Oliver Coates - Aftersun (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Music Album Reviews

Oliver Coates - Aftersun (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Music Album Reviews
The composer and cellist’s score for Charlotte Wells’ film is full of suggestion and shadows, wringing emotion from the lightest touches.

In filmmaker Charlotte Wells’ feature debut Aftersun, memory is elusive. In the “emotionally autobiographical” drama, a woman named Sophie (played as a child by Frankie Corio and as an adult by Celia Rowlson-Hall) remembers a vacation she took to Turkey with her father Calum (Paul Mescal) when she was a kid. Through gauzy flashbacks—and even gauzier camcorder home movies—the film paints a poignant and idyllic picture of the vacation. Even through the warm nostalgia, Sophie seems to grapple with feelings of grief, as she reconciles her positive memories with her father’s emotional turmoil. It’s a moving depiction of how the people we love can remain inaccessible to us—all we know about them is what they let us know. 

Wells assembles these vignettes into a film that feels heavy, dreamy, and touching, feelings magnified by composer and cellist Oliver Coates’ score. Drawing on a love of the minimal yet phenomenological work of Éliane Radigue—whose compositions Wells used as a temporary score while the film was in progress, per an interview with CRACK—Coates made slow, still tracks that nevertheless feel suffused with meaning and experience. Through elliptical string arrangements, tranquil synth pads, and hallucinatory found sounds, the Aftersun score communicates a sense of wistfulness and yearning amid the otherworldly sounds.

In a statement accompanying the score, Coates writes that he sought music that could reflect “the vivid glow of memory”—a thought process illustrated by “One Without,” a key cue used in the film’s final scene and credits. Built around a repeating string figure, overlapping with shimmering reverb trails and little else, it’s spare but flickers with warmth and light. Echoing and repeating for a little over four minutes, it feels like a meditation on constancy and loss, highlighting what stays the same and what subtly changes as memories flit through your head, again and again. 

Coates is known for his playfully abstract approach to electronic composition—even indulging a love for jittery Aphexian dance tracks on 2018’s Shelley’s on Zenn-La—but his work for Aftersun is decidedly more minimal. Some tracks are formally complex, while others, like “Tai Chi,” are constructed around simple string drones. Still, he wrings a lot of emotion and texture out of the lightest touches. This depth is due in part to some technological treatment. Coates credits sound designer Johan Nilsson for “tricking” the algorithm of an audio software into “extracting percussion or bass or vocals where there is none.” Even the simplest tracks feel haunted—shimmering with unexpected life in a way that feels reminiscent of the wriggling ambient pieces collected on PAN’s influential Mono No Aware compilation. As a result, these pieces carry emotional weight even outside of the context of the film: It’s ambient music full of suggestions and shadows, allowing curious listeners to approach it and fill in the gaps with meditations of their own.
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Oliver Coates - Aftersun (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Music Album Reviews Oliver Coates - Aftersun (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on January 19, 2023 Rating: 5


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