William Ryan Fritch: Old Believers (Extended Edition)
Lost Tribe Sound

William Ryan Fritch: Sum of its Parts
Lost Tribe Sound

The simultaneous release of two film scores by William Ryan Fritch would seem to provide the latest evidence for the bottomless creative well from which the Oakland, California-based multi-instrumentalist regularly draws. These digital releases aren't, however, new material, though both have never been made publicly available until now: The Old Believers and The Sum of its Parts initially appeared as part of the 2104-initiated Leave Me series, specifically as exclusives to subscribers, which witnessed the release of a dozen Fritch albums over a two-year period. For this extended edition of The Old Believers, he added eight new pieces to the original twelve, resulting in a solid album-length forty-eight minutes of music.

Aware that a soundtrack collection can often play like a gathering of vignettes, Fritch spends a considerable amount of time after a film's completed making sure the soundtrack holds up as a cohesive listening experience on its own, and to that end the two releases sit comfortably alongside others in his discography. Still, it's hard to deny the soundtrack-like character of The Old Believers when many of its twenty tracks are in the one- to two-minute range and could conceivably have been developed into more elaborate compositions. That being said, there's also no denying the beauty of the music on offer, even when it's sometimes served in bite-sized portions.

Of the two, it's The Old Believers that proves the most affecting, in large part due to the treatment of string instruments as lead voices. Par for the Fritch course, the arrangements are rich and multi-layered, but they're often designed with the lead voice in mind; even a one-minute setting such as “Isolation” is rendered memorable by the plaintive expressions of a string instrument. The impression of unity created by the recording is attributable to the fact that strings and guitars predominate, with percussion occasionally surfacing to add rhythmic insistence. Representative of the album's oft-solemn style, “Take Refuge” undergirds a supplicating, rather Eastern-styled string lead with a cello drone and (what appear to be) mandolin strums. “Wilting Ways” exemplifies the material's folk character in wedding harp-like strums to rustic string playing, and Fritch's sensitivity to texture is evident throughout, especially so during delicate settings such as “Glass Slowly Shifts,” “The Old Believers,” and “Feeble Dreams.”

To some degree, The Sum of its Parts is different in tone from The Old Believers, but it's easy to see why: the film for which it was created (by Fiona Otway) features scientists, artists, and students who are working in the field of robot research to bring robots to life and make them part of our everyday experience. Arrangements in this case are again rich but even more elaborate than in the other instance; Fritch augments his one-man string orchestra with French horn, vibraphone, and prepared piano, and in so doing aligns The Sum of its Parts closely to the kind of kaleidoscopic production style emblematic of his current musical practice. If there's a stronger rhythmic impetus to its presentation, that too is by design, as Fritch fashioned the material to churn and grind with a mechanical thrust that would connect it directly to the film's subject matter (witness, for example, the lurching insistence with which “Gnashing Metals” barrels forth). Yet while there are clearly strong differences between the soundtracks, “Ratcheting” and “Subconsciously” are so strings-heavy they would be as natural a fit for The Old Believers as The Sum of its Parts. Despite its shorter running time (thirty-three minutes), many of its ten tracks are longer and thus impress as fully worked-through compositions, in contrast to the abbreviated feel of some of the pieces on The Old Believers. Both obviously have much to recommend them, however, and Fritch devotees will no doubt pronounce them stellar additions to his ever-swelling discography.

July 2017