In the brief liner essay that accompanies Ólafur Arnalds' original score to Ronald Krauss' Gimme Shelter, the director writes: "...This balance throughout, of not drawing specific attention to music, where developing character, was particularly important, ensuring music operated symbiotically with the story…." This is an accurate description of what the composer accomplished within the 14 cues appearing here. Arnalds' plays piano accompanied by a string quartet and electric guitar. Often his instrument is the centerpiece. It is quiet, deliberate, spare, and framed by warm, fluid guitar atmospherics with strings used economically, such as on "Highway," "In a Strange Place," and "Never Alone." Elsewhere there are more taut dramatics, with pastoral themes gradually building into if not grand statements, at least more declarative ones, as evidenced by "And I Will Hear You," "Abandonment," and "Someday." The string quartet is the central focus in other cues, providing taut, slowly evolving drama in "Sonar," "Streets," "Threat," and "Leave with Me." In other incidental music, single-chord piano pulses and/or repetitive chamber themes are static, yet display the effect of distilling tension and release into defining moments as they do on "The Apple of My Eye," "Runaway," and "Overcome." Throughout, Arnalds employs the guitar strategically; it almost never sounds like itself. Despite its relegation to the backdrop in every instance, it is the sonic glue that binds the holistic nature of the score together, and keeps the music from being amorphously labeled "new classical." That said, those desiring a pure Arnalds experience will be forced to hit the skip button several times to avoid contemporary pop music from Lana Del Rey, Celine Dion, or the Cinematic Orchestra, whose "To Build a Home," with vocalist Patrick Watson, has already been used in at least half-a-dozen films and in more than one television commercial. If only the director had held to his own dictum that he didn't want to draw specific attention to the film's music, the soundtrack would have been perfect; instead, only Arnalds' score is. That said, with a small amount of judicious editing from listeners, this volume can be enjoyed for the simple yet abundant pleasures of the composer's achievement.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
feat: Paul Haslinger