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Review by Brad Green:
The rhythm of life has a bossa nova beat? Well, you could hardly expect it to have a plain old backbeat if you were tagged at birth with a moniker like Placid Lake. Sticks and stones can break your bones, and names can hurtle you into the margins from life’s kick off. Let’s face it, Frank Zappa’s kids weren’t going to turn into insurance office suits if the handles he handed down had anything to do with it; and poor young Placid’s parents were apparently devotees of the same strategy. I mean the 1980 Winter Olympics can’t have been all that memorable!

For an offbeat comedy starring Ben Lee as a youth with an Upstate New York name; enough adolescent angst to power Downtown New York City during a blackout; and parents loopy enough to fit in perfectly almost anywhere in LA, composer Cezary Skubiszewski determined that the old bossa nova was just off-the-beat enough to capture the quirk. 

It’s a pretty straight forward Latin rhythm really, and the overlaying patterns inevitably determine whether it sizzles or fizzles. Sometimes underpinning, and sometimes dancing its way through much of the score is Skubiszewski’s Placid Bossa motif, reinvented en route with multifaceted arrangements. Using variations of voices, bass clarinet, electric violin, guitars, woodwinds, contra bass and all manner of acoustic and electronic percussion Skubiszewski creates more colours with this one theme than Carmen Miranda’s milliner could ever have dreamed of with a dozen crate loads of fruit. 

In fact, it’s the versatility of the rhythm that makes it work here; and far more effort is devoted to irregular tonal manipulations on this score than simply layering maracas atop cabasas. Draped over with a central, blues guitar figure the beat transcends its Latin essence, and Skubiszewski deliberately avoided bossa nova veterans in favour of young musos who could bring new energy to the venerable groove. 

In all, the CD features 20 tracks (not to mention a bonus movie trailer) that range from accessible melodies to amalgams of classical timbres, hyper-contemporary rock paradigms and digital experiments.

Among the friendliest cuts are the opening cue, which is eminently catchy despite its unconventional blend of wordless vocal refrain (as sweet as Dido), rap phrasings (less nasty than Eminem) and bossa backing (as minimalist as the beat on Elton John’s Song For Guy); and the funk-rock track Yellow Envelope, which boasts a strong, simple hit-maker of a hook. Both these tracks feature the band… or should that be “outfit”?... Jacket, which includes Skubiszewski’s son Jan on guitars and backing vox. The younger Skubiszewski also contributed guitar elsewhere on the score and assisted with production generally. 

The soundtrack’s more delicate moments come in the form of Sylvia, a tender cue of marimba, organ and staccato strings; and the light, airy and vaguely sentimental harp and high strings of On The Roof. Doris, on the other hand, is a bright and glitzy dance number driven by brass and strings, while Transformation is a mercurial farrago of digital whoops, harp meets hip-hop and sampled percussion meets live snare and cymbals. 

Some of the digital peculiarities provide curiosity value only, but On The Staircase has a Yazoo-like electronic riff, glued by muted guitars and accented with ringing guitars. 

Among the most enterprising cues are The Chase, comprising a fragmented beat, pretty guitar figures, violin bursts, pizzicato icings, deep brass interjections and a snare tight, punchy and explosive enough to please Roxette’s producer; and Dr Freud which evokes an ambiguous ambience with its insistent ternary pulse, bright violins and cellos, and somewhat ominous coda. 

Naturally, for a soundtrack that sets out to transmogrify bossa nova into bossa novelty via a kaleidoscope of tonalities, timbres and digital finesses, there are periods here that are more intriguing than easy listening. But such lulls don’t last long, and not only does the music successfully evoke the travails of a character who is not so much a Square trying to fit into a round world, as a Triskaidecagon trying to clip the unlucky angles of his lot into a life more ordinary, it is also remarkably entertaining in the process. 

Published August 28, 2003

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TITLE: The Rage In Placid Lake
ID: MD 3278 
SCORE: Cezary Skubiszewski
ADDITIONAL MUSIC: Jacket (Clarenne Browne: vocals; Jan Skubiszewski: guitar and vocals; Ben Stanford: vocals; Jules Pascoe: bass and vocals; Conrad Jungen: drums)
PRODUCER: Cezary Skubiszewski

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