In terms of artistic arithmetic, Rabbit & Rogue definitely follows the less is more formula, as in listening to Elfman minus movies, you meet Elfman unfettered by film. That said, Danny Elfman’s style is so pronounced and evocative of ‘the movies’ that when I first started listening to Rabbit and Rogue it was as if I discovered herunto discarded motifs from his movie scenes. How to describe the Elfman musical signature? I would call it Sci-Fi Americana, as it seems equal parts Coplandesque wistfulness for the lost horizon and Kirk wrestling a shirt-shredding Gorn to note-plucking harmonies wrung from Stravinsky. While I’m very curious to see the ballet for which this soundtrack was composed, Rabbit & Rogue is already such an evocative and imagistic piece that the music already dances—the notes are not only sounding but performing.
Rabbit & Rogue has six tracks: “Intro”; “Frolic”; “Gamelan”; “Rag”; “Lyric”; and, “Finale.” However, “Intro” is more or less a truncated version of “Gamelan,” so really there are five distinctive pieces of music on Rabbit & Rogue.
“Intro” and “Gamelan” both open with a percussive bell-like ringing from the xylophone that, metronome-like, sets the tone for the rest of the orchestra. As I instinctively want to decode the metronomic percussion as the pitter and patter of rabbit feet, I’m guessing that’s the imagistic intent of the music at this point. “Gamelan,” eight minutes longer, continues from this down a long rabbit hole of expanded percussion, into a tabelau where a wide variety of musical fauna make a noise, such as cowbells, horns, violins, oboes, and more. The resultant Coplandesque pastoral feeling is a profound one.
“Frolic” seems a misnomer to me, as there is less a sense of play than of the ecstatic adrenaline of a party with a touch of the deranged, as if thrown by mad scientists, elephant-men, and frothing Jekylls. Not that I don’t like “Frolic”; far from it. I’ve found it a tremendous piece to write to, as it’s a very intellectual melody, a piece that seems to be holding a conversation with not only the next track, “Gamelan,” but with Philip Glass and the Akira soundtrack. Elfman’s rich investment in the xylophone in “Frolic” really pays off, as after a launch from the piano, the instrument carries the score, as if the xylophone was the spine of the piece.
“Rag” is an interesting track with some experimental mechanically generated notes that at first come across like a duet between a piano and a Slinky, until the more classical ballet sound smothers the mechanized effects. Though the rest of the track is enjoyable, and the mech-music returns at the eight minute mark for a moment, my main takeaway was that when I heard the musical metallic scratching, I was enthralled and so disappointed by their disappearance that I kept listening for–and wishing for–their return. The overall effect of “Rag” is of a composer’s lengthy apology for not fulfilling what the first minute promised. As such, “Rag” was my least favorite part of Rabbit & Rogue.
“Lyric” is a hypnotic piece not only due to its effective use of repetition, but due to the way that the saxophone takes on the qualities of a snake-charmer’s pungi, so that it is almost like the music is eating its own tail at the command of the charmer.
While “Finale” is the most theatrical piece yet, there are many non-narrartive chaotic moments that stand out. Strings rise, woodwinds plunge, and percussion buoys the listener in this melancholic coda. But although the other instruments work hard to match the frenzied brass that dominates “Finale,” there are more than a few moments in which the brass nearly disintegrates into noise and I was pleasantly reminded of Edgard Varese.
While I had a few issues with “Rag,” overall Rabbit & Rogue receives a strong recommendation not only for soundtrack nerds looking for a new Danny Elfman for their collection, or writers looking for more creative juice, but for fans of ballet and those more voracious music junkies that are looking for something new. The limited deluxe edition of Rabbit & Rogue arrived in stores on June 30th, and you can find it through this link; alternatively, you can buy it digitally through here.
Sony Masterworks provided a digital file for review.