As 2007 drew to a close, I came to realize some superficial similarities and stark differences in my favorite album and movie of the year.
Band of Horses’ sophomore release for Sub Pop Cease to Begin opens with Is There a Ghost and closes with Window Blues–as disparate as two songs on the album could be–and in between are the peaks and valleys of a band growing increasingly more confident. Ben Bridwell’s vocals, while still haunting, aren’t nearly as awash in reverb as they were on Everything All the Time and the guitars are prominent and clean, creating what truly feels like an epic record, in spite of its 35 minutes.
No Country for Old Men continues the Coen Brothers’ facility for crafting precise film-length set pieces. Essentially a monster movie wherein the monster is a hit-man armed with a cattle stun gun, the film creates a bleak, beautiful landscape where everything is fair game. Much like the experience of watching Miller’s Crossing, where each shadow, sound and piece of scenery is expertly placed, “No Country” feels like a two-hour film class (but in a good way).
The similarities are pretty evident to anyone with an appreciation for both the rugged, Neil Young-flavored indie rock of Band of Horses and Cormac McCarthy‘s dry, Texas desolation. There’s a sparse loneliness to both that speaks to a rural terrain both idyllic and painful, inhabited by nothing but dust and phantoms. On the Coens’ side, much of that is due to Richard Deakins’ masterful cinematography, an aesthetic that harkens back to the classic grandeur of John Ford, yet filtered with a trailer-park vérité. For Band of Horses, its a progression of roots music stoked by bands like Uncle Tupelo and Eleventh Dream Day.
What I’m starting to find more interesting are the differences, primarily in the unapologetic sense of hope running through Cease to Begin, as opposed to the coal black cynicism evident throughout No Country. When Bridwell sings, “…the world is such a wonderful place,” you get the sense that he’s trying, really trying, to convince himself. This is a world unrecognizable, even ironically, in the Coens’ scrubland of west Texas–illustrated in screaming, 72-point type as Tommy Lee Jones pontificates on facing the kind of evil that goes beyond understanding. Humans will do bad things to one another, that’s an incontrovertible truth.
Taken together, both represent the culture of a damaged era. The question concealed within each is, “how do we heal?” That’s a tough question. Shit, it’s one for the ages, in fact. Personally, I’m discovering that the difficulty in the answer to that question is likely what’s been driving me to keep writing and making films. I’m sure it goes for others, as well.