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CRASH – Mark Isham

crashOriginal Review by Peter Simons

The first film directed by Paul Haggis, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby, is Crash, a dramatically potent contemporary ensemble piece about life, love and racism in Los Angeles. The film’s stellar cast includes such famous names as Matt Dillon as a veteran LAPD cop, Don Cheadle as a detective investigating a seemingly racially-motivated murder, Brendan Fraser as the local District Attorney, Sandra Bullock as the DA’s wife, and Thandie Newton as an innocent bystander whose accusations of racial and sexual harassment sets of a chain reaction which has repercussions for all. Crash has become one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2005, having been lauded for its intricate storyline, convincing performances, and bravery in tackling a difficult and controversial subject with a mixture of sensitivity and power.

With Miracle and Racing Stripes showing off a surprisingly epic and adventurous side to Mark Isham, expectations for Crash were high. However, the music Isham has written for Crash could not be further removed from the brass fanfares and drum rolls of the aforementioned scores, as it is an extremely subtle and introvert score that resembles precisely nothing from either Miracle or Racing Stripes. It sees the composer return to his ‘bedroom days’ as he wrote and performed Crash entirely with synthesizers and samples.

I’ll be honest and admit that I struggled long and hard writing this review. As beautiful and relaxing as Mark Isham’s Crash is, there is not an awful lot that can be said about the music. The composer has chosen a palette of soft, soothing synthesizer pads and has crafter a highly stylized loungy soundtrack with them. Though the music contains rich harmonies and contains traces of melodies, it is not an overly thematic score.

The album kicks off with the title track, “Crash”, which is made up from slowly evolving synth pads and soft rhythmic patterns, before moving on into “Go Forth My Son”, a more aggressive cue with harsher arpeggios running alongside each other. “Hands in Plain Sight” is a slow and downbeat cue, but “Safe Now” unexpectedly introduces an uncredited operatic female vocal which is likely to be a sample, and which is recapitulated later in the album during “Saint Christopher” and “Negligence”.

“No Such Thing as Monsters” is one of the standout tracks, with silky synth pads, a flute-like lead sound and piano. It contains a slow, subtle, yet heart wrenchingly beautiful melody, which is re-arranged later to great effect in “A Really Good Cloak”. “Find My Baby” is a lot colder and more unsettling than the previous cue, while “Flames” contains ethnic sounding vocals that sound both Irish and Middle Eastern. For all its seemingly simple composition and ever so slowly progressing sounds, the cue is quite epic emotionally.

“Siren” reflects “Go Forth My Son” with its harsh and fast paced arpeggios; “A Harsh Warning” does exactly what it says on the tin, as it is a non-melodic, harsh and cold sounding track. “Sense of Touch” revisits the material heard previously in “Flames” cue, providing the album with a satisfyingly rounded-up feeling.

The album closes with two songs, “In the Deep” being written and performed by Bird York. Although the song does not reuse Isham’s thematic material from the score, and was not written by him, it is arranged for the same palette of sounds and continues the melancholy atmosphere that dominated the previous tracks. “Maybe Tomorrow” by Stereophonics is a more uplifting track, without being too happy, gently bringing the listener out of the trance that Isham’s score has put them in.

Crash will not appeal to a large audience as its sluggish pace and ambient approach provides few, if any, memorable moments. For this willing to take the plunge and dive into Isham’s ocean of synth pads, an almost Zen-like experience lies ahead. Crash is an expertly crafted and beautiful score that works both as a dramatic film score and as a meditative experience.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Crash (3:21)
  • Go Forth My Son (0:57)
  • Hands in Plain Sight (3:48)
  • Safe Now (1:04)
  • No Such Thing as Monsters (3:59)
  • Find My Baby (4:23)
  • Negligence (2:56)
  • Flames (7:59)
  • Siren (4:41)
  • A Really Good Cloak (3:28)
  • A Harsh Warning (2:51)
  • Saint Christopher (1:55)
  • Sense of Touch (6:44)
  • In The Deep (written by Bird York and Michael Becker, performed by Bird York) (5:55)
  • Maybe Tomorrow (written by Kelly Jones, performed by Stereophonics) (4:34)

Running Time: 58 minutes 38 seconds

Superb SPB-CD 2512 (2005)

Music composed and performed by Mark Isham. Recorded and mixed by Stephen Krause, Cindy O’Connor and Mark Isham. Edited by James Burt. Album produced by Mark Isham.

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