Carter Burwell's darkly mysterious orchestrations play a significant stylistic role in both Barton Fink and Fargo, two of the best films from acclaimed independent filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, particularly in light of the oft-violent content of the Coens' stories: violence can of course be laughable when the characters are too goofy to be believed, and tragic when the characters are too believable to be goofy, but the Coen brothers' creations are somewhere in between. They strike a precarious balance between a broadly comic Beckett-esque absurdism and a more straightforward, three-dimensional naturalism. Consequently, Burwell's grave, sweeping scores are a crucial reassurance that the Coens are not taking their characters' personal tragedies less seriously than are their audiences. Most of the tracks on this CD are from Fargo, reprising the heartbreakingly elegiac theme several times over (in orchestral versions and in sparse violin arrangements that echo the folk music indigenous to the snow-swept northern territories of the film). The Barton Fink tracks feature similarly foreboding strings, but like the movie itself, the music is more experimental and offbeat than Fargo. Burwell incorporates detuned pianos, tapping typewriters, and running water into the score. Music shoppers should be forewarned that Burwell has not written extended cues for the CD, so the music often begins and ends haltingly in 30-second increments.
AllMusic Review by Darryl Cater