Dec 27, 2009

FACTOTUM music composed by Kristin Asbjørnsen

"If you're going to try, go all the way", quoting late American author, Charles Bukowski's own words from his 1975 novel, Factotum. Some wise words from, what Time Magazine called a "laureate of American lowlife." Strangely enough, written on Bukowski's tombstone are the words: "Don't Try".
Flash forward thirty years and Bukowski's semi-autobiographical novel is transformed into a film. Facotum was directed and co-scripted by Norweigan film-maker, Bent Hamer, known for his quirky, feel-good comedy, Kitchen Stories. Crash's Matt Dillon portrays the novel's anti-hero, Henry Chinaski, who appears in many of Bukowski's other literary works. While Six Feet Under's Lili Taylor and My Cousin Vinny's Marisa Tomei show up as the women who invade Chinaski's upside down and alcoholic world.
Hamer brought in Norwegian singer/composer, Kristin Asbjørnsen as the film's primary composer. Known mostly for her solowork and double-timing duties with two other music projects, Dadafon and Krøyt, Factotum would be Asbjørnsen's first venture into the film music world.
It seems Asbjørnsen approached the music as if she were writing for the novel and not the film, as the novel takes place in the 1940's and the movie is set in the present day. This choice doesn't really affect the narrative though, as her jazz-infused waltz's sit perfectly with the story and the pictures onscreen.
Opening the album is the imagery induced, moody jazz number, "On The Bus". With it's dream-like vibraphones taking center stage, the reverberating brass section and the sleepy bass lines, you might almost feel as if you're drinking alone in a dark, smokey Los Angeles bar during the Golden Age of Cinema. It's short but it's the perfect way to open this somber little album.
"Reunion" establishes the main recurring theme throughout the score. A plucky piano leads into a drunken waltz like rythym, complimented with a lead jazz piano hopping around in the foreground and Asbjørnsen's own wordless vocals mixed into the background.
"I Wish To Weep" continues the drunken waltz theme, only now Asbjørnsen's using her lead band, Dadofan, to play and she's added in lyrics, cleverly lifted from Bukowski's own poems, as she will continue to do so with the rest of the film's original songs. It's almost as if Tom Waits crooked style has leaked into this song with startling elegance.
"Farewell" & " Slow Day" both introduce a new theme of depression and loneliness into the sound of the score. For "Slow Day", Asbjørnsen once again calls upon Dadofan's help to create what appears to be the album and film's centerpiece. Here, Asbjørnsen's vocals are so damned sultry and gravelly, it makes me wish that she'd get picked to perform a James Bond song or any song that drips with that sexy espionage sound. The girl's got the right voice for it.
Strutting in like the coolest cat in the bar, "Pickles" picks the mood up a bit. An electric guitar, which appears to be recorded directly from the amp increases the old fashioned 'cool' sound like nobody's business. A welcome little ditty indeed.
Things get a little weird, in a psychedelic style, with "Still Awake". Haunting your ears with multiple vocal tracks layered upon eachother and a spacey slide guitar, this track might take the casual listener a little off guard....but if you're listening to a soundtrack album from a Norweigan produced film based off a Charles Bukowski novel, you're probably not the "casual listener".
"Dreamland II" is an avant-garde song performed by Asbjørnsen's other music act, Krøyt. With more of an electronic tone, rather than the organic feel the album's portrayed so far, I find "Dreamland" is somewhat out of place. I like the song, I just don't feel it really belongs here.
Using the "Farewell/Slow Day" theme, "Beside You" reworks a very interesting ambience into the track that makes me wish Asbjørnsen could have explored this version of the theme for a little more than the minus two minutes we get here.
"Drunk Driving" uses the "Farewell" theme again, only this time it transforms it into a bluesy number. What starts out as a great track, "Drunk Driving" it unfortunally loses it's way by throwing some quirkiness into the mix, which usually I'm all for, but it would have been nice to hear a straight up blues cue.
Making it almost a trilogy, Asbjørnsen once again makes use of the "Farewell" theme one after another. This time she speeds up the tempo of the "Farewell" and adds in somewhat of a Latin flavor to the sound. In writing, it sounds like a bad idea and might stick out like a sore thumb, but it's quite the opposite, as it's refreshing and a bit of a wake me up, when the album, just over thirty minutes in, was in danger of becoming too repetitive.
Some overlapped acapella vocals lead us into "If You're Going To Try". It's a great little track using Asbjørnsen's voicework very nicely over a simple guitar and bass line with some drunken drum playing to boot.
Closing the album is Dadafon reprising the simply titled "Slow Day II". It begins with a spacey introduction, almost channeling early Pink Floyd and eventually leads into an exact replica of the first "Slow Day" performance. I don't mind reprise songs repeating the original, but I believe if they had trimmed off about a minute and a half of the song, it would have been a perfect way to end the album. Sadly in this case it just starts to drag and can't wait to end.
In the end, Kristin Asbjørnsen's first step into the film score business proves to be quite a pleasant listen. However I do feel the album presentation could have been a little shorter by about ten minutes or so. The themes begin to repeat themselves a little too much at times without changing the tempo or style and it begins to really slow down the pace of the album. No big deal though, as it's easily fixed with an iPod or a simple tracks edit on CD-R.
I hope we hear more of Kristin Asbjørnsen's work on film, as she seems to have quite a talent for subtlety and at the same time, paints some very clear imagery with her music. This album will without a doubt receive several more plays on my disc player.

* * * out of 5


Anonymous said...

Interesting review, and informative. I didn't know about Dadofan. I agree with most of what you say, although I think I found it a bit more repetitive than you did.

cuckoo77 said...

I did find it repetitive in many spots and chose to not mention the tracks that were almost exact replicates of past tracks.
like i said, the album could have used a good 10 minutes shaved off to prevent the repetitiveness of it all from becoming stale.