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Soundtrack review: Uncertain (Daniel Hart – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Uncertain (Daniel Hart – 2017)

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“Uncertain” is a visually stunning and disarmingly funny portrait of the literal and figurative troubled waters of Uncertain, Texas, a 94-resident town so tucked away “you’ve got to be lost to find it”. Three uncertain men make their own bids for survival looking to find a more certain future. An ex-convict obsessed with Mr. Ed, a gigantic boar he hunts in order to stay on the straight and narrow. A young idealist with big plans but few prospects looking for a bigger life. And an aging fisherman learning to let go of his youthful ways, and making peace with a fateful moment thirty years ago. Daniel Hart wrote the score and I am curious how his usually lyrical style would fit this story.

Of course this being a hidden place in Texas there’s bound to be some good old fashioned Americana in the music and the opening cue “A good place to hide” does just that: welcomes the listener into that place with banjo and harmonica sounds. Once we are in the exploration part starts with some playful music in “A curious town”, a cue where the composer makes some very inventive use of a couple of banjos played differently; there might even be a violin in there actually as I hear a third motif in the background where the bow just makes the strings nervous. With a smart and enjoyable cue like this Daniel Hart already wins me over just a couple of minutes into the score. Ever since Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have turned the sparse Western string sound into an art I’ve been eating up scores that sound like that and cues like “Part of the family” and “Great spirit” just sound perfect to me. “Last train” also feels like it’s something written by Cave and Ellis for “The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford”. It’s not just Americana as “Another night on the lake” combines the poignant piano with that nervous string motif into a mysterious and melancholic theme that I can’t walk away from; it’s like a spiderweb of sound that lures me in and keeps me hypnotised.

If the strings were nervous until now they have enough of the torture and get downright angry in “My greatest enemy” which I am sure pushes them way beyond what they were used to. This opening motif of this cue has the sound of an small, even child’s instrument being played by someone bigger and angrier. The experiments don’t end there as the composer brings in the piano and harmonica to create a fascinating texture. There are strange combinations of sound in this one that make me feel as if I was in the middle of the room filled with odd objects and I don’t know in which corner to look first: the one were the melancholic piano is playing or the one where a bow is mercilessly cutting some strings.

It’s hard to describe the enjoyment I feel when I am listening to a score where the composer just comes up with new ideas and interesting ways to combine sounds and instruments; I knew Daniel Hart was a great composer which is why I chose to review this score blindly but even so I am pleasantly surprised because he just took four or five non traditional (even uncertain) instruments and made an entire score just by playing them and combining them in various ways. I think the piano motifs are the most straightforward ones but even they are usually combined with banjo or violin moments. It’s as if the composer set a challenge for himself to write his themes and then perform and express them musically just by using those instruments he chose at the beginning.

“Uncertain” is one of the most inventive and fascinating Americana scores I’ve heard in years. Daniel Hart got the sound of the story just perfect and made me wish he had written more. Every cue is a a nugget of enjoyment and musical inventiveness and there are moments when I feel the need to be assured that no instruments or strings were harmed during the making of this score. Melancholic and emotional when it needed to and captivating all the time, “Uncertain” is one of the most unusual gems of the year.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence:

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:
A Good Place to Hide
A Curious Town
Part of the Family
Great Spirit
Another Night on the Lake
My Greatest Enemy
Last Train
Creatures Return
The Hog With the Horse’s Head
There Is No Quiet in My Mind
Risky Business
Retired at 21
The Straight and Narrow
Time Will Catch You

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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