Boomkat Product Review:
Alex Zhang Hungtai joins forces with Essaie Pas' Pierre Guerineau on a gorgeous, spirited soundtrack to Christopher Makoto Yogi's Hawaiian ghost story 'I Was a Simple Man'. Made up of Taiwanese Buddhist ritual recordings, minimalist piano, strobe drones and spine-tingling orchestral material, it's a singular soundtrack that effortlessly connects dots between Harold Budd, Miles Davis, Lynch and Chris Watson.
To accompany Yogi's surreal, dreamlike film, Zhang and Guerineau opted to skate through different cinematic conventions on a 13-part suite that never quite settles into one mode entirely, instead floating between quietly soaring and more insular soundscapes. It's a process that sees the duo draw on a considerable, combined repository of experimental production and emotional intelligence to reflect the film’s themes of mythology, dream logic and surrealism and - remarkably - manages to hang together as a standalone album in the process.
'Let It In’ sets the scene with a quietly orchestral strings x Gamelan movement, before the duo render monochromatic solo piano situated somewhere between the sustained minimalism of Morton Feldman and Harold Budd's dreamy emotionality. This interplay between abstraction and relative formalism is at the heart of the record, and while the duo's experimental instincts refuse to stick to a particular script - sweeping up ideas from basement noise, industrial, dark ambient and beyond - these two guiding poles remain.
While 'Eternal Return’ riffs on Miles Davis’ ‘Flamenco Sketches’, it sharply contrasts with 'The Hollow Tree’s', blood-curdling synth drone, or 'On The Run's horror signatures, piping white noise and feedback through a tremolo effect to create a spirit-rousing EMP-style chug. The same technique is revisited on the more substantial 'Sprit Calling', balanced with bowed metal and woodwind blasts - a sound that’s situated between ‘Eraserhead’ and an Aaron Dilloway tape. But Zhang and Guerineau always pull it back down to earth - 'There Was Once A Time When You Could See' is the album's most peaceful piano piece, providing a calmness that's struck through with fear. Fans of Zhang's phenomenal 2018 album 'Divine Weight’ or his “Love Theme” recordings will be pleased to know there's even some disembodied sax, on the stunning, pitch-black 'Eclipse’.
'I Was A Simple Man' is quite the achievement - a contemporary movie score that plays like a standalone piece. It’s neither overwrought nor dispassionate - leaving us struck, once again, by Zhang’s curious touch. We’ve always connected with the musical language he speaks; managing to evoke a world of emotional complexity through his most abstracted, as well as his simplest recordings. This one here, together with Pierre Guerineau, is one of his best.