Jordan Peele wanted a specific sound when he enlisted the help of composer Michael Abels for the score to 2017 breakout film Get Out. Peele found Abels — a composer known for blending genres like bluegrass, jazz, and blues — by way of a YouTube video (a haunting performance of his piece “Urban Legends“) and the pair traded notes on what kind of soundscape Get Out would need. The result? Loads of atmospheric dread coupled with the constant feeling of claustrophobia. It’s a very compelling score but one that may almost be too heavy for extended listens.
Like the film, Abels’ score highlights the intense feeling of fear in uncertain situations. The moody and atmospheric “Chris and Rose (Love Theme)” features beautiful cello lines over sparkling strings, while a strummed autoharp creates tension through dissonance. After a few short instrumental segments, we get to our second big theme of “Hypnosis.” Plucked harp and strings lull the listener into a false sense of security before low bass and wailing voices launch you fully into one of the film’s main story arcs: the sunken place.
The use of vocals, however sparse, is a very effective tool in Abels’ bag. On the track “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga,” the vocals (all in Swahili) mixed with rustic sounding instruments convey a real sense of foreboding. In interviews, Abels has said that the words roughly translate to “Brother, run! Listen to the elders! Listen to the truth! Run away! Save yourself!” The visceral fear and terror in the voices is a haunting omen that things are likely to go very wrong for the protagonist, and it’s easily the highlight of the score.
Both of the discs have short, less than a minute tracks that are serviceable but somewhat forgettable without the context of the film. To be fair, some of these work together to form a larger, more coherent piece (“The House Reprise” and “Ice Tea” for example) but in reality, the main themes will likely be the pieces to stick with you after the initial listen. This makes for a slightly uneven experience but one that’s ultimately still very enjoyable.
While there is definitely some surface noise present, it doesn’t overly distract from the music. The mix sounds pretty close to the Spotify release so expect the same sonic range as its digital counterpart. One thing of note is compression: on a track like “Chris and Rose,” the strings seem to have a good amount of compression which can put them very up front in the mix. This isn’t a slight against the recording, just something to keep in mind when listening.
The cover art for Get Out is very unique and conveys Chris’ feeling of isolation in the film. A large group of twisted, white faces laugh and stare directly at him as he turns away, embraced by the faceless Rose in a candy-striped sweater. The hand drawn title features the silhouette of an African-American woman inside the “O” looking out over the proceedings with a blank expression. Inside the gatefold, we see Chris falling deeper into the sunken place through a large pupil with a white border. On the back, a hand-drawn tracklist is presented above a burning house, the flames outstretched to mimic deer antlers. They’re all callbacks to the film but not specific enough to overtly give anything away.
The two discs I have are white and blue swirl, known as the “tea cup” variant, and are only available to Waxwork subscribers. There is also a gorgeous “garden party” variant featuring a swirl of green and white. The record labels are a nice touch; disc 1 shows a glass of milk with a straw while disc 2 has a bowl of fruit loops, Rose’s preferred snack in the film.
Get Out is available on vinyl at Waxwork Records.