Nick Cave & Warren Ellis White Lunar Review

Compilation. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Less demanding than any other work by these two seasoned players.

Jon Lusk 2009

Warren Ellis’s greatest contribution to rock music is probably his effortless ability to look dangerous while playing the violin, a deranged role he often performs with Nick Cave’s band The Bad Seeds. But there’s another side to their collaboration that’s emerged quietly over the last five years. This double CD collects highlights of their five film scores – plus a few odds and sods from ‘the vaults’ – and it’s an altogether gentler experience.

The cover shot appears to have been culled from a session for the recent Grinderman project, but White Lunar is closer in feel to Ellis’s other band, Dirty Three, at their most subdued. For much of it, Ellis backs Cave’s limited but effective piano arpeggios with his mournful bowing, occasionally joined by a droning string section, or deft percussion from Dirty Three drummer Jim White. And there are other unspecified ‘musical contributions’ by several others.

Disc one begins with a lovely, tinkling confection of vibraphone, piano and bells from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Things proceed in a sombre, expectant mood until Cave starts to sing the odd, whispered dialogue of The Proposition. And there are six pieces from the forthcoming film of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalypse novel The Road, which at times recall the luminous, hovering ambience of Estonian classical composer Arvo Pärt.

As the minimal notes explain, Disc two is “fractured, haunting and sometimes badly behaved”. That’s a reference to the jarring coda of sinister industrial noise that shudders into life ten minutes after the ‘end’, suggesting the less compromising output of fellow Australian Paul Schütze. The pieces from The Girls of Phnom Penh are humidly atmospheric, and those from The English Surgeon (another obscure documentary) more unsettling, but remarkably evocative. The previously unreleased material is fairly insubstantial, but works reasonably well as interludes.

White Lunar is less demanding than any other work by these two seasoned players, but in places quite startling in its delicacy. You’ll probably ‘get’ it if The Boatman’s Call is your favourite Nick Cave album.

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