of Caring – This is a rape carnival. Plinking, wandering notes taken right from a child’s nightmare meander throughout this along with big, disharmonious strings and creepy, out of tune piano, scaring the shit out of anyone happening by. Welcome to the final act/disc…we’re having some problems.   
  2. A Viable Construct – More tech sounding than most of what we’ve heard thus far. Somehow feels reminiscent of ‘The Terminator’…
  3. Revealed In The Thaw – The last patch of warmth on a very cold, very bleak journey. We’re not quite safe yet. Maybe we’ve found a place to catch our breath, but that incessant thudding let’s us know it isn’t over yet, there’s still something outside…and we’ll have to face it before all this is over.
  4. Millennia – The passage of time as seen from a great height.
  5. We Could Wait Forever – Another tech-heavy track, one with a lot of error messages. One can envision a large, rubbery tube leading into a room full of malfunctioning mainframes. Perhaps there was a Freon leak, because everything is tinted blue.
  6. Oraculum – Does Industrial Bhangra make sense? This is the most energetic (and longest) track on the album and is so disparate from anything else…I have no idea where it’s coming from or where it’s going…but I’m willing to bet they serve couscous there. One can almost dance to this, if there tried hard enough.
  7. Great Bird Of Prey – After the most energetic track, we now have the most literal. One can actually hear majestic, deadly birds circling high in the air… And just as things start to sound like they’re getting typical around the end…the track explodes.
  8. The Heretics – Yet another techy track on a disc full of techy tracks. I can’t help but think of “Ringfinger” when I hear this. This would be the most interesting piece on someone else’s project, but on this album, among the others jewels found here, it’s merely good. You can really feel the space that Reznor and Ross talked about in this track.
  9. A Pair Of Doves - Just as airy and graceful as the title denotes…but short. An interlude almost.
  10. Infiltrator – Here’s another electronic track. There’s a great, loose bolt sound in this. It creates a sense of “if we keep going at this speed, something is going to fall apart”.
  11. The Sound Of Forgetting – The sound of someone slamming a tool against the obdurate past. The sound of forgetting, not forgiving. The high notes alleviate some of the guilt and pain, but nothing can erase it.
  12. Of Secrets – To end the album, which is comprised mostly of odd, obsolete, frozen instruments, there’s hardly any instrumentation at all, just a rising and falling of static; building to a climax, then pulling back, like a frozen sea, only to rise and rise and rise until…nothing. A simple and amazing ending to one of the most incredible sonic sojourns you’ll ever take.
  13. Is Your Love Strong Enough? – A coda.

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