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Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2003



David Byrne: "Young Adam"; The Zephyrs: "A Year to the Day"

As a multimedia artist who mainly works in music, David Byrne is peculiarly suited to the job of movie-score composer, but for some reason he hasn't done that many. The producers of the Scottish film "Young Adam" asked him to write the movie's music and had an advantage since they were also involved with "The Last Emperor," which Byrne coscored with Ryuichi Sakamoto and for which he won an Oscar. But the Scotland angle was also a factor in taking the commission, since Byrne was born there.

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Based on a novel by Alexander Trocchi and set in the early 1950s, the movie is, as the former Talking Head describes it, "a sleazier version of Camus' 'The Stranger' set in a colder climate." Recorded in Glasgow, where the movie is set, with members of that city's august musical community (Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, etc.), Byrne's music for the film, which he is releasing as an album titled "Lead Us Not Into Temptation," taps into their penchant for texture and tone to create moods that communicate directly. "Warm Sheets" features a sunny organ and crisp cymbals, and "Seaside Smokes" some jaunty blues. At the other end, "Sex on the Docks" is dark and oppressive, and "Baby in a River" floats by on a current of dread. Byrne incorporates jazzy elements that reflect the Bohemian character of the book, and the one nonoriginal cut is Charles Mingus' "Haitian Fight Song." Only two songs have vocals, but neither is what you'd expect from Byrne as a singer.

In fact, they sound a lot like the songs of another Scottish group, The Zephyrs, who just released their second album, "A Year to the Day." This Edinburgh band casts a depressive Scottish shadow over jangly country-inflected guitar pop and occasionally displays the droning intensity of British shoegazers. Stuart Nicol's barely audible vocals will strike some as somnambulant, but they perfectly complement the delicate arrangements. The songs shimmer and pulse with the kind of latent energy that fans of the Cocteau Twins will appreciate. Many of the guest musicians also play on Byrne's album, so the similarities are easy to trace. People in cold climates tend to stick together for warmth.

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