Soundtracks are an odd and often sketchy arena. Usually, they’re your stereotypically thrown-together collection of unrelated popular songs that don’t fit with each other, or they’re what I like to call a “Beatles-esque” compilation: a solid first half followed by half-assed instrumentals. But the best soundtracks are most often those that consist entirely of original music composed specifically for the film it accompanies. Portastatic’s soundtrack for Matthew Bissonnette’s Who Loves the Sun? is a great example of what a memorable score should sound like.
Hot on the heels of his impressive yet undervalued 2005 release, Bright Ideas, seasoned independent-music veteran Mac McCaughan’s collection of slightly melancholic pop fragments succeeds on many levels. Much of this disc adheres to the “less is more” guideline of 1950’s rock — keep each track under two minutes and make sure it’s immediately catchy. This leaves the listener craving more of Portastatic’s sweet, irresistible melodies, which lends itself to a higher replay value.
McCaughan has become a musical storyteller, creating pieces of music that express themselves rather than relying on their context as part of a film score. Tracks such as “Lively Chase” or the solo-piano beauty of “Snake Music” are the audio equivalent of a leisurely walk by a lake on a lazy summer evening. “Older Summers” ends the disc with a bit of afternoon delight, reprising parts of a melody from Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain LP. The album’s picturesque quality finds it miles ahead of its competition in the film-score world.
The differences between McCaughan’s other band, Superchunk, and the tunes on Who Loves the Sun? aren’t as obvious as you would immediately think; listen to the melody of “Late-Century Dream” from 2001’s Here’s to Shutting Up, which would sit nicely beside “Do You Want to Know?” or its reprise, “Tremolo Chase.”
What Portastatic is able to achieve on Who Loves the Sun? without using vocal melodies is impressive, considering how many instrumental albums fail to maintain our attention. McCaughan’s songwriting has come a long way since his side project’s 1994 debut, I Hope Your Heart Is Not Brittle, and the strength of the most recent two Portastatic releases show that. And, as any great album should, Who Loves the Sun? raises a crucial question: What’s next?
Portastatic Web site (MP3s)
Merge Records Web site (streaming audio)Portastatic’s blog