Naim Amor

Soundtracks, Vol. 2

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Soundtracks, Vol. 2 is just what its title suggests: a continuation of the artist's solo debut, itself a lovely, impressionistic watercolor of a record. It might also be thought of, however, as both an extension of and a logical thematic conclusion to the type of sound-sculpting introduced on the earlier record, the second panel of a diptych, if you will. If the first album was a short film, its follow-up is a widescreen, wind-swept feature, Naïm Amor goes Cinemascope. As such it provided a slightly larger canvas and palette as well as a bigger cast and supporting crew, and Amor proved to be in greater control of his materials. The piece is every bit as evocative as its predecessor, but while Soundtracks shimmered beautifully in the dessert sun without moving too far in any one direction, its companion piece gives the composer the space and time to wander, to get lost in the hinterlands, to hit and disappear down a few more off-the-map back roads without worrying about having to find his was back. Following those whims is a good bit of the pleasure of this music. You are not merely looking at passive landscapes but rather feel as if you are moving through, even helping to shape, them. The stylistic diversity of the songs is thrilling. Amor name-checks John Coltrane (a swirling, midnight remake of "Naima") and French New Wave film, and with good reason, but Volume 2 identifies the artist as just as much the progeny of Lalo Schifrin and the younger sibling of Stereolab. The album doffs its beret to exotic cocktail jazz ("When They Were Happy") one minute and the next slips from slow-roasted lounge balladry to sizzling mute-and-trumpet tempest ("Tap Room"), or blossoms from pretty little Gallic swoon into full-blown, soap-operatic Wall of Pet Sounds ("Stuck"), complete with theremin runs. It's like hearing Santo & Johnny on acid, with a tart Morricone sauce on the side. That said, the strength of the album is its cohesive vision, its focus and clarity, something Amor wasn't quite capable of pulling off in his earlier work. It is not merely a build-up of sublime brush strokes (though it is that, too), but a whole picture, a fantastically diverse world you experience differently each time you return to it.

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