Morrow vs. Hajduch: Keith Kenniff’s The Last Survivor soundtrack

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Keith Kenniff: The Last Survivor soundtrackKeith Kenniff: The Last Survivor (Fake Four / Circle Into Square, 10/19/10)

Morrow: Screened at different independent film festivals earlier this spring and summer, The Last Survivor is a documentary film about the lives of four genocide survivors — one each from the Holocaust, Rawanda, Darfur, and Congo.  Its goal is to spread awareness of atrocities around the globe but also to inspire action and get genocide survivors involved in peace movements.

The film has won a handful of awards, including best documentary at the Oxford Film Festival, and it’s still presenting its survivors’ powerful stories around the country — notably with its first university screening at NYU in late October.

The Last Survivor Trailer from The Last Survivor on Vimeo.

Keith Kenniff is an indie and electronic artist who normally records under the monikers Helios and Goldmund.  His material for the score of The Last Survivor is his first released under his own name, and it’s a slight departure from his usual work — now presenting slow-moving piano and acoustic-guitar pieces to accompany the strong emotions evoked by the film.

Hajduch: I don’t know anything at all about the movie, because it wasn’t directed by Paul Verhoeven, but I do know a thing or two about this music.  Kenniff’s work as Helios is the type of dreamy, pleasant ambient made popular by Stars of the Lid and their ilk — dream pop slowed down and blissed out.

This soundtrack work sometimes sticks to that palette (“Everywhere”), but other pieces (such as “Havelock,” credited to alter-ego Goldmund) sound almost exactly like the solo piano of Ryuichi Sakamoto, tastefully embellished with some light drone as a backdrop.  Every song follows the type of sweeping, dramatic tonality we’ve all grown to expect out of soundtrack work, and though it might not be full of surprises, the music is pretty and well produced, and emotional without seeming treacly.

Morrow: I agree that nothing really pops out from a musical standpoint, but it’s all very pretty and delicate and fits the subject matter well.  I thought that Kenniff could have added more of his usual Helios assortment of clean electric guitars and soft beats, and though there are a few minor electronics and field recordings buried beneath the lead melodies, I think that a little more would have worked.

The Helios material, by the way, is awfully cinematic on its own, and Kenniff has a number of other film credits, including work for BBC specials and TV commercials.

Regardless, everyone should see this movie.  I know that I’m guilty of doing less than I should, and I think that given the time of year and how much money everyone blows on Christmas presents, we should especially think about people who deal with real tragedies and hardships.

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