Director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club, Smoke) says his upcoming film, Center of the World, is about a computer whiz so in love with the digital world that he's forgotten his social and sexual manners and mores. That's why Wang wanted a soundtrack hot enough to reflect the movie's contemporary, highly erotic theme. This soundtrack does the trick, as it's alternately sultry, disquieting, and cosmic. Sparked by such tracks as Robbie Robertson's "Rattlebone" (a jungle telegraph with a binary heart) and the refined rai of DJ Cheb I Sabbah's "Kese Kese" (remixed by Transglobal Underground), the Center soundtrack breaks new ground while remaining accessible. And it keeps the listener riveted.
Robertson's piece may be the most adventurous and sexy song that the laconic Band icon has turned out in years; Gilberto's "Alguiem" is percolating and refreshing; Ekova's "Temoine" is exotic, airy, and rocking; and Laika's "Black Cat Bone" is as slinky and sinister as its title suggests. The heavily sampled disc is notable for its seamlessness and textural diversity. Ending the album with Joe Henry's beautiful "Mean Flower" seems arbitrary, at first, because of what has come before. After all, this cut from Henry's upcoming Craig Street-produced album Scar is a superficially orthodox rock track, seemingly stuck onto the end of a CD that is otherwise resolutely modern. But Henry's lyrics are paradoxical and postmodern, and his music -- apparently sample-free and relatively straightforward -- is loamy and deep. In one sense, this soundtrack is similar to ones from bigger labels that mine their far deeper vaults for material to recycle. Certainly, contemporary movies bear that out, with endless reruns of '70s themes and '70s pop hits. But Center feels recombinant rather than recycled. The sounds here are largely world beat, techno, ambient -- all three and more, at times. They're the sounds of evolution and change, and you can dance to them.