Neil Young

Dead Man - Original Soundtrack


Released: 12th July 2019

Neil Young's solo guitar masterpiece soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. Finally reissued.
The spectre of death stalks a young man on the monochrome landscape of Jim Jarmusch's re-imagined wild west. Symbols of his own mortality haunt the protagonist William Blake, portrayed with grace and beauty by a young Johnny Depp as he descends into the spiritual world, a hyper-real personal hell rendered by the visionary director.

Guitar-in-hand, in a darkened room, Neil Young responds in real time to Jarmusch's silent masterpiece Dead Man. With minimal overdubs, there is a symbiotic relationship between the guitarist's barely contained, aggressive playing and the considered darkness of the film. Following a Crazy Horse concert, Jarmusch was convinced that Neil Young's celebrated guitar tone and bloody-mindedness would compliment this atavistic journey into the character's own madness. Though largely improvised, Young's riffs here evolve into circular patterns, crunched through a fuzz effect that approximates the gritty destruction of a steam train, perfectly complimenting Blake's paranoia and escape from retribution. Originally released in 1996, Dead Man perfectly encapsulates the artistic journey Young was on at the time: fresh from working with Pearl Jam on Mirror Ball and touring a few years earlier with Sonic Youth, the stark beauty of these guitar works are reminders that his monolothic chord slashes and ultra-distorted tones were heavy influences on the alternative rock movement.

Indeed, the atmosphere conjured by Young on Dead Man is redolent of Dylan Carson's mid-period Earth work, with the Canadian guitarist ripping apart shards of space from the distortion, the heavy sustain droning creating lush overtones that meet somewhere in the middle of the listener's brain. Some parts of Dead Man are so compressed and crunched it feels like the space in front of the listener itself is being ripped open. True to form for a soundtrack, Young's recurring Dead Man Theme piece recalls Morricone's moody guitar compositions for the classic Spaghetti westerns: acoustic guitar chopped up with characteristic Young brutality. It's a melancholy, melodic piece that contrasts with the wilder, barren work found on the rest of the album.

Originally released on CD and Vinyl, Dead Man soon passed into lore as a curiosity, fetching astronomical prices. As a signpost in the careers of both Jim Jarmusch and Neil Young, it's now legendary, a work of genius from both auteurs. Essential listening for fans of everything from Earth to Fahey.