Gus Van Sant's PROMISED LAND was one of those films meant to be an important topical film as it focuses on the issue of hydraulic fracturing, aka "fracking". The film stars Matt Damon (who wrote the script with co-star John Krasinski based on a story by Dave Eggers) as a company man who faces moral dilemmas after seeing the effects the natural gas company he works for is having on the farming community he visits, as well as discovering their motives behind his placement there. Unfortunately, the film didn't make much of an impression on audiences, critics or even Oscar voters for that matter (I found it amusing that Damon's long-derided pal, Ben Affleck, was getting all the acclaim this time around). On a more positive end, the project saw Van Sant reunite once again with Danny Elfman, capping off one of the composer's busiest years with six (!) films to his credit. It's a collaboration that has produced interesting results and this is no different.
If ALICE IN WONDERLAND was seen as Elfman's return to his popular period of traditional fantasy scoring with a few modern flourishes, then this by contrast is a return to his unpopular period of experimental drama scoring that also has a few modern flourishes. In fact, the best way to describe it would be that it's like a cross between A CIVIL ACTION and MILK with a little bit of THE NEXT THREE DAYS. There isn't anything here in the way of memorable themes as it's more about rhythms and textures than melodies. It's experimental in that it relies on strings, percussion, and woodwinds and is devoid of any brass. "Logos" naturally starts things off with establishing the film's tone and then segues into "Traveling" which features a haunting boy soprano, and this feature is the closest the score gets to a thematic idea. The atmosphere established in these tracks carries over through the rest of the album with only the following track "Going to Work" offering up any lightness, but is good in this context because the score gets a little darker from this point on. "Classroom" (of which there are two versions featured) and "Lighthouse" are intriguing combinations of the styles of the three aforementioned works in terms of suspense writing. "Turn Around" is like this as well and makes great use of acoustic guitar, which is no doubt used to reflect the film's pastoral landscapes. Others such as "Alice's Farm", a delicate and lovely cue, augment Damon's growing dilemmas while "Revelation" highlights the devastating plot twist and "The Speech" concludes the score with that aforementioned boy soprano, bringing the score full circle. `Snake Eyes" by The Milk Carton Kids (one of three they wrote for the film) is an appropriately earthy song that wisely closes out the album.
This album is a shade under forty minutes and it breezes by quickly. There are a few good tracks on here that I think would work well on a future Elfman compilation should one come to pass. Even though he had a busy year, I don't think Elfman wrote any knockouts despite all of them having their individual moments. It's interesting to note that the first three films he did were fantasy-based (DARK SHADOWS, MEN IN BLACK 3 and FRANKENWEENIE) while the latter three were reality-based (which included SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and HITCHCOCK), and I think out of those latter ones, this is the best of them and is the most effective both in the film and on album. Overall, it's an interesting score that makes for a decent listening experience that I think only diehard fans of the composer would derive any pleasure from (if at all).