Carter Burwell

A Serious Man [Original Score]

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Carter Burwell's score for A Serious Man, the Coen brothers' 2009 retelling of the Book of Job, is a brilliant and wholly successful piece of film music. In the context of the movie, Burwell's combination of fragmentary themes, spare textures, relentless ostinatos, modal harmonies, and carefully restrained dynamics serves as atmosphere, commentary, intensifier, and foreteller. Joining the tightly controlled tone of later Stravinsky, particularly his harp- and strings-dominated Orpheus ballet, with his standard coupling of deep emotions expressed through dry-eyed irony enables Burwell to create a score that ideally matches the Coens' often darkly humorous and always unsettling film. The inclusion of Sidore Belarsky's poignant performance of "Dem Milner's Trehren," plus three songs from Jefferson Airplane's psychedelic Surrealistic Pillow album -- "Somebody to Love," "Comin' Back to Me," and "Today" -- is wholly appropriate, and Burwell's composed transition into "Somebody to Love" is deftly done and marvelously effective. Though played with amazing precision and recorded with astonishing clarity, Burwell's score cannot of course stand alone, but as movie music, it's just about perfect. The decision to use what sounds like the original LP for the Airplane's songs may not thrill audiophiles used to the remastered versions, but given the fact that the film takes place in 1967, hearing "Somebody to Love," complete with surface noise and limited dynamics is, like Burwell's score and the Coens' movie, just about perfect.

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