Latest reviews of new albums:
Travelogue Volume 1
  • Composed by Michael Giacchino
  • Death Waltz / 55m

Since he first burst on to the scene over two decades ago, Michael Giacchino has rarely been anything less than very busy – first video games, then television, then films have kept him pretty much continually occupied. Then, along came 2020, and like many other people he found he had some time on his hands – and so he decided to use it to write more music – but this time not for anyone else, just for him.

Thus, we have the concept album Travelogue Volume 1. When composers of primarily orchestral film music go off and do their own thing, it’s usually conventional classical music, or albums of music not dissimilar from what they’re used to writing. Not Giacchino – he’s gone off and crafted an album of “exotica”, essentially lounge music in the style of the 1950s and 60s, presented as a storytelling album with narration spoken by actor Janina Gavankar, playing an alien who leaves her home planet full of anger and hatred only to arrive on Earth and find… well, you can guess.

Michael Giacchino

Musically, it’s interesting just how far this is from what you typically hear from Giacchino. When the press release says it’s like albums by Arthur Lyman, Martin Denny and Les Baxter mixed with a bit of the feel of William Shatner’s captain’s logs from the original Star Trek series, it is not joking. This is Giacchino’s take on lounge music, performed by “his Nouvelle Modernica Orchestra” – jazzy interludes, spectral strings, a wordless soprano (Shannon Jennings) – really the only thing that betrays it as being a product of 2020 rather than 1960 is the modern-sounding percussion.

While the story told by the narration goes to some dark places, the music remains generally warm and welcoming. There are bookend tracks (it opens with the famous “Hello from the children of planet earth” recorded by Carl Sagan’s son Nick in 1977 when he was six – and concludes with the same Nick saying the same words in 2020) wrapping around nine different vignettes each called “Sidereal” suffixed with the day of the narrator’s journey. These generally follow the same pattern – opening narration over a musical holding pattern, perhaps a few samples and sound effects and then the tune kicks off, gets developed and explored, reaches its conclusion and the pattern repeats.

It was all recorded during the pandemic – the strings the only thing recorded in the same room as each other (in Australia I believe), everything else recorded by various people Giacchino has worked with extensively through his career. He said himself that this made him nervous – he loves the energy of everyone being in the same room – as it turns out there was nothing to worry about because you’d never guess it was done as it was. It all sounds wonderfully organic and natural.

Commenting too much on individual tracks would be a futile exercise, not just because they’re fairly similar (the melodies change of course, but everything is closely-related) but also because there’s no real change in quality at any point – it’s all so consistent. It’s a very distinctive sound, with elements of orchestral music, pop, jazz, lounge of course – blended into something that is somehow quintessentially Michael Giacchino even though it sounds nothing like his film music.

The story goes from hope to despair to renewed hope, and the music obviously follows, albeit in a fairly subtle way. There is a bit more dramatic impetus perhaps in the middle sections, the prominence of electronic elements in the sound palette rises and falls somewhat. It’s interesting how the sound of the soprano somehow has an edge to it by the time we get to Day 15, thanks not to what she’s doing but what everything else in the sound palette is doing.

I hope the album’s successful – the market for 1950s cosmic lounge music must be even smaller than the market for orchestral film music, so the hope is that this would somehow stimulate a fresh interest in this sort of thing. It feels like a good record for our times – with all the awful things all around us, listening to a chorus of voices chanting “Everything is going to be OK” (as happens in Day 39) is wonderfully soothing. It’s a fantastically entertaining album, it really is – roll on Volume 2!

Rating: **** | |

Tags: ,

  1. It‘s quiet in here! Why not leave a response?