A diverse collection of twists and turns through rock balladry, synthesizer soundscapes and ghostly choral music.
Remakes are a daunting prospect. Balancing respect for the original with personal touch and novelty is tough, and Luca Guadagnino has given himself the challenge of updating Dario Argento’s colorful classic, Suspiria. Even greater is the task for Thom Yorke in crafting a score that lives up to Goblin’s original, a landmark of both film music and progressive rock. Just from the trailers, it’s clear that Guadagnino is making a darker, more emotive film than Argento, and Yorke has used his music to further that feeling. Suspiria—the score—is a marvel of a work, a diverse collection of twists and turns through rock balladry, synthesizer soundscapes and ghostly choral music.
Both due to its length and Yorke’s careful treatment of motifs, his score plays out like a film itself. It runs 25 tracks and 80 minutes, and hearing the quarter-note melody from “Belongings Thrown in a River” shift and alter over the runtime is like watching a character morph across a narrative. At times it’s menacing and at times endearing. When the melody is presented at the end of the album in “The Room of Compartments,” warped and deconstructed, the score has taken the listener down so many different paths and through so many different doorways that it feels like the remnant of a now-lost past.
There are plenty of moments that would feel like standard movie scoring fare—minute-long tracks of metallic scrapes, the deep and dissonant noise on “The Inevitable Pull”—but they feel more like fully formed interludes than tossed-off background sounds. Each track evokes a distinct sound world, like the squelching electronics of “A Light Green” or the campy 5/8 bounce of “Volk.” Without images, the context is left vacant, but there’s enough musical information to suggest the demonic, frightening counterparts to these sounds.
These atmospheric paintings, however individually successful, serve as throughways to the more song-based entries. “Suspirium” and its late-album reprise are gorgeous, winding piano ballads topped with Yorke’s delicate croon. He describes himself walking around soldiers, witches and fascists on “Has Ended,” a track who’s buzzing soundscape and mechanized funk could easily pass for a Radiohead outtake. “Volk” evolves into a propulsive rock track, offering an alarming sense of energy amid the dour ambience.
The single most affective moment on the soundtrack comes buried at the end of the first disc, the lilting “Unmade.” Yorke lets a dissonant clanging of bells hang in the barely-there background while his 3/4 piano melody guides him through the track. Subtle touches like a women’s choir or synthetic brass add a grandiose quality, but never so much that it doesn’t feel totally intimate, especially as Yorke intones “Come under my wings/ Little bird.” The lyric is equal parts loving protection and dangerous manipulation, and Yorke places his emotional register in an ambiguous state to match. Which side of this important dichotomy the character he’s portraying is on is never explicitly stated, making the question all the more unnerving.
The second disc features some of the longest tracks, including the darker rendition of “Suspirium” and the 14-minute “A Choir of One.” The latter is entirely atmospheric, pitting vocal samples and warm synthesizers against each other for a track that transcends the film score medium. It truly feels like its own universe, and the ever-shifting harmonies and layers of sound create a sense of unimpeachable disease. This is especially true as the dissonance turns grating towards the track’s close, and the nasally vocals feel particularly aggressive here.
As far as soundtracks go, Yorke has excelled. He avoids the common pitfalls of generic, placid post-minimalism in favor of a tactile set of music that easily moves between styles and genres. How Guadagnino will make his picture shine alongside Yorke’s music is yet to be publicly seen, but any film backed by sounds this carefully executed is bound to be something noteworthy.