This album marks Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's first high-profile soundtrack--and one that's also easily among the most striking offerings of 2007. Music is particularly important for director Paul Thomas Anderson (remember Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love?) and here, his choice of Greenwood is a gamble that more than paid off. The score is extremely string-heavy, and tension (of which there's plenty in the Upton Sinclair-based movie) derives from them instead of the usual percussive Hollywood tropes (indeed, percussions are almost entirely absent from the CD). "Henry Plainview" and "Proven Lands" are part of a larger piece, Popcorn Superhet Receiver, that Greenwood wrote as Composer-in-Residence at the BBC; both cues display the musician's imaginative use of strings, suggestively scary on the first, pounding and creepy on the second. But Greenwood also knows when to bring in a new instrumental voice, as with the Satie-like piano on "Prospectors Arrive." Equally at ease writing for a string quartet and for a larger orchestra, Greenwood has come up with compositions closer to the new-music world that to the vast majority of scores coming out of Tinseltown--something we should be really grateful for. This is a new, exciting direction for film music. --Elisabeth Vincentelli
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Paul Thomas Anderson's fifth film There Will Be Blood is too monumental and odd to not provoke sharply divided opinions but all reviews, from raves to revulsion, agree on two points: Daniel Day Lewis' performance as oilman Daniel Plainview is astonishing, and Jonny Greenwood's score is extraordinary. Lewis dominates the film, appearing in all but one scene, and Greenwood's music is used far more sparingly yet it's no less indelible. From the moment the film fades open to a spare, unrelenting Californian landscape, Greenwood's tense, coiled score mirrors the eerie emotional undercurrent to the film, pulling suppressed feelings to the surface, often with an almost operatic sense of drama. This is grand music, but it's also controlled, unleashing its furious clashes of dissonance with precision. Greenwood has demonstrated such mastery of mood as the guitarist within Radiohead but There Will Be Blood is superficially far removed from that band's restless experiments with electronic music. There are no electric instruments here at all -- this is all orchestral music, created on instruments that were available at the film's setting of the beginning of the 20th century, yet Greenwood doesn't attempt to re-create turn-of the-century mores: he writes music that taps into the rotten heart of Daniel Plainview. This is magnificently unsettling music, whether it's used within the film or heard on its own terms -- either way, it's impossible to forget after it's been heard.
There Will Be Blood OST
The first hint that Jonny Greenwood might make a gifted composer came in 1997, when, bored with the syrupy, provincial strings that dominated the tail-end of Britpop, he channeled Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki for the arrangement on OK Computer's "Climbing Up The Walls". Essentially a wall of quarter notes played against each other, that noisy squall stood out in dramatic opposition to the "Bittersweet Symphony"s of the world. Where the traditional rock approach had always been to use strings to amplify melody and opulence, Greenwood was using them to create discord and ambience; in other words, he was playing orchestras like he played his guitar.
While his interest in what he's since referred to in interviews as a "wrong" string sound manifested in later Radiohead highlights like "How to Disappear Completely" and "Pyramid Song", his compositional talents didn't become readily apparent until his imaginative score for 2003's sweeping documentary Bodysong. A lush mixture of strings, pianos, percussions, electronics, and otherwise unrecognizable textures, Bodysong's sprawling fourteen tracks allowed Greenwood to indulge in a level of experimentation and free-jazz complexity that wouldn't have otherwise fit on a Radiohead record.
Since then, Greenwood's graduation to mainstream film work has been pretty much inevitable, but even still, he'd probably be the first to admit that a Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love) project represents a pretty plum debut. Regardless of how you feel about Anderson as a director, few of his contemporaries manage to weave original music into the fabric of their films quite as devotedly. To score an Anderson project is to have a starring role in it; that this particular film-- a loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair's Oil!-- is set in a desolate California town circa 1920 only makes the task that much bigger.
After his initial contact with Anderson, Greenwood apparently wrote hours and hours of music for the film; in the end, the duo pared the score back to a very tidy 33 minutes, a small portion of which was lifted from Greenwood’s 2005 BBC-commissioned suite Popcorn Superhet Receiver. Nonetheless, this is all new ground for Greenwood. If the fidgety Bodysong was proof that he isn't ever likely to be short of ideas, There Will Be Blood feels tighter, more disciplined, and lonelier than anything he's done before.
Piano, percussion, and Greenwood's beloved Ondes-Martenot all feature, but it's the strings that take center stage here. While Greenwood has always been vocal about the originators and inspirations behind a lot of his techniques (Penderecki, Gorecki, and Messiaen come up often), There Will Be Blood's string arrangements nonetheless sound vanguard and exploratory in the context of Hollywood film scores. From the goosebump-inducing glissandos on opener "Wide Open Spaces" to the spiralling staccatos on "Future Markets" to the creeping dissonance in "Henry Plainview" (there's that "wrong" sound again), Greenwood's alien, experimental sensibilities lurk around each corner.
-Mark Pytlik, January 02, 2008