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Sonic Youth Simon Werner a Disparu Review

Soundtrack. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A soundtrack that’s a powerful piece of art in its own right.

Mike Diver 2011

While this release is marketed as the soundtrack to director Fabrice Gobert’s early 1990s-set, 2010-released high-school thriller of the same name – translated as "Simon Werner has Disappeared", but oddly titled Lights Out internationally – its 13 tracks aren’t exactly as they appeared beside the on-screen action. Rather than simply compile the shorter, scene-complementing cuts that they recorded after seeing Gobert’s initial rushes in the spring of last year, Sonic Youth – here with Jim O’Rourke aboard, albeit only for the closing Thème d’Alice – went back into the studio to rearrange their works. The results are every bit as enthrallingly out of step with the group’s ‘mainstream’ catalogue as previous SYR releases, but fashioned into something that’s perfectly coherent, and really quite a delightful listen.

Such is the success of this re-worked take on material a few months old that it could easily stand aside from the movie that inspired it – song titles and artwork aside, there are no dialogue cues to suggest a connection with cinema. Guitars clang and moan, drums thunder softly, a lonely piano sings out from a barren wilderness. Our players remain silent, the only language that constructed by pickups and plectrums, amplifiers and electricity. But what a story these compositions tell – a story that will seem different to every individual listener. Through the spaces between skin and string the mind wanders, its path determined only by imagination. That’s the beauty of this set: it builds no barriers, its sounds flowing free and easy. As pieces shift through motorik gears, the heart quickens a touch; as they slide into relative stillness, so too does their audience, becalmed and content. It’s call and response without words, an invisible bond that’s established with ease and impossible to break.

What might surprise the band’s buy-everything fanbase is just how little noise there is here – on tracks like Jean-Baptiste à la Fenêtre and Les Anges au Piano, there’s a real sense of simple prettiness prevailing over pandemonium. Yes, there’s a satisfying squall arising on occasion, and the odd diversion into some truly frightening territories – Thème de Laetitia is a wall of shrill noise designed, presumably, to have one covering their head with an empty (or not) popcorn box. But, for the most part, this is a serene listen. What it actually says about the film is debatable – nothing, to these ears, although there might be some compositional traits common to tracks centring on particular characters (or that’s a coincidence – I’m not sure yet). But it doesn’t really matter: Simon Werner a Disparu, the record, is a powerful piece of art in its own right.

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