Raw Album Review
Written by Richie Corelli
Released by Death Waltz Recording Company
Composed by Jim Williams
2016, 48 minutes
Released on March 6th, 2017
At its core, Raw is a horror movie. It's a bloody film about murder and cannibalism. But the movie works on multiple levels. Moving beyond gore and taboo, Raw is a family drama that deals with the cantankerous yet loving relationship between two sisters. Deeper still, Raw is a coming-of-age story about a person moving from adolescence to adulthood. The movie is layered, intricate.
The complexity of the movie is mirrored by a complex score. Composer Jim Williams shifts styles throughout the work, employing different approaches to work alongside different scenes. And yet, despite this variety, the score for Raw is tight and cohesive. Williams' timing of movements, pacing of reprisals, and choice of instrumentation enables the music to travel in different directions while still keeping to a focused aesthetic.
The second track, "Alexia Crash", introduces one of Raw's signature styles; a combination of traditional horror strings with light, acoustic guitar. The bowed strings slide in first. They shudder and crescendo until they give way to the sounds of the guitar. It's an unexpected climax, the way the weight of the first part ascends to the light delicacy of the second. The melody of that guitar, airy and folky, becomes one of the main themes of this work.
Another folk guitar hits a few tracks later. "Child Music 2: Wonderment", is more traditional with the way it unwinds, but it's just as effective. Here, instead of one playing after the other, a plucked guitar melody is underlined by the menace of dour strings. It's a sound that is pleasant yet vaguely threatening. It's the slight chill of a breeze that blows through a sunlit afternoon, warning of a distant and oncoming storm. That sound is what permeates most of the first side of the first LP.
And then there's side two.
At first, the b-side sounds similar to the a-side. Then the second song comes in, a track titled "Cheveux". It's a little louder and a little tougher. Industrial-tinged, militaristic tribal drums hit. They don't blast through so much as roll in. Williams is careful not to overdo it. His tonal shifts are intentionally subtle. And after this track, he swings back to more droning strings and more acoustic guitars.
It's not until "Finger Scene" where things really start to change. The track begins with the guitar melody that has, by now, become comforting to the listener. Only this time, the airy atmosphere is quickly engulfed by thick and weighty keyboards. Muddy, distorted guitar thumps along. A lethargic bassline pulls the listener down. The melody reprises earlier tunes, only here it hits with more force. It signals a shift to the work, a movement to something much darker.
This, of course, coincides with a dramatic shift in the film. The two are symbiotic. That Williams allowed almost 19 minutes to get to this – arguably the crux of his score – is a demonstration of his skill as a composer. The movie shows patience with its script and the score shows equal patience with its songwriting. Both pay off.
From Finger Scene onward, the score is a little heavier, a little harder. Pipe organ sounds play grand, Baroque waltzes. Heavy blankets of synth ripple forward on a mid-tempo waves. Inky black melodies stack atop one another. Metallic rustling coils through the music. Violins and cellos build and drop. The entire world has gone dark. But those lighter moments from the first side still reprise every now and again. The acoustic guitar continues to push its way through.
The score for Raw isn't about a particular instrument or a particular song or a particular moment. It's more about about the sum of its parts. The drones make the melodies stand out. The lightness of the acoustic guitar makes the synths feel heavier. The spacious lulls make the more compact moments feel tighter, more claustrophobic. The differentiating sounds create a tension in the music. It's similar to the tension in the movie. Garance Marillier's character in the film, Justine, struggles with an inner turmoil as she suppresses her carnivorous appetitive. It's a nervous anxiety, and it's something that Williams' score, with its nuanced and fluctuating tone, captures perfectly.
Death Waltz, partnering with Focus Pictures & Back Lot Music, put together a nice package with this one. The sound quality and production is solid. The mixing sounds great. The acoustic strings are crisp, the low keyboards deep and full.
The music is split onto two LPs, cheekily labeled Dish 1 and Dish 2. The center labels appear bloodstained. The physical vinyl are dirty looking records; burnt sienna, smeared and repugnant. Held to a light source, its murky imperfections make it look like the color of congealed blood.
The cover piece by artist Candice Tripp is a painting of two figures intertwined in a circle. Their bodies are stretched and pulling apart. There is a sensuality to this. The figures swim and flow. The brushstrokes do too. There is a gracefulness to it. And yet there is also a grotesqueness. These bodies, disassembled, represent torn flesh. It's an image of humans as meat. The inner gatefold painting of a dead horse, hanging upside-down, captures the same feel. It too has that same sort of ugly beauty. The artwork from the record does not directly tie to the film. It takes a different approach, uses a different color pallet, and offers a completely different feel. But there are conceptual similarities between the two.
Overall, fans of the movie are likely to enjoy this record. Those who haven't seen the movie may like it as well, especially if they are the type who like to get lost in sound. This is not an album to play for one or two tracks. It's something to put on, sit back and enjoy in its entirety. Raw isn't a snack. It's a meal.