Symmetry: Themes for an Imaginary Film
If you talked with me even one year ago, I wouldn’t have been a prime target for icy cold new wave electronic records that rely on an atmosphere created by driving around LA on a starless night. I like to believe that I have an open mind for different musical genres, but the old me would have been less than excited about the premise of electronic pop distilled through a the prism of flashy cars and 80’s nostalgia. Then I saw Drive. The soundtrack, anchored by Cliff Martinez’s emotive soundscapes and some stone cold jams from the likes of Collage and Chromatics, really crystallized the sound in a way that has opened a lot of doors. So much so that when I heard the previously unreleased album Themes for an Imaginary Film was getting possibly a “lost” version of an attempted Drive soundtrack, I took that as a compliment and quickly sought out the record.
The story behind the record is that this album was written by Johnny Jewel (owner of the Italians Do it Better Label) with his partners Glass Candy, Chromatics, Mirage, & Desire as a score for Drive, only to be passed over in favor of the eventual score by another artist (Cliff Martinez). While there is some debate on who followed who– Jewel claims the record was well in the bag well before the release of Drive— the reality is that it doesn’t matter. Both records are excellent and emotive documents that happen to capture a similar sound. Both records find a way to be both eerie and lush, mixing sleazy electro dance tracks with ambient sound collages in seamless fashion to create records that clearly are fitted to be a soundtrack but strong enough to be listened to with any context at all. The album is over two hours long, crams in 37 tracks, and was listened to (be me at leastby me on soundcloud, where all of the songs melt together. Because of the latter fact, there is a strong continuity, a dark passenger that moves the sound forward whether it is slinky electro groove of a beat-less ambient wave of synth. Even when there was a song or passage that I really liked (the silky smooth “Cruise Control,” the electro groove of “City of Dreams” or the haunting, Ruth Radelet sung album closer “Streets of Fire”) it was never tempting to skips around the album. Like a good movie, the various parts of Themes for.. are not as valuable as the sum of those parts working together to create an engaging and absorbing album.
On the soundcloud page for the album the author writes “Your life is the film & this is the soundtrack.” I would have to disagree. This album is much to exciting, exhilarating, edgy, slick and dangerous to soundtrack my life. I wish. But it is a perfect soundtrack for a late night drive when the possibilities are endless, the night is going to last forever and the car is full of gas. Unfortunately it is a 2000 Ford Taurus with six figure mileage that is dying a slow and painful death, but this soundtrack makes even that experience feel cool.