Lakeshore Records bring us the soundtrack to the new comedy Western movie from Jacques Audiard “The Sisters Brothers“, based on the book of the same name. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as the titular assassin brothers, hunting down a chemist (Riz Ahmed) with a secret formula for prospecting gold.
Composed by Academy Award winner Alexandre Desplat (The Kings Speech, Godzilla, The Shape of Water), those familiar with his more recent works such as Operation Finale and Suburbicon will find this soundtrack reassuringly familiar. The soundtrack as a whole stands as a fine album to listen to in its own right, so rather than go through every track one by one, here are some specific highlights.
The two opening tracks set the theme for what follows, no clichéd spaghetti-Western themes to be found here, no mournful harmonicas or fiddles in earshot, no mournful prairie whistling as most audiences have come to expect from their traditional Western soundtracks. What we have instead is a mix of percussion and strings that, while using many of the traditional instruments associated with this genre of music, uses them in a very different way. We veer from the ominous to the light hearted and back again. If comparisons could be drawn to other examples of the genre, this one evokes echoes of the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained“
We open with an ominous rolling thunder of strings and drums that promises dire things ahead (Two Killers) before shifting gear to something more quirky and light, somewhat off-key percussion backed by a simple repeating piano track (The Sisters Brothers) that metamorphoses into something almost noir-esque by the end, suggesting that perhaps things are not quite as they seem.
“Duplicity” starts off with what sounds like someone tapping on a metal bar before being joined by the soft piano and strings, conjuring images of snow dropping down onto leaves and sliding to the ground. “To Jacksonville” is a beautifully rich track, the opening moments conjuring up possible comparisons with works from the pianist Nils Frahm.
“To San Francisco” is the closest this soundtrack comes to a traditional Western motif, with a sting of harsh electric guitar punctuating the hopeful strings and rhythmic drums, keyboard and fiddle playing counterpoint to one another.
“Hunted” is a more ominous track, what sounds like a plucked double bass overlaid on a glissando piano, strings adding to the slowly growing sense of tension if the track title did not already tell the listener all the needed to know.
Following immediately on from this, “Folsom Lake” is altogether more wistful and light, melancholy but hopeful at the same time, a moment of respite from what has gone on before.
“Two Guns, One Hand” brings back those ominous strings and that more familiar Western feel before the penultimate track “At Home With Mum” which wraps things up on a more hopeful, soothing note.
The final track “The Sisters Brothers – Extended” is, indeed, a callback to the previous track and takes the themes there and, well, extends them! There’s more of those noir-esque themes, the organ now playing over that rhythmic, almost galloping piano rather that keeps things moving rather than slowing them down as it did in the first version.
All in all this is not a conventional Western soundtrack, with few of the familiar conceits that normally make them so instantly recognisable, but it stands on its own as something worth owning and listening to again and again. Another great piece of work from Alexandre Desplat.
The Sisters Brothers: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is now available from Lakeshore Records.