Josh Tillman‘s newest contribution to Sub Pop won’t escape more comparisons to co-signees Fleet Foxes. Arpeggiated guitars and folksy flutes tinge the brief, understated score for his wife’s short film “The History of Caves,” recalling his work with the Seattle outfit as a percussionist.
Still, in its less than quarter of an hour, the soundtrack manages to excavate a number of interesting, surprisingly dark musical ideas both overlapping and, at times, decidedly distinct from Tillman’s most recent solo project as Father John Misty. Compositionally, it clashes with Fear Fun’s penchant for more traditional song structures, coming across in one- to two-minute spurts of reflective, sometimes eerie guitar pieces accompanied by visceral aural cues. The touches of bubbling synths and distorted samples give different levels of emotion to what might otherwise be mistaken for sketchlike meanderings.
That’s not to say that these sonic experiments give the pieces the predictability usually associated with soundtracks and their many cliches. A few tracks especially break the mold of Tillman’s Misty catalog. “Dial Tone” creates tension by warping a blurry, plucking melody through filters. It elicits a suspense that feels opaque but only slightly, tangentially sad, like trying to see rain through distorted drops on a window pane. “Of Course I Live With Them” is similarly mysterious, building up with homemade percussion and evoking memories of years past with its haunting soundscape.
The results are deeply unsettling but unmistakably alluring. Even without the visual context necessary to fully understand each track’s purpose in the set, the pieces come together meaningfully. Tillman is able to construct an aural aesthetic that permeates and shapes the mood of the score. The Bon Iver-esque closer, “Titles Theme For Boy Voices,” simmers with pretty choir harmonies, the only vocal appearance in the whole of the soundtrack. The choice to limit vocals to an unintelligible accompaniment in the track isn’t in line with Tillman’s usual tendencies but will no doubt expand listeners’ expectations for future projects.
Although its length limits its potential for a more compelling emotional journey, “The History of Caves” soundtrack is perhaps a hint of things to come from Father John Misty’s next exploit. One can only hope that Tillman will feel driven to integrate the more abstract sounds of this collection into his next release.
Contact Damian Ortellado at [email protected].