Bizarre, stoned and perversely beautiful
Rolling desert hills, waterfalls and dusty skylines adorn Marnie Ellen Hertzler’s Crestone, a documentary released last year that follows a group of Soundcloud rappers living in the titular Colorado desert town. The motley crew depicted in the documentary spends their time recording music, building their social media brand and smoking a lot of weed.
“They’ve devoted their entire lives to making music and art to the point where they’ve quarantined themselves into this small desert town just to live together,” Hertzler explained in an interview.
Framing a group of schlubby, tattooed Soundcloud rappers against the backdrop of an awe-inspiring desert landscape might sound silly, and, to some degree, it is. But just because something is silly doesn’t mean considerable beauty can’t exist within it. Hertzler understands this, as does Animal Collective, the experimental pop titans who composed the film’s score.
For Animal Collective, the desert town of Crestone might as well be another character in the film. Their score captures the serene beauty of the Crestone landscape in their signature hazy and dreamlike fashion. Most of the tracks lean toward the disjointed and abstract. Upon first listen, may be struck by the sheer formlessness of it all. The band’s Josh “Deakin” Dibb shed some light on this impressionistic approach in an interview with Pitchfork:
“For me, the initial phase of developing the ideas for this was just to pull up a scene and sit down at my piano and improvise to the energy I interpreted. In many cases this initial pass was recorded and used for the final composition. This process of using the images, characters, editing and practical sound as a sort of sheet music to play to was really freeing and inspiring.”
For listeners with a preference for songcraft, this might sound troubling. It’s not terribly engaging at first, but over the course of a week, melodies, an underlying humanism, and even the occasional song structure began to pierce through the haze, becoming more and more apparent with every play. Crestone (Original Score) certainly rewards multiple listens.
Warm textures, cushiony atmospherics and the occasional sound effect (including pattering rain and chirping birds) give the record an overwhelming sense of peace and welcoming. Draped in reverb, every synthesizer squelch, whistle and melody wash over the listener, allowing for complete immersion all while remaining strikingly minimal—many of the tracks make considerable use of empty space and feature few components, providing the feeling of peacefully floating on air.
On the opening track, “Dome Yard,” synth melodies steadily trickle over a minimal drum pattern like raindrops. “Benz’s Dream” sounds like, well, a dream, with a calm flurry of piano lines cascading atop an airy, ethereal foundation. “Ramshack” is built around the soft click-clack of what sounds like dripping water, once again adding to the amorphous, fluid textures that drench this album.
Soundbites from the film are also tastefully employed, hinting at themes of brotherhood and creative communion. A husky male voice welcomes people on the opening track: “I’m so glad you’re here. There are so many things I wanna show you…Come inside.“ On “Over the Sangre de Christo,” another male voice advises, “It’s hot out there boys. Stay hydrated.”
“Sand That Moves” is one of the record’s most distinct moments. Like every other cut, it’s murky and awash in synths, but, thanks in part to a melodic fingerpicked guitar pattern and discernible rhythm, it’s also one of the few to achieve songform that’s noticeable upon first listen.
But going through the album track by track couldn’t possibly do it justice. It’s best appreciated as a whole, as its appeal lies in the way each track melts into the next, creating a rich, swirling mass of watery reverb, a sort of gestalt in which conventionally musical elements are heard only after repeated engagement.
Crestone (Original Score) is every bit as bizarre, stoned and perversely beautiful as the community depicted in the film. With a deep sense of humanity and warmth, and a collection of textures so vivid one could practically reach out and touch them, the music imbues the town of Crestone with a pulse of its own, taking an admittedly weird concept and treating it with all the reverence it deserves. Just make sure you listen more than once.