Music Reviews

Artist: Banabila (@)
Title: Hilarious Expedition
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Tapu Records
Rated: *****
The problem with most soundtrack music is that its intent is only to accompany a movie--the visual component that you don't experience while listening to a CD. Unless it's a movie you've seen a million times because you love it, and hearing the soundtrack serves to enhance it in your memory, you're only getting half the art. To complicate the matter, the music on the new two-disc opus of Netherlands-based artist Michel Banabila, "Hilarious Expedition," was composed for not just one, but a variety of film and theatre productions, using a small army of instrumentalists and vocalists. Pastiches of piano and organ instrumentals, orchestral passages intercut with backward loops, alternately loungey and dramatic instrumental pieces, sped-up tape, abstract sound samplings, street scenes (recorded in Rotterdam, Cracow and Prague), and dialogue presumably from the films or plays themselves, unfortunately do not add up to a cohesive listening experience. How can they?--unless this were a Nonesuch Explorer release entitled, "Sounds of the European Filmmaking Underground." There are simply too many influences for any but the ultimate eclectics to enjoy all the way through.

This is to say, however, that Hilarious Expedition is a very worthwhile listen--there are some great tracks to cherry-pick: "Salar's Dream," on Disc 1 with its sad Gypsy violin; the freaky, computer-voiced "Speech" and "My Brain Is Electric;" and the hushed, subtle menace of "Metals" on Disc 2. Most of the music is not "hilarious" at all, but downright somber and brooding. It is all extremely well-performed and -produced, but you won't find too much that you haven't already heard from Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack and similar fine purveyors of Ambient Groove.

I would only recommend a work of this scope and magnitude (nearly two and a half hour's worth) to serious soundtrack enthusiasts or the aforementioned eclectics to begin with. Those who have enough of the acquired tastes, not to mention the patience, will be rewarded by the gems of strange beauty you will find amid this tangled slag heap. Anyone seeking a cohesive album that makes sense from start to finish will be less than thrilled. If only everybody could appreciate sleeping under a stone bridge outside of Prague in a cold morning drizzle, waking up to an old, crazy street musician making funny farting noises by blowing through the wrong end of a trumpet. I myself definitely do, but I think I'd sooner watch the films first. (With subtitles, of course.)

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