Matt Hill, who records under the name Umberto in tribute to film director Umberto Lenzi, earns his corn as film score composer. He also makes stand-alone music too. Helpless Spectator is his latest album and his debut recording for legendary Chicago label, Thrill Jockey. It is music of many textures, but mainly is reminiscent of those synth-heavy sci-fi and horror soundtracks from the ‘70s and ‘80s.
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It's always interesting to hear what soundtrack composers get up to when they’re just making music. Apparently lots of you agree because those John Carpenter albums tend to do quite well. Though I suppose he is John Carpenter. Unlike Matt Hill, who is not. What Matt Hill is though, is Umberto, named for director Umberto Lenzi. He has tended to score for sci-fi and horror (much like the maestro himself) and though ‘Helpless Spectator’ draws on those musical traditions, it’s clearly another beast.
I think the word I would use to describe the album as a whole is probably plaintive. If these pieces did accompany a story, they would come after everything has happened. There’s a softness to all the sounds that feels like looking back. There's something sinister about ‘Leafless Tree’ but it feels almost submerged, repressed.
There are moments where things break free however. ‘Reflection’ starts with an echo-y kick drum and some flanged keys, before being joined by a harsher melody that threatens to come loose. But even here, nothing feels threatening or immediate.
The album closes with two tracks that are a combination of keys and what sounds like a violin. ‘Absent Images’ and ‘Arroyo’ could almost be chopped and screwed version of some sonata. The instruments dance with each other, occasionally becoming indistinguishable. It makes for a very combination, and one that sounds like the 'Helpless Spectator' can finally on.
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