Despite the fact that it has yet to secure a US release date, the film Berberian Sound Studio was released in the UK last year to much critical fanfare. Starring the great Toby Jones, this story of a sound engineer who goes to Italy in the late seventies to work on an Italian giallo horror movie actually ended up being a bit of a mixed bag, but its soundtrack was something else entirely. Composed by Warp Records veterans Broadcast, it acts both as a soundtrack to the movie and the soundtrack to the fictional film within the movie, the wonderfully titled The Equestrian Vortex.
As such, its value as an album is two-fold. It is both a meta-textual work whose subject allows the band to embrace experimentalism in a throwback setting, and it is the fifth and final completed work of one of Warp Records’ most enduring acts, now down to a single member after vocalist Trish Keenan’s tragic death from pneumonia early in 2011.
The album demands to be swallowed as one continuous piece of work, but at 37 minutes, that isn’t so much of an issue. The key really is what time of day you choose to listen to it. Broadcast has captured the spirit of the golden age of Italian horror to such an extent that night-time listening would be inadvisable. Snippets of screaming, whispered Italian dialogue, gruesome sound effects, and guttural animalistic voices make for the most uneasy listening experience.
Despite this, the album is fun if listened to in the right spirit. It is a work of repeated motifs, creepy synths, and deliberate, sudden shifts in direction that evoke a wealth of imagery. The swirling organs and clattering drums of “The Equestrian Vortex” make for an arresting credit sequence accompaniment, and that track carries a density that is deliberately absent for most of an album in which quiet spaces are designed to sustain the sense of dread and tension. Similarly, the deep siren call of “Mark Of The Devil” crashes in from nowhere like a skeleton suddenly popping out of a cupboard.
The album’s most repeated theme is the sinister waltz of “Beautiful Hair,” a melody that pervades the whole album and manages to be both beguiling and creepy at the same time. There is a becalmed nature to much of the music here that nevertheless carries a constant underlying menace, such is the reliance on those echoing organs and the unsettling treatment of female voices throughout the recording.
As such, the achievement here is to blend a fairly seamless work of electronica with a tribute to the horror films referenced in Berberian Sound Studio. It never rests in one place long enough to settle into any particular rhythm, and never dwells for too long on the truly weird stuff (e.g., the freaky vocal recordings in “The Fifth Claw” and “A Goblin”), thus avoiding becoming an off-putting listen.
The only real problem is that the work itself may be too slight to warrant attention in the long-term, particularly as it is linked so closely to a film that appears to have a niche audience even in its homeland. It would be a shame to see it dismissed entirely, as apart from anything else it is a fascinating curio in the Warp catalogue and a fitting tribute to its co-creator.
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