Joel and Ethan Coen’s taut, sparse cat-and-mouse thriller No Country for Old Men is, in some respects, an odd choice of film to get the live score treatment.
Pockets of dense dialogue decorate an otherwise quiet, spacious story, as Javier Bardem’s chilling psychopath Anton Chigurh silently pursues Josh Brolin’s moody Llewelyn Moss across the deserts of 1980s Texas. While the film was rightly praised upon its 2007 release, many critics specifically lauded its lack of noticeable score.
For Melbourne art-psych prog quartet Tropical Fuck Storm to be enlisted as live accompaniment by seasoned film/band matchmakers Hear My Eyes, the exercise is one of restraint. Judicious use of ambient guitar, bass and electronics, with even more sparing percussion, ensure the band enhances – rather than competes with – the film’s neo-Western aesthetic.
In fact, one criticism – if it can be called one – is that the sound pairings are so perfectly executed you frequently forget the band is even there.
But Gareth Liddiard and his bandmates do not disappear into the background. Coiled like rattlesnakes beneath the screen, they react with exquisite timing to key climaxes, channelling the tense tempo inherent to the Coen brothers’ masterpiece.
They add renewed personality to hallmark scenes, often evoking Dave Porter’s atmospheric work on Breaking Bad and its arid New Mexico landscapes. At one point they even sample a gunshot sound, incorporating it into the music, ratcheting up the tension to heights that Carter Burwell’s original minimalist score could never reach.