Brian Reitzell - American Gods: Original Television Series Soundtrack

by D R Pautsch Rating:7 Release Date:2017-06-16

A bit of background before we begin.  Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is set in modern day America.  It is based on the premise that Gods who follow their believers are as strong as their followers. Many of the gods from the old world came to America with their pioneers and as modern life has progressed they have been replaced by new gods, ones of Media, Internet and other new technology.  As a premise it sees the two warring factions of Gods build towards a confrontation to assert authority over the new world.  The main character is the recently freed ex-convict Shadow who works alongside the mysterious God who goes by the title of Mr Wednesday, an elder God of the Norse variety.  Normally when looking at a soundtrack it isn’t necessary to go into such detail about the underlying subject material.  However, in this instance it really is very necessary as the music on offer here is of such a wide variety it isn’t easy to understand unless you know what’s going on. Just like the film the music here is almost from two warring factions of music, those with traditional roots and the more modern electronically influenced numbers.

It can be quite jarring to hear a traditionally put together piece like Bilquis Orgy, which borrows heavily from eastern rhythms to depict a God of Egyptian heritage seducing her way to nourishment, alongside a number like Tehran 1979. This is an electronic slice of bliss that sounds like Donna Summer but is actually Debbie Harry and Shirley Manson, honestly it might be the highlight of any summer to hear those two channel a dance hall diva like Summer.  There are but five vocal numbers here on offer and they shine.  That isn’t to say that the instrumental stuff isn’t worthwhile.  The thumping distortion of Gumball has energy and raw grit.  In fact some of the music works better here than in the series itself.  Watching the Vulcan episode the music almost seemed to intrude on proceedings and rather than work as a backdrop it took over some scenes and was a distraction, perhaps it was too strong.  The main vocal performances though are from Mark Lanegan, displaying his sordid, gravel laden vocals to great effect on many of the traditional numbers.  He growls his way through a dirty version of I Put a Spell on You, which starts with a Mariachi band and descends in its middle part into a trumpet and sax solo that is almost jazz-like in its sound.  Shirley Manson pulls out a fun little rendition of Queen of the Board which plays to her fiery, feminist approach exceptionally well.  However, Mark Lanegan fully steals the show back with his slowed down rendition of American historical classic In The Pines.  So the story goes, Lanegan had this on vinyl as a 1940’s version by Leadbelly, he recorded it himself on his solo album and turned the last verse into a screaming, raucous refrain.  However, he played the original for his friend Kurt Cobain and he was so taken by it and Lanegan’s take that he followed a similar route and included it on the Unplugged set Nirvana recorded for MTV.  Renamed, as it sometimes is, to Where Did You Sleep Last Night this is one of Cobain’s most visceral vocal performances and hauntingly reminds us of his loss.  On the version here Lanegan is much more restrained and keeps it low key throughout.

Brian Reitzell is known for soundtracks to Sofia Copella films and the Hannibal TV series.  Here he shows a flair for inserting the traditional and modern together.  Sometimes jarringly and sometimes seamlessly he blends together music that not only has brought out some strong performances from great vocal talents but has delivered a set of instrumentals that stand up on their own very well indeed.

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