The HBO adaptation of ‘American Gods’, based on Neil Gaiman’s sprawling and epic novel about a world in which the old gods battle against the new gods within a world in which belief has turned to myth is a brave and ambitious show that betrays a myriad of influences. With a neon-tinged aesthetic, that harks back to the 80s, the show is both an exercise in nostalgia as well as being a thoroughly modern slice of epic television
Brian Reitzell’s music also provides a reflection of the 80s with shades of Vangelis, Angelo Badalamenti and John Carpenter all evident in a heady brew of synthesizers and electronica. As with any television show, the ‘Main Titles’ set the tone for proceedings with an arresting and driving piece of music. Rasping saxophones, a relentless drumbeat and an ethereal backing singer create a mood that is both ominous and slightly disconcerting. The idea of the faintly off-kilter keeps appearing throughout. ‘Shopping’ is a minimalist electronic piece that includes snatches of canned audience laughter which hang in the air, laughing at no-one in particular. ‘Wednesday Heals Shadow’ has snatches of freeform jazz, trumpets squealing in the air to a discordant drumbeat. These moments are very reminiscent of Badalamenti’s work with David Lynch, managing to have a rhythmic beauty despite the unease created by their occasional discordance.
There are also tracks with hints of blues and gospel, such as ‘Essie Accused’ and ‘Out Of Time’ which are wonderfully conceived tracks of gothic import with a large dollop of American folk. This is extended to some of the vocal tracks smattered throughout. Mark Lanegan, the American singer whose voice is a dead ringer for that of Tom Waits, gravels his way through the traditional folk songs ‘St. James Infirmary Blues’ and ‘In The Pines’, also made famous by Nirvana in 1993, who sang a reinterpreted version entitled ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’, another mark of the cultural nostalgia running through both the show and Reitzell’s score). Lanegan also covers Jay Hawkins ‘I Put A Spell On You’, also covered by Marilyn Manson on the score to Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’.
Debbie Harry turns up to sing new composition ‘Tehran 1979’, whose synthesiser heavy tune and breathless yet minimalistic lyrics are perhaps one of the most obvious 80s’ influenced pieces on the entire score. Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson goes back a decade earlier as ‘Queen Of The Bored’ has a poppy and glam rock feel from the 70s.
Reitzell’s score to ‘American Gods’ hits the crucial mark of being both an important element of the TV show but also works as an entity in its own right. Fans of electronica and experimental music will find much of those a fruitful listen as it alternates between ambient wooziness and moments and jazz and blues. But it’s referencing of numerous moments of musical history is also a reflection of the show’s motif of the fight between mythology and the new modes of culture that are all pervasive.
(pub: Milan Records. 1 CD 71 minutes 20 tracks. Price: £12.53 (UK). ASIN: B071ZMDPNP)
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