Original Music by: Daniel Hart
Despite critical accolades and a handful of festival wins, David Lowery’s low-budget 2013 drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was all but ignored by audiences in its limited theatrical release. Those of us who sought the film out in theaters were treated to a brooding, esoteric anti-western steeped in cinematic language … not to mention show-stopping performances from leads Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Needless to say, fans of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints were elated last year when Lowery announced he was getting the band back together for a similarly ambitious project called A Ghost Story.
The wait for that film ends this week, when Lowery & Co. release A Ghost Story on the masses. The film stars Mara and Affleck as a young couple forced to explore the themes of love, the afterlife and legacy in the wake of an untimely tragedy. In case you haven’t seen the trailer, one of them spends much of the film wandering the landscape in a bed sheet with holes cut out for eyes. By the looks of it, A Ghost Story will be a deeply intimate, meditative affair. It’s the sort of story where music plays an integral part in its overall impact. Lowery’s frequent musical collaborator Daniel Hart was tasked with crafting music that could enhance the film’s complex emotional landscape without overpowering it. Hart responded with a collection of songs as haunting and as vivid as the film itself.
It should come as no surprise that those songs err often on the side of melancholy. Hart opens his score for A Ghost Story with the mournful, melodic ‘Whatever Hour You Woke’. The track begins in dramatic fashion with high-pitched strings breaking swiftly in and out of silence, but Hart quickly draws in the drama and unfurls an orchestra of hushed strings bowed somewhere between pensive and romantic. ‘Whatever Hour You Woke’ is sad and sweet and drenched in a sense of mystery. It grabs you from its first note. And it gracefully sets the tone for the cosmic drama to follow.
‘Little Notes’ is the first of 11 tracks that follow. It opens with nearly 10 seconds of silence before a wave of strings and synthesizer roar through the quiet. Hart builds on those layers with the stark, somber sounds of a lone violin surrounded by gently plucked strings and just a hint of a piano in the background. Once his layers are in place, Hart lets them ramble for nearly five minutes before they swirl off, back into the silence from which they sprang. ‘Little Notes’ is one of the loveliest compositions you’re likely to hear all year. It’s the sort of song that can change the texture of a film, and if A Ghost Story is lucky, ‘Little Notes’ will be the song that guides it where it needs to go.
And if ‘Little Notes’ follow up is any indication, A Ghost Story is going to go dark for a while. ‘One Door Closes’ is a bleaker number than its predecessors. One that’s built around sparse instrumentation almost absorbed by the silence around it. Its opening moments sound like a full blown horror piece. But it swells to an eerie, washy crescendo before finding more hushed strings swirling over a gently rumbling drum beat that seems to echo in from outer space. That spacey vibe flows through ‘Post Pie’ and manages to fill its hopeless reverie with a palpable sense of wonder … a feeling Hart undercuts immediately in the scarred, emotional expanses of ‘Gentleman Caller’.
If the first five songs on Hart’s A Ghost Story score sound intense, that’s because they are. Don’t worry, the composer lightens that tone with a track from his band Dark Rooms. Sure, ‘I Get Overwhelmed’ is still a sad song, but it’s driven by beats and synthesizers and guitars and strings. It’s got devastating vocal track, and it’s welcome respite from the maudlin numbers that preceded it. From there, well, it’s back to business with more sad strings, more sobering tones and more melancholy – even in more hopeful moments like the killer album closer ‘Safe Safe Safe’ – than you can shake a bed sheet at. Yes, that’s a good thing. The 12 songs that comprise Hart’s A Ghost Story may err on the sad side, but there’s an unmistakable, ethereal grace in that. And if I were to sum them up in a single word, it would be graceful. Here’s hoping the rest of the film follows suit.
A Ghost Story hits theaters today. It’s certain to be one of the more emotional films of the summer. It’s likely to go down as one of the year’s best too, so make sure you check it out. Same goes for Daniel Hart’s original score. The fine folks over at Milan Records are releasing it via digital format and CD same day as the film (still today!!) with a vinyl release coming July 14th. Just FYI – that vinyl release will come on white, 180-gram vinyl. And the outer sleeve even glows in the dark. Sweet.