Cliff Martinez – Too Old to Die Young (Milan Records)


It’s surprising to see Cliff Martinez has been scoring films, television shows and video games for 30 years and composed over 40 in that time.

He came to my attention through his work with Steven Soderbergh.

Too Old to Die Young is his latest collaboration Nicolas Winding Refn and this television show must cover a lot of ground, judging by the tracks on the soundtrack.

This album features mostly sparse arrangements which develop in surprising ways with diverse instrumentation hanging in dark reverbs.

I gather the storyline involves a hit man, which seems to be reflected musically in unsettling shifts and minor keys.

There’s a restlessness in the tracks, which jump between familiar score features likes strings and pianos and then electronic synthesiser glissando and pulsing bass.

Early tracks have building tension and a lovely microtonal dissonance with a warm analogue sound like modular.

At times the synths feel like something from an earlier decade, then the deeper growls and humming bass bring it back to the present.

The piano and chime-like keyboards feel a bit saccharine at times, particularly ‘High Priestess of Death’ but it’s hard to know how they’re used in a dramatic context.

As the album progresses it sounds increasingly like a soundtrack, although I couldn’t describe the story as the shifting instruments make it feel like many characters are coming and going.

It’s odd the way a synthetic opera-like voice or a single theremin part seem both at home and not, like they’ve projected into the soundscape through an open window.

Martinez has particular timbres and echoing minor key progressions that feel like his trademark, although nothing here hits those same melancholy feels of my favourite of his works, ‘Solaris’.

At times there are abrupt intrusions in Martinez’s music but none really prepare you for the tracks by other musicians that round out this album.

Again it’s hard to guess how they’re used within the storyline, possibly as diegetic sound, in which case I expect there might be a couple of scenes in nightclubs.

In recent decades the idea of an album has been increasingly questioned, as the ‘shuffle’ button on CD players allowed the track order to be ignored by listeners and now you can buy individual tracks — if you want to buy music.

Yet I think that soundtrack albums, despite often being an odd collection of songs, have a coherence through being part of a narrative.

There are a number of stand out tracks in this collection which have startling shifts in tone and illustrate Martinez’s skills as a composer.

Fans of his earlier works will be able to identify some of his style and enjoy the ways in which this album develops.


About Author

Living in regional Australia led Jason Richardson to sample landscapes instead of records.