When you drive down a long stretch of highway, hot and endless, you might be able to convince yourself that there may be no end in sight. You could even forget where the journey began. The two-disc White Lunar gives you that feel: an endless road that doesn’t offer resolution. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to. A collection of music written for film scores by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (Dirty Three), White Lunar is meant to be resolved by visuals, or at least given emotional context by them.
Cuts taken from the soundtracks to The Proposition, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and, more recently, the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road all provide the same feel. They’re epic, sweeping vistas of sound that don’t really take us anywhere. They leave us literally parched for context. The real meat of this set is on the second disc. Music created for smaller films such as The Girls of Phnom Penh and The English Surgeon offer more varied emotional cues. Here, there are loops and grim grooves that alternately inspire dread, heat and cruelty. Cave and Ellis, in the evocation of small but intense events, truly create an epic sweep.
White Lunar also includes four archive pieces, each a moody instrumental named after a lunar crater. “Magma” is the most interesting, at least since it has Ellis singing/chanting the main riff. “Daedelus” is less interesting, but its abrupt and pent-up piano could have taken the piece higher if given more room.
Cave and Ellis have, in the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, created music that is both visceral and romantic, frustrated and wise. Perfect for soundtracks, right? Well, White Lunar showcases both what can and can’t be accomplished by separating musical scores from the visuals that inspired them. Cave and Ellis seem more at home in smaller films. Music that is part of the historic and epic film needs that film in order to makes sense.