As electro/chiptune/handclap-fueled Makeup and Vanity Set, Nashville’s Matthew Pusti has always drawn inspiration from Reagan-era horror and sci-fi soundtracks to the point where it feels almost criminal that there aren’t actual movies to accompany his aural sequences of mystery, fight, and flight. After the dark fantasy of Never Let Go and the John Carpenter-inspired Charles Park trilogy, it was only natural that the next step for MAVS would be to actually score a film. That opportunity has arrived with the sci-fi short 88:88 and its accompanying hybrid soundtrack/concept album.
While MAVS’ score for the film sticks to appropriately beatless, menacing ambience, the 88:88 full-length – which shares only one song with the film’s score, and kicks off with the movie’s ending – takes off on a widescreen tour that teases and hints at an epic story beyond the scope of the short film, functioning as both an expansion of the story and a peek at things to come.
Though cinematic metaphors come easy in talking about MAVS albums, they’re more appropriate than ever this time around – if the Charles Park series felt like grainy 16mm action grindhouse, and Never Let Go screamed late-night VHS, 88:88 is MAVS gone IMAX. Everything about the record is bigger, more vibrant, widescreen, anthemic, epic, and evocative – which is really saying something for an artist that’s so deftly rendered mind-movies with his previous imaginary soundtracks. The synths are bigger, with gigantic, shimmering neon chords that stab with orchestral majesty, the basslines pulsate with newfound insistence, the Tangerine Dream-esque sequencer lines interlock with frenetic, clockwork intensity. The drums are arena-sized this time around, fat and “real” and knocking out Godzilla-sized fills, soaked in reverb. This feels like MAVS 2.0, on a Hollywood Budget, in an editing suite with Hans Zimmer, and it is truly instense and awesome.
“The Cross,” the album’s lead single, is enormous and intense, insta-classic MAVS, building and building for an entire minute before the beat comes in, kicking off a space voyage. “System Override” is even tighter and more frenetic, but the album is interspersed with more ambient moments that hint at quiet exposition and further introspection. One’s brain goes haywire imagining what our protagonist must be encountering and going through during these darker, quieter moments. “Nothing can stop us now,” uncommonly bright and major-key for MAVS, could be a classic Erasure instrumental. “Homecoming” also marks the first actual vocal song on a MAVS record, courtesy of Nashville singer-songwriter Jasmin Kaset. Kaset’s breathy, quaalude-soaked vocals are reminiscent of Chromatics’ Ruth Radelet, making an obvious fit for the moody, midtempo track, but her performance remains just invested and emotional enough to sell the song’s weariness without giving in to coldwave detachment.
If 88:88 (the short film) expands to a full-length movie (please), 88:88 (the album) has already sketched out an insanely compelling blueprint for where things might go.