Upon pushing play on the stereo, I was ushered into a dream world of meandering instruments, layered noise, and alternating backward and forward speaking. The Soundtrack to Bardo Hotel by Tuxedomoon is much more than just a simple soundtrack of sickly “inspired” selections, this is art. The introduction written on page one of the CD booklet states this album was spontaneously created during the movie proper, with the added note of being kept in measure, so they’ll both synch up perfectly.
It is essential to note that after the introduction, the booklet becomes a stream of consciousness monologue discussing what the Bardo Hotel is to the band. Everything from a second home to a place of surreal reality, the Bardo Hotel is painted as a nexus of creativity. When setting down to listen I discovered this notion to be correct. Built upon a free flowing structure, the monologue helps to clarify the songs in a sense, giving them a shadow-structure as it were. The desired effect is to have the listener feel as if he is walking through the hotel, in through the front door, all the way to the last one on the top floor.
But of course, the main question is “what does it sound like?” It’s difficult to put into words but the best I can muster is a demented jazz/ambience. Heavily prevalent throughout the album is a piano & saxophone combination played in major keys, wandering through a song, almost like they represented characters in the film. An effect that appears a lot is warping of notes or the track tape in general, this upsets the beat slightly, keeping the listener on their feet. Along with warping is the use of overdubbed dialogue from either the movie or recording sessions. These snippets mainly serve as tone-setters, either lighting or darkening the upcoming track.
Halfway through the album though, a musical twist occurs out of left field. All of a sudden, the album takes on a decidedly eastern musical feel, incorporating a variety of instruments previously unheard, along with a full choir accenting vocal notes. From there on out it returns to a minimalist approach, continuing the surrealist feel, while winding down to a warm close.
Fans of the film Bardo Hotel and listeners of post-rock will take to this album easily. The only distracting problem is its occasional jaunt into free form structure it enlists. Often it feels like a song or melody has no direction, and is merely out in space somewhere. But even the occasional meandering fails to keep this from being a solid release overall.
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