Severed Heads - The Illustrated Family Doctor OST
Wed 2nd Mar, 2005 Music Reviewsin
Well what do you want first? The good news or the bad news? The bad news is that loud sounds, played at extreme dynamic ranges, could lead to infection in the inner ear and cause gangrene, anal seepage, Chlamydia and crab louse! Hey, lighten up there tiger! Things could be a hell of a lot worse! And the good news? This soundtrack is not only beautiful, but chock full of extras including a bonus DVD full of animated videos and additional albums!
Those blessed with long memories or a very deep appreciation of Australia’s electronic music scene will rejoice at seeing some new material from electronic pioneers the Severed Heads (Sev). Obscure largely by personal choice, Sev have been making enchanting music for a very long time. Formed in Sydney’s Darlinghurst in 1979, Sev were the first electronic act to play the Big Day Out and one of the earliest groups to embrace CD-Rom technology as a tool for musical expression. Originally a tape loop and synthesizer tweak outfit, Sev have matured over the years and come a long way from their simple Roland roots.
Some may remember that Sev enjoyed Australian Top 20 success over ten years ago with their synth-pop song Dead Eyes Opened. This catchy tune dealt with a pathologist’s opinion of a dismemberment and the head’s subsequent strange behaviour (watch for the morgue scene in IFD where a mobile phone plays Dead Eyes Opened as a corpse’s eyes are closed.) Sev’s membership has now dwindled down to one, surgeon of sound Tom Ellard, and it’s almost poetic justice that Ellard has been chosen to score an entire movie about strange medical phenomena.
The Illustrated Family Doctor (IFD) is an examination of life, death and the hours spent suffering in corporate purgatory between the two. The protagonist of the movie, Gary Kelp (Samuel Johnson), is haunted by the memory of his father’s recent death and traumatized by the realisation that his organs have been harvested for organ transplants. Kelp is even more shocked when he discovers that he himself is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. A condenser of books, Kelp begins working on The Illustrated Family Doctor, finding to his alarm that he is strangely developing many of the symptoms described in the text. As his world falls apart, Kelp begins to appreciate the fragility and absurdity of life.
While that might sound like a terribly depressing chain of events, warranting only sombre and dark musical accompaniment, the score does its best to inject a bit of brightness and in succeeding, proves itself as a masterpiece of electronic music. From the blissful and understated sonic beginnings to the fascinating conclusion, the songs traverse many ambient environments. The score has been designed to chronicle the development of disease and the process of recovery, musically tracking and exploring the complex nature of illness and health. As you would thus expect, many of the melodies are dark, moody and downright chilling while the recuperative music is soothing and therapeutic. As healing takes place more natural instrumentation is employed and glowing landscapes of warm and peaceful abstraction open up.
The score is haunting, thrilling and subtle, with the listener taken on an engaging ride through a domain of minimalist ambient pleasures. Creative use of real and electronic instrumentation, intricate chord arrangements, subtle shifts in timbre and other ingenious touches all serve to immerse the listener in a world of sonic poetry. Each song is ambitious and harmonious, with complex layers that unfold a little more with each listen.
There are many delicious pieces of music spread across the audio disc. Many of the outstanding songs are the gentle, often ponderous organisms of sound from Kelp’s pre and post disease phases. Some, such as the fluid and understated dulcets of Pour Chiens Moyens, are simply awe-inspiring. The languid Annex version of Chiens is a wonderful piece of rich ambience, as is Mosquito, an intoxicating blend of sonancy and rich tones. The mellow resonance of Starts With K sounds like droplets of digital rain and the divine Moon Pie is a stunningly beautiful wash of aural textures
Not all the songs are placid ambient numbers though. Menacing sinuated tones constitute Snakes Triumphant, while The Big One starts out with a bloodcurdling wall of sound before moving onto a bubbly electronic jaunt. Street Apparitions is a creepy piece of atmospheric and the eldritch Teeth x3 Orthodontist will turn blood to ice with its melancholic tonal chimera’s. The ominously brief Dead Cowboys is a cold descent into fundamentals and is a quite a scary piece of work!
The two vocal songs are equally impressive. Escape is an inspirational piece of instrumental minimalism which features the dusky spoken words of Johnson. Eerie and uplifting, with floaty keys and a cloudy melody, this is one of the nicest pieces of music I have heard in quite awhile. The final track is the charming and delightfully funny snap-pop of Your Kidneys (With Dr. Cherry.) It’s a funk laden piece of medical lingo stupidity that will have the whole family in stitches.
The DVD is where this release starts to really shine above the myriad of other soundtrack releases. The Animated Family Doctor component is truly amazing. On the rare occasions that Sev decide to put on a live show, members of the audience are always treated to a multimedia spectacular. Happily, this release has benefited from that love of visuals. Not only is Ellard an accomplished producer of music, he is also a gifted graphic animator. He and IFD director Kriv Stenders have created a collection of music videos which explore alternate realities of moments from the film. Video’s such as the disturbing Dead Cowboy and Death Actually are offset by the captivating likes of Moon Pie and Ballet Suharto L Dopa. The video accompaniment to Your Kidneys is simply hilarious! Designed to act as digital paintings, the video collection creates an intriguing visual wallpaper that can be viewed or ignored as one wishes. This injects some longevity as the animations can be enjoyed in one sitting or simply when one finds themselves tuning in at different times.
Also included on the DVD are four(!) ambient music albums in the form of The Sevcom Music Server Volumes 1 – 4. These were created between 1997 and 2004 and feature an incredible array of diverse ambient tunes. Some breathtakingly beautiful music appears across these four albums and my pick of the lot is the Controlled Time volume. Four complete albums… not a bad little bonus item! There is also an IFD trailer included for good measure.
It seems Sev have proved that there is life in the old soundtrack album yet! If you like your music with smarts, or you simply enjoyed the movie, snap this release up quick smart and support some of Australia’s finest talents.