Music consistently amplifies mystery and drama in the films of screenwriter/director Jim Jarmusch, perhaps most notably through Neil Young’s epic soundtrack to the impressionistic Western film Dead Man. Jarmusch carries that aura over to his music, particularly in collaboration with lutist Jozef Van Wissem. The Mystery of Heaven, the duo’s second disc of the year, is full of layered string work reminiscent of Young’s sprawling electric guitar dust storms, though colder, leaning further into the past than Young’s old west.
That distance is likely due to Van Wissem, his instrument certainly an odd counterpoint to Jarmusch’s no wave-indebted guitar noise. Van Wissem’s classical ties show most clearly on the album’s title track, the lute repeatedly parsing out a simple theme, waves of feedback-edge electric pushing forward as the theme devolves into dissonance. The bass-heavy riff of opening cut “Etimasia” oozes drama, its measured two-step smoldering into a dream.
Not into lute-noise fusion? Perhaps a spoken word piece read by Tilda Swinton over some blaring feedback would be more up your alley. Considering vaguely immortal lines of “The More She Burns The More Beautifully She Glows”, like “the longer she is dead the more blissfully she lives,” the piece’s burning love story could (hopefully?) be tied to Jarmusch’s upcoming Swinton-starring vampire love story; regardless of filmic tie-ins, it sets a grand scene for surprisingly hopeful lute parts sitting in the midst of incandescent guitar noise.
This dramatic route is one that requires expansive, slow-developing push and pull to work, and the 33 minutes of The Mystery of Heaven feels too compressed to soar. Swinton’s story only covers two minutes of the song’s 11. The entrancing “Etimasia”, despite a brief reprise to end the album, could easily spread from its three-minute incarnation here. An expanded look at this duo’s heady, cinematic interplay likely would make for even stronger results.
Essential Tracks: “Etimasia”, “The Mystery of Heaven”