An Imaginary Soundtrack to an Unmade Film

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Tuesday's Pick

  • Song: "Breathe"
  • Artist: The Cinematic Orchestra
  • CD: Ma Fleur
  • Genre: Pop
The Cinematic Orchestra makes music with a screenplay in mind.

The Cinematic Orchestra makes music with a screenplay in mind. Coburn Dukehart/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Coburn Dukehart/NPR

The first thing that jumps out as The Cinematic Orchestra's "Breathe" begins to unfold is that voice — a voice that sounds weathered by time, with a layer of sultry melancholy thrown in for good measure. Though not instantly recognizable (it sounds like a deeper version of Portishead's Beth Gibbons), it belongs to Fontella Bass, a hard-working soul singer best known for her 1965 R&B hit "Rescue Me," who last recorded with The Cinematic Orchestra on its 2002 album Everyday.

"Oh, that song you're singing, singing in to me / over everything I used to be," Bass sings over a blissfully lulling track that features a sparse acoustic guitar, drums and gentle electronic loops, adding, "It carries me out to sea and swallows me." The Cinematic Orchestra, whose core members (Jason Swinscoe and Phil France) are ardent jazz and film-soundtrack enthusiasts, made Ma Fleur with a screenplay in mind, each track representing a scene from their unmade film's storyline. (This isn't the first time the band has written music with a movie in mind; in 2000, they wrote a new score for the classic 1929 Dziga Vertov Russian silent film Man with a Movie Camera.) "Breathe" provides a more glimpse of what the rest of the album has to offer — songs that are intentionally overwhelming, evocative and, of course, entirely cinematic.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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