Blanck Mass Scores a Triumph on ‘Calm With Horses’

Benjamin John Power’s Blanck Mass project has been a beacon of experimental electronic music for a decade. Power has a preternatural ability to create an immersive and melodic experience from intricately layered drone compositions, dark ambient landscapes, distorted and fast-paced hooks, and off-the-wall sonic adventures.

Blanck Mass’ 2011 self-titled debut on Sacred Bones Records established this framework, with cuts like “Raw Deal” traversing a glorious, Malick-esque galactic wormhole. In 2015 he returned with Dumb Flesh, an exercise in dance floor-ready controlled chaos, featuring crucial cuts like “Double Cross” and “Cruel Sport,” scored to Reznor’s edge. World Eater in 2017 was a cinematic triumph of beautiful noise and last year’s Animated Violence Mild paired glitchy kinesis with stadium hooks. This is all to say that Power — also one-half of Fuck Buttons — has a command of the full depth and breadth of electronics in a way that feels like he’s controlling the barrage of sounds by sheer will.

Power brings that force to bear on the fantastic score for director Nick Rowland’s Calm With Horses, a profoundly well executed original motion picture soundtrack that blends the ever-transforming Blanck Mass sound with orchestral passages and almost-Lynchian country-western expressions.

The film, which like the score releases today, is a tale of one man’s struggle to navigate both crime and family life in rural Ireland. It stars Cosmo Jarvis, Barry Keoghan, and Niamh Algar, and pulsating beneath their performances is the deft musical tones and colors of Blanck Mass. The score for Calm With Horses works both as a complement to Rowland’s film and as a work of art in its own right.

It opens with the crystalline flutter of “Violent Child,” which is followed by the transcendent and hopeful “The Devers.” On “Different Breed” we get more of a Dumb Flesh-style gritty banger that diligently peels off lead paint. “Sleepless” is a ghostly, piano-driven cue that would fit in well in a Blumhouse picture.

“Descent” is a bottom-heavy crescendo of a rumination between majestic synthesizers and steadfast cello expressions. “Prove Yourself” is Cliff Martinez and Trent Reznor scoring a grittier, even more sinister The Neon Demon. “Photograph” is a serene, tender, and resolved blend of electric pianos and suspended orchestration — perhaps the most traditional score cue on here. The closing “Credits” counteracts the harsher yet beautiful sounds of the opening cue “Violent Child” with a warm and tempered array of stunning synths that infuse in the composition a sense of calm resolve and comfort. It’s the perfect conclusion.

Overall, Calm With Horses has shown that Power’s deft touch for musicality, synthscapes, and sound design is well utilized in the world of cinema. He injects a deep sense of humanity into his music that pairs well with the storytelling of film and television. The result is one of the best scores I’ve heard in the past 20 years.

(Editor’s Note: A wishlist here — I’d love to hear him score a Lynne Ramsay film or Black Mirror episode.)

Calm With Horses is out in UK and Irish cinemas today. The score is available today, too, via Invada Records on streaming platforms and Bandcamp (as seen above). Vinyl and CD releases are forthcoming.

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