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For the Love of American Gods

Brian Reitzell is one of the greatest contemporary composers of our generation. You may have heard of him from his well-known work on The Virgin Suicides or Lost in Translation, but I first fell in love with Reitzell’s music after watching the canceled-way-too-soon series Hannibal on NBC. Reitzell manages to create music that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard, so imagine my delight when he joined forces with Bryan Fuller again after their stellar collaboration on Hannibal to bring the world of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods to life for Starz.

If you are unfamiliar with the plot of American Gods, here’s a quick rundown. The story centers on a man named Shadow Moon, who upon being released from prison finds out his wife Laura was killed in a car crash. Haunted by her undead presence and with nowhere to go, he decides to take a job offer from the mysterious Mr. Wednesday to serve as his bodyguard.

Interwoven into this narrative are vignettes of the gods currently in power in America and the dramatic schism that divides them. On one side, the old gods try to cling to the vestiges of their glory while new entities of contemporary worship (like technology and television) gain popularity with the American people who have forgotten the deities their ancestors worshiped in ages past. The storm of war is brewing, and Shadow finds himself caught in the middle of it all.

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American Gods is my favorite new television series of 2017, and its harrowing soundtrack not only keeps pace with Fuller’s phantasmagorical visuals but enhances the visceral experience of watching the show. The soundtrack itself consists of 20 tracks with snippets from each of the major musical themes. In an interview with Billboard, Reitzell, reflecting on the process of paring down the soundtrack to 80 minutes or less, mentions that “I always make these pieces so that they can stand on their own, but really they’re meant to be a souvenir for the show.”

This is exactly what I appreciate about Reitzell’s sound because each track feels like a small memento that transports listeners to a distinct scene, resulting in a final musical collective brimming with empathy and unpredictability. This is an aspect few composers are able to achieve and makes for an absorbing, transformative listening experience.

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My favorite track would have to be “Media Bowie” in which Gillian Anderson’s character, the goddess Media, appears as the powder blue suit and red mullet sporting “Life on Mars?” version of David Bowie. It features a spine-tingling 70s electronic beat layered with Bowie-esque cries that begs to be listened to on repeat (and will be stuck in your head for the foreseeable future). I also love the primordial feel to “Nunnyunnini” where Reitzell layers instruments that would have been available at the dawn of civilization like wood, stones, and conch shells for dramatic effect. Each second of this track feels ancient, otherworldly, and familiar, like a relic of the past imprinted on the very building blocks of your DNA.

And, the album isn’t just a compilation of background score or cues, as Reitzell enlists the incomparable Shirley Manson, Debbie Harry, and Mark Lanegan who lend their voices to a string of covers and original songs. Each piece makes a statement that is integral to the scene and pays homage to Gaiman’s vision from the novel, and I appreciate how this mixture of music captures the overall feel of the show while giving listeners a great deal of sonic variety.

Given the fact that the source material features gods from a diversity of cultures, times, and regions of the world, it makes sense for Reitzell to utilize a multitude of musical genres all while putting his own idiosyncratic take on the classics. In a way, the music matches the show’s exploration of the intersectional immigrant experience in America. Not only do the tracks interlock with the visuals, without overpowering a given scene, but also explore the inherent themes addressed by the show itself through experimentation with rhythm, instrumentation, and composition.

I believe that American Gods may be Reitzell’s greatest work to date, and I’m looking forward to what he brings to the table with Season 2. And, for the love of American Gods, this is one eclectic soundtrack you won’t want to miss.

You can listen to American Gods right now on Hoopla or check it out in our catalog (I’m waiting impatiently for the vinyl release myself). And, for a sample of my favorite track, here is Media Bowie for your enjoyment. Happy listening, and I hope you love it as much as I do.

-Fisher Adwell is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.

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