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Artwork copyright (c) 2005 Lions Gate Entertainment; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Beautiful low-budget score


Probably the most critically-acclaimed film of the year so far, Crash is an ensemble piece following seemingly different people around in seemingly separate stories, with their connection only revealed at the end (the clue is in the title of the film).  Directed by Paul Haggis, fresh from the acclaim he received for his Million Dollar Baby screenplay, it features an excellent cast, including Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon and Brendan Fraser.  The film's low budget included precisely nothing for the score, but the director was able to persuade Mark Isham to write it anyway (they have a long-standing relationship); the composer returned to his roots by coming up with a synthesised effort.

Isham makes an excellent point in his liner notes for the album: the bigger the budget, the less able the composer usually is to take any risks.  Having no budget at all forced Isham into the synthesised route, which presumably he wouldn't have otherwise taken, but he seems to have been so inspired by this that he put extra effort into coming up with a wonderfully creative and truly beautiful score.  I've been a long-time admirer of the composer's more orchestral and jazz-orientated efforts but have struggled to warm to his electronic music, but this takes little warming to: it is so full of emotion and beauty it doesn't take long to forget the music's modest origins and concentrate instead on its considerable qualities.

That said, things don't begin all that promisingly, with the cooler sounds of the opening cue and then some synth percussion which certainly isn't attractive, but these are simply a darker introduction to the wider piece and from when Isham introduces a solo female voice (uncredited) in "Safe Now", the score doesn't look back.  The effect is simply mesmerising and produces some of the strongest music this composer has ever come up with.  The lengthy "Flames" is so full of passion and drama it is hard to believe it's created by just one man playing a keyboard together with one woman singing, but that's exactly what it is.  "A Really Good Cloak" introduces a new, softly mechanical synth sound and grows to become almost stunningly moving.  What is so very impressive is that Isham doesn't just use synths as a low-budget alternative to the orchestra, he makes ways of using them in imaginative and original ways and doing things he never could have done if he did have the budget to use an orchestra.  It's been a while since I've heard a film score with quite so much passion brimming from every cue.

With no qualification at all apparently being necessary to score $200m movies any more, the best music is being found in smaller films on an increasingly frequent basis.  Crash is an exceptionally moving score from a composer who seems to simply be getting better and better, for whom each new work seems to be very different from those that have gone before yet very impressive.  This score features the kind of attractive synth writing which I haven't heard in a synth score since Angelo Badalamenti's sublime The Straight Story and, while I acknowledge it won't be a score everyone enjoys, I heartily recommend it as being easily among the strongest of the year to date.

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  1. Crash (3:21)
  2. Go Forth, My Son (:57)
  3. Hands in Plain Sight (3:48)
  4. Safe Now (1:03)
  5. No Such Things as Monsters (3:59)
  6. Find My Baby (4:23)
  7. Negligence (2:56)
  8. Flames (7:59)
  9. Siren (4:41)
  10. A Really Good Cloak (3:28)
  11. A Harsh Warning (2:51)
  12. Saint Christopher (1:55)
  13. Sense of Touch (6:44)
  14. In the Deep Bird York (5:55)
  15. Maybe Tomorrow Stereophonics (4:34)