Jim O’Rourke: Hands That Bind: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Drag City)

Set of spooky ambient atmospherics will do a good job of freaking you out...if that's what you want

Released Jul 28th, 2023 via Drag City / By Ben Wood
Jim O’Rourke: Hands That Bind: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Drag City) It could be argued that there are two main types of film soundtracks. Some (like Pulp Fiction's joyous retro eclecticism or the moody guitar ambience of Ry Cooder's Paris, Texas) work wonderfully as standalone albums. Others, such as alt.indie icon, ex-Sonic Youth member and superproducer Jim O'Rourke's work for Kyle Armstrong’s 'prairie Gothic' horror flick, may fit well with the images they accompany but fall somewhat flat on their own.

This relatively slight (eight tracks, 38 minutes) collection is a coherent set of diffuse, drifty atmospheres, evoking the wide-open space of the Canadian prairies and an unnerving sense of impending doom. Nothing much is happening but something very bad is approaching, just out of our eyeline.

Opener Go Spend Some Time With Your Kids sets the tone. Unnerving dissonance gathers and swells like stormclouds. Meanwhile, occasional moody upright bass hints at the recurrent 'ambient jazz in space' vibe that provides the record's most appealing moments (A Man's Mind Will Play Tricks On Him is most anchored in this sound, and the album's highpoint).

As with the art of 90s wunderkind Damien Hirst (remember him?!), the titles are generally more memorable than the pieces they describe. The plain-speaking poetics of That's Not How The World Works, The Good Lord Doesn't Need More Paperwork and others would fit perfectly into a Coen Brothers Western (high praise indeed).

The tracks definitely hang together as a whole: indeed it is often hard to tell where one ends and another begins. But when would you play this 'uneasy listening'? Unless you like to be spooked out, it is a bit too freaky to work as background music - compared to the tranquil spaciousness of a Brian Eno ambient album, for instance. And there isn't enough going on melodically for it to hold your attention in the foreground.

One has the feeling that this music would be highly effective in the context of the film, evoking creeping dread with disturbing ease. But for this listener, it would be more effective, and easier on the ears, with a broader musical range and some more melody to wrap the ears round. 3/5