Eli August’s Cinematic Love

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In my head, there is a successful marriage of classical music and rock. It’s not the frippery of Emerson, Lake and Plamer’s take on Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” I’m thinking about Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” with a distortion pedal. Some disco and Philly soul come close with their string arrangements. Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings are damn close to getting just what I want on their latest, Cinematic Love.

The troubled troubadour and his dark folk ensemble picked an apt name for the album. The iTunes genre that they select should be “Soundtrack Music.” It’s not that Cinematic Love accompanies explosions or the meet cute scene, or features 1970s AM radio pop hits. The arrangements develop a mood. As with film scores, they borrow from classical tropes and expand on them. I’m reminded of how Joss Whedon wanted Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to feature “cello rock” in part because cello (and double bass?) is all over this album.

It shows musical development on the part of Eli & company. In my previous album review, I wrote, “Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings’ Is This Darkness knows which instruments to use for a song and how to record them for the right effect. In this case, there’s just the right amount of reverb to make a BIG SOUND. It opens up the songs to make them sound like they were shot for a widescreen CinemaScope western.” Cinematic Love begins with the whirring of a movie projector introducing “A Love Song for Philadelphia.” The guitar line sounds like it should have tremolo or reverb, for the Ennio Morricone twanglin’ sound. Instead, it’s dry, which sets up a dynamic of restraint that continues throughout.

The song introduces elements that might make this Eli’s Nick Caviest album. This is not to say they are derivative. I just see some parallels. “A Love Song for Philadelphia” moves along with a rhythmic guitar “*chk*” on the album’s opener “A Love Song for Philadelphia” that reminds me of Cave’s take on “Stagger Lee” from Murder Ballads. However, the melancholy cello dominates. It reminds me of the dynamic that violinist Warren Ellis brought to the Bad Seeds from his instrumental group The Dirty Three.

The album’s epic “Cold War” combines the Caviness and classical instrumentation from the sound in my head. It chugs, churns, surges and settles into contemplation like “John Finn’s Wife” or “Loom of the Land” off of Cave’s Henry’s Dream. It lends itself to a few other comparisons. The inclusion of toy piano sounds like lost innocence. It brings to mind (toy) pianist Eliza Rickman who covered Cave’s “Into My Arms” on her album O, You Sinners. However, the arrangement of it on “Cold War” sounds more like Margaret Leng Tan, a classical musician who specializes in toy piano. The chugging cello figures suggest the locomotive strings in the Kronos Quartet’s performance of Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” movement of “America—Before the War.” I’m going to assume that the Abandoned Buildings’ cellist would have a familiarity with the classical contemporary string quartet. None of these strike me as deliberate references. They’re not trying to be clever. They’re just maturing as a band and incorporating what they have learned. The antecedents like Nick Cave and classical musicians like Tan or the Kronos Quartet may have influenced the direction of the Abandoned Buildings’ arrangements, but they do not prompt copycatting.

Thank you, Eli, for sorting through my music collection and assembling Cinematic Love into my brain’s dream soundtrack. It doesn’t necessarily need to kick out the jams with Superfuzz Bigmuff pedals on the cello.

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Topics: Music

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