A certain sadness permeates Olivier Alary‘s works for film, many of which are collected here for the first time. But this doesn’t mean the composer is sad; he simply knows how to score the emotion. One film is about a family losing its home to the Yangtze River; another about the last days of a radical teen; a third about a lonely boxer. Plaintive piano is combined with sullen strings to wring tears from viewer and listener alike.
The artist himself has evolved over the years, from his early days as Ensemble to a series of collaborations and remixes (most notably for Björk) to his new instrumental career. As reflected here, work with various ensembles and orchestras has allowed his aural visions to become reality, yet none of these tracks seem overwhelmed; he keeps the drama in check throughout. Even the two new tracks (alternate versions of “Pulses”) exercise a laudable restraint. Perhaps most telling is his recent remix swap with Ian William Craig, another artist on Fatcat/130701, as it seems to keep one foot in the door should he choose to pursue simultaneous paths.
With 17 tracks in just under an hour (13 on vinyl), it’s obvious that Alary is no stranger to incidental music. His challenge is to build drama in short frames. How much emotion can one capture in two minutes? In this case, quite a bit. While one wishes some of these pieces were longer, they contain enough unity in tone to flow together as a full work. Even when he turns to light drone (“Khaltoum”), the flow remains intact. At 1:16, “Arrivée” is a prime example; slight changes in the melody produce a powerful effect, and the strings rush in early because they have to. Or consider “Defeat”, which is strong enough with one’s eyes closed but even stronger with the visuals. We would have left the fireworks in the mix, but they can be enjoyed below.
Fatcat/13701 is clearly invested in this artist, and while Fiction/Non-Fiction has given us a taste of what he can do, an all-new album later this year will bring us a fuller indication of his mindset. Ironically, this makes his first album under his own name a “greatest hits” album, with hope for even greater hits to come. (Richard Allen)