by Sam Doucet
Life and death. Right and wrong. Gods and mortals. The story of Faust, now centuries old, is a tale many times retold but always rife with moral quandaries and philosophical implications.
F.W. Murnau’s film version, unleashed upon the public in 1926, was a victim of its ambition – audiences and critics alike were turned off by its interpretation of the source material and technical execution, both ahead of their time. Generations later, leave it to Mahogany Frog to add their fingerprints to its complicated and enduring legacy. The enigmatic Winnipeg quartet set out to write and perform an accompanying score to the flick back in 2017, and have now recorded it in studio and released it for all to enjoy. Quiet and loud. Peaceful and chaotic. Smooth and jagged. They’ve always been masters at engineering musical roller coasters, and this time they do so with the added cachet of expressionist German cinema guiding their writing.
Though the film sets the pace for the album, which clocks in at 75 minutes across two parts, the band is by no means tracing with stencils. All the hallmarks of Mahogany Frog’s past projects are there: brooding ambience, synthesizer-driven crescendos, wobbly and emotional climaxes. “Flying Carpet I” sees them bridge the gap from the interwar period to an 80’s-style sound, with twinkling keyboards and a lush background giving way to a Morricone-inspired sci-fi romp. Later on, “We Encircle Within This Ring” put the low end first, with a delicate trip-hoppy beat allowing the fuzzy but perky bass to shine. As the film pulls into the home stretch, “Stoned II: Funeral Pyre” kicks into overdrive, with distorted guitars blaring like air raid sirens before being joined by the rest of the cacophonous ensemble.
The members of Mahogany Frog are no strangers to musical experimentation, and some locals will recall their entrancing take on David Lynch’s Dune, performed at the Good Will a number of years ago. We can only hope that their reinvention of the Ocean’s Eleven soundtrack is imminent, but for now, it’s simply exciting to have two studio releases from them in such a short time. Many listeners might be wondering if it’s necessary to watch the film to fully appreciate the music on offer here – I suppose that is debatable, but I found the audio journey to be cinematic enough on its own.