Brian Reitzell became known for his formative soundtrack work with Sofia and Roman Coppola in the early ’00s, but most recently, his work on the Hannibal TV show has highlighted the extent of his malleability. The composer is interested in everything — from cheesy synth presets to Talk Talk-style post-rock, from Varèse-like orchestral percussion onslaughts to minimalist dance music. His greatest skill as a scorer is knowing when to compliment the on-screen action (i.e. paralleling Will Graham’s Lecter-induced psychosis in Hannibal with sharp dissonance) and when to rub up against it to create new, less intuitive impressions (i.e. manipulated pop music in The Bling Ring).
The Eno-esque title of the composer’s debut solo album, Auto Music, implies functional accompaniment of some sort — music for use. (Reitzell claims part of his impetus was to soundtrack his own commute to work.) But the music is too kinetic to be mere ambience. Pop chord structures create dramatic arcs, and grooves surge up from beneath electric piano and phased guitar (note the lite-industrial breakbeat in “Oskar” or the dreamy Cocteau Twins drum machine on excellent, shapeshifting opener “Last Summer”). More than anything Reitzell’s attempted, Auto Music is krautrock influenced — songs like the multi-movement centerpiece “Auto Music 1″ fall somewhere between the more electronic, Cluster-y side of the genre and the dead-eyed groove-rock of Neu! or Faust. Other more atmospheric tracks reference films (“Ozu”/”Ozu Choral,” “Beehive”).
It’s interesting to watch an artist we’ve only seen interact with other people’s narratives project out from his private ones. Without clear programmatic intention, however, Reitzell’s music is less effective than it has been with imagery and narrative, or with the help of some colorful collaborators (for instance, Oneohtrix Point Never or Kevin Shields, who appears here briefly as an organist). There is a relative lack of stylistic variation, and some moments stagnate without an apparent purpose. At these moments, you can’t help but tune out instead of zone out. Sometimes it feels like Reitzell is on the verge of indulging interesting, darker impulses, but curtails them; for instance, a musical tribute to Spirit of the Beehive — “Beehive” — would seem to deserve more than just a few eerie, pointillistic synth tones. But the source of inspiration here is plateau-like experiences, and the lack of conflict in the music is certainly part of the point. Auto Music: The propulsive beats and hazy treble washes are functional gestures intended to keep you focused on the road.