It is probably no coincidence that most of the small band of collaborators currently working with PJ Harvey are multi-instrumentalists who also have parallel careers making soundtracks. It’s also unlikely to be a coincidence that the two main players on Polly’s last album, the brilliant Let England Shake, are releasing albums virtually simultaneously; Mick Harvey with Four (Acts of Love) and John Parish with Screenplay. It’s the latter that concerns us here, a third release from Parish on Thrill Jockey, but the first overtly soundtrack-related work he’s made for the label.
Screenplay collects together works from six or seven movies that Parish has worked on. The uncertain number stems from the appearance on the vinyl-only version of the sole track from The Farmer’s Wife – indeed, if you’ve got a turntable, the double LP edition is definitely the way to go, as it adds eight tracks to the CD version which I’m reviewing, and provides a little extra space between some of the soundtracks. That said, there’s plenty of scope within tracks taken from the same film; for Little Black Spiders, the distressed strings of “Katja Gives Birth” sit next to the punky yelps of “The Minotaur (Pt 2)”, whilst on Sister, the motorik beat of “L’Enfant D’en Haut” is followed by the contemplative piano of “Dernière Montée”. Given that Parish contributed thirteen tracks to the She, A Chinese soundtrack, and the presence of extra material for vinyl buffs, it’s safe to assume that there are possibly hours of material used in the films but not included here and conclude that Parish intends us to listen to Screenplay as a standalone album rather than a grab-bag of cinematic works.
Although the tracks are given a new context in the shape of an album removed from visual imagery, the sequencing doesn’t necessarily show the tracks in the best light by keeping them grouped as from the films. The louder, punchier tracks may work well in the films (which I confess I haven’t seen), but would have served the feel of the album by being moved around in the sequencing, or indeed dropped in favour of quieter, more sympathetic pieces. In addition, placing tracks from the same film apart would have given the album a more rounded feel with themes cropping up at the beginning and end of Screenplay. Admittedly, these are fairly minor quibbles that merely provide an amusing diversion of attempting to sequence the perfect record; there are some wonderful stand-alone moments here, such as the steel guitar shuffle of “The Spring Ritual”, the mournful trumpet on “Longfellow Forlorn” and the after-hours swing of “A Glass of Wine”. These tracks, from different movies, sit in close proximity towards the end of the album, so like a favourite film, Screenplay finishes strongly, with ideas and memories dancing around the brain. (Jeremy Bye)