Throwing the words "music" and "movie" in the title of his new album was nice of John Erik Kaada, though completely unnecessary. You don't have to be John Williams to realize that the Norwegian musician has created an album suited to farewells at rain-soaked train platforms, afternoons spent lingering over photos of deceased relatives, and other scenes best captured in tasteful slo-mo. On the opener, "Smiger," voices emulate the creaking vibrato of strings to such a degree that they're effectively lost within the pleading cello. The guise is so convincing that when the singers occasionally peek through, their humanness is unsettling. Vocals are used almost exclusively as nonverbal instruments, although "Mainstreaming" squeezes in some ninth-century Muslim scripture.
Kaada works well with the archaic, having recorded Moviebikers with the help of more than 20 musicians playing unusual antique-shop finds (tannerin, dulcitone, psaltery), in addition to more traditional strings and percussion. As a result, the songs have a certain timelessness, sounding at one moment as if they could score a Capra film, the next like a hit soundtrack from something at this year's Sundance. (Musical saw never really falls out of style, does it?) But for all its delicate elegance, this incidental music ultimately feels just that—incidental. Without a storyline to escort it, the album starts to drag long before you reach the 13th (and final) track. Kaada excels at setting a wistful mood but provides no plot development. If this is a test of my cinematic imagination, I think I just failed.
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