Its that time again another soundtrack supplement and a good batch of varied and interesting film and TV scores, the streaming channels such as Netflix and Amazon seem to be dominating once again with a clutch of entertaining films and shows that have in most cases excellent scores. But let’s begin with a production that seems to be causing a little bit of controversy amongst critics and cinema goers alike and contains an atmospheric sounding score by Johnny Greenwood.
Spencer has been hyped up as being a movie that is a fictionalized account of Princess Diana’s decision to end her marriage to Prince Charles (played by Jack Farthing) and leave the British royal family. It is a biographical and psychological movie directed by Pablo Larrain with a story written by Steven Wright and stars Kristen Stewart as Diana, Princess of Wales (née Spencer) of the films title. The music is quite affecting and for me personally shows just how versatile and talented that Greenwood is as a composer of film scores. Often, he is dismissed by hardened soundtrack collectors, but I urge you to at least give this score a chance, as it is for me any way a kind of coming-of-age score for the composer, it is not only effective within the context of the movie but is an unusual and innovative work that is polished and haunting.
It is at certain points quite Avant-Gard and also jazz influenced with many of the cues sounding as if they could be improvised and fashioned in a similar way to that of Morricone when he scored A Quiet Place in the Country, but then the score slips into interludes that are more conventionally scored, for solo piano and also string ensemble, giving the work a more sophisticated and sobering persona.
In many ways it reminded me of the style and the sound achieved by composers Michael Nyman, and Philip Glass, because it is melodic but also modern sounding. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the inventive and varied compositions from Greenwood and will say to you please do not dismiss this but take a listen. Available on digital platforms.
Netflix seem to be producing so many good movies of late and a number of interesting documentaries, Animal is one such documentary, and the music for the series is penned by composer Jasha Klebe, we all know that in recent years the scoring of documentaries and wildlife programmes and series has become more and more high profile, and why not? The score for Animal is at times dark and even foreboding,
I was straight away attracted to the percussive elements that the composer utilised within the score, creating strong and robust pieces from just percussion at times, it also has to it a lighter or calmer side, with the composer creating Vangelis like pieces that are particularly effective. Animal is a four-part docu-series, that focuses upon families of different wildlife during moments of danger, protection, survival and more. Each episode has a celebrity narrator — Rashida Jones, Bryan Cranston, Pedro Pascal, Rebel Wilson for the first season — and utilizes the latest technologies in nature filmmaking.
The music for the series plays an important part and becomes an integral feature of each episode. Available on digital platforms and well worth a listen. Staying with Netflix and to The Army of Thieves, which is the prequel to Army of the Dead, that concentrates upon German safecracker Ludwig Dieter leading a group of aspiring thieves on a top-secret heist during the early stages of the zombie apocalypse.
The music is credited to Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro who have together created a score that is for the most part appealing and entertaining, I felt whilst listening to it that there were several gentle nods to Morricone, but there is also present a kind of cheeky and mischievous sound that is effective and also attractive and at one stage a little homage to Wagner. I have to say I listened to this from start to finish and never tired of it, which says something about the score.
Its upbeat and quirky, melodic, and thematic. It’s a work that when listening to one just enjoys the experience and thinks from time to time can this get any better, well yes actually it can and does, a great little score nothing to elaborate or even overblown or grandiose just entertaining. Recommended.
Keeping any TV series fresh and vibrant over three seasons is a very tough task. For a start one must try and make sure that you evolve already established characters and introduce new ones. This probably applies to Doom Patrol, more than other series on TV. The writers must do all of that, but they must also conjure up the most roundabout, upside-down, universe that is weirder than the one in the last season. And I think that they achieved this for season three.
The music for the series is just as offbeat and at times over the top as the stories that are unfolding on screen, music is courtesy of two well respected composers Clint Mansell and Kevin Kiner, who have produced scores that match the weirdness and underline the unpredictability and quirkiness of the series and the characters within it. For the most part the scores are electronically realised, but this does not take anything away from the quality and the variety of each score, but that sometimes is the beauty of the digital platforms for music, because you come across items that you would ordinarily not give a second glance, when browsing in a store, the music is interesting and ultimately attractive. I found myself kind of drawn in by the sound and the style employed by the two composers. Yes, recommend that you listen to this one. Listen out for the 1950’s style sci-fi music. The Hulu series Dopestick, seems to be popular, with the tag line Inspired by the true story that got America Hooked on a Lie, which straight away arouses one’s interest, The series takes viewers to the epicentre of America’s struggle with opioid addiction, starting in the boardrooms of Purdue Pharma, to an anguished Virginia mining community, and then to the hallways of the DEA.
Music for the series is by Lorne Balfe, now here is a composer that has produced a few good scores but has also written music for films and TV that is barely mediocre. Balfe has in my opinion written more uninspired music than he has interesting works. It seems that every time the composer is assigned too a movie etc, the soundtrack fans that I know all sigh deeply and say Oh No, was there no one else free. His music for Dopestick is largely uninspired and certainly not original or even marginally inventive.
This is another good reason for digital platforms, because you can in effect try before you buy, so I would recommend that you do that with this, which is in my opinion another disappointing effort from Balfe. The same can also be said for the composers score for the Amazon series The Wheel of Time-The First Turn, another wasted or missed opportunity.
Season six of Supergirl is now showing and the score by Blake Neely and Daniel James Chan is certainly worth a listen, this is creative and structured music, placed perfectly to enhance and support and punctuate the action.
The opening cue alone Rebirth contains such a well-developed and vibrant style and sound, that it straight away has the listener hooked. Its driving and robust persona is highly thematic and even though it is an action cue remains anthem like in places. I love the way in which that composer’s utilise brass and strings lacing them with percussion and later in the score embellishing and enhancing these features further with synthetic support. Check it out.
Its coming up to the festive season, and there will be we know a glut of Christmas movies, the Home Alone franchise returns this year on Disney Plus, in the form of Home Sweet Home Alone, complete with a score by John Debney, who weaves into his score the original themes created by John Williams all those years ago, the result is an engaging and effective soundtrack, which is as mischievous and comedic sounding as Williams’s two original Home Alone soundtracks, Debney is a master at creating these types of scores his timing is impeccable and his gift for creating memorable themes is second to none.
There are shades of Debney’s Elf score present here with a whistling theme popping up every so often plus his vibrant arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” running throughout the score acting as a kind of punctuation to the remainder of the work. Nice score.
Composer Navid Hejazi has written an effective soundtrack to Guidance, the composer fusing electronic with symphonic and employing solo performances from piano and cello, it is a delicate and fragile sounding work that contains alluring themes and lilting melodies. Available from Plaza Mayor on digital platforms.
Whilst there why not also take a listen to the composers scores for the movies La Piel Del Volcan, and The Breakdown which are two totally different works stylistically and display the composer’s talent and versatility. The latter title containing the beautiful but simple Maddy’s Song. Nickelodeon’s,
Star Trek Prodigy, has a really rousing score with Michael Giacchino contributing to the theme for this animated series.
The scores for the series are by Nami Melumad, who has been an associate composer of Giacchino’s for a while now, working on movies such as Medal of Honour Above and Beyond and An American Pickle. She also scored the film Colette earlier this year which contained some effective and emotive music.
Her score for Star Trek Prodigy I would describe as relentless, because it never seems to rest, the work is literally overflowing with rich and vibrant themes most of which are action fuelled, it’s a score the evokes the likes of Goldsmith and Horner etc when they wrote for the Star Trek franchise, the Israeli/Dutch composer has produced a score that is robust, thematic and a resounding success in my opinion, it may not be that original in its overall sound or style, because it is laced with Goldsmith, Horner, and Williams sounding trademarks, but it is great movie music and is also a score that will keep even the most discerning film music fans entertained throughout.
As well as its more action paced material there are also some beautifully written lighter moments that are filled with an adventurous and romantic sound, plus there are a few that contain lilting and mystical interludes which are delicate and fragile containing hints of melancholy. There is also a proud almost anthem like persona present, I loved it. Available on the likes of Spotify, Apple etc, check it out its great.
Craig Armstrong is a composer who I admire very much, his scores are always affecting, the composer creating haunting themes that underline and punctuate as well as being melodic and enthralling as a listening experience on their own. One of his latest scores is from the movie The Most Reluctant Convert which is the untold story of C.S.Lewis. I am going to go as far as to say that I think this is probably one of the composers best scores and that is a big statement as he has written so much wonderful music for an array of movies.
The music can be apprehensive at certain points, but it has an underlying charm, as the composer conveys a sense of fragility via the use of harp and woods, the composer also employing strings that relay a real sense of emotion. There are also some engaging piano performances, that the composer combines with the string performances and subtle hints of woods, in which he fashions poignant and alluring motifs, these understated but affecting nuances are just one of the endearing and attractive elements of this work, making it a compelling and enthralling listen, again available on digital platforms, well worth listening too.
Composer Remo Anzovino always produces scores that are oozing with wonderfully melodic themes and filled with music that is ingratiating and memorable, Napoleon in the name of Art is certainly no exception, it contains a score that is inspiring and touching, the composer performing the piano solos which are themselves so emotive. It is a score that I know many will return to after their initial listen, it has to it a richness and at times I was reminded of Ennio Morricone because of the composer’s orchestration especially when he combines strings with woods and underlines these elements with piano, giving them an even more effecting and alluring persona.
There are darker moments, in which the composer utilises some electronic support, but even these have to them thematic content. Recommended.
As in most soundtrack supplements, I like to look back at a release or two that maybe has been overlooked or forgotten, this time I thought let’s go back to 1985 for the post-apocalyptic sci fi thriller The Quiet Earth which was a movie produced in New Zealand and directed by Geoff Murphy. The movie focuses upon a man who wakes up to find himself literally alone in the world, and goes about trying to find other survivors, as well as to find out what happened. He suspects that a government research project he was involved in had something to do with the disappearance of everyone. Eventually he finds several other people, and once they begin to trust each other they try to figure out why they were left on earth.
The score which was released in 1993 on the Label X banner and also included music from the TV series Iris was composed by John Charles, his music for The Quiet Earth is impressive, and for the most part symphonic with some synthetic enhancement and support. I remember seeing the compact disc release many times in the likes of Tower Records, before I actually decided to add it to my collection when I chanced upon a copy in a second-hand record store and although the score is well written and also interesting, its one of those soundtracks I never got round to listening to that often. At times the music sounds somewhat like Goldsmith in the 1960’s, or even some of the more classical slanted works of Sarde.
The strings having most of the workload, being underlined and embellished using brass flourishes, percussion, and woods. It is a pleasing and melodious work, and one that becomes steadily more dramatic and intense as the score develops and progresses. Thankfully the soundtrack was made available on digital platforms in 2014, because compact disc copies are rare and when they are available for sale go very quickly at high prices. If you get a moment, give it a listen, well worth it.
Also check out his music for the movie Utu which you can find on You Tube, which in my opinion deserves a CD re-issue with the composers score being complimented by traditional Maori chants.
This too was issued on Label X in the labels Cinema Maestro series but does not appear to be available digitally at this time.
Other scores you may have missed because of availability on CD include the works of Greek Maestro Manos Hadjidakis, who I supposed was the Greek equivalent to Nino Rota, because he wrote so many wonderful scores that even today are still not fully appreciated.
Well theres some great news a number of these somewhat obscure soundtracks have been released on digital platforms and I have to say I lost count whilst taking a browse through, the composers western score for the movie Blue is now also available on these platforms which is great news because the compact disc release had some distortion in the sound quality department.
There’s also Mantalena which is a wonderful score. Us America America, is there too, these are classic Hadjidakis works, and display that there was far much more to this composer than the catchy themes for Never on a Sunday and Topkapi. And if you have the time to scroll through his discography on any one of these sites you will also see the wealth of other music that he composed, an iconic composer who write so many great scores but was sadly underused outside of his native Greece. Do yourself a favour this weekend sit and listen to the marvellous music of Hadjidakis.
Concentrate if you will on Blue a film that deserved better reviews and a score that is inventive and beautifully crafted. Originally released on LP by Dot records back in 1968, I have always thought that this was a particularly interesting work by the composer.
The movie, which starred Karl Malden and Terence Stamp, was made very much in the style of The Magnificent Seven and contained traces of the Spaghetti western genre.
Hadjidakis also composed a rousing score for 300 Spartans in the 1960’s and was probably one of the busiest non-Hollywood composers of film music in that decade alongside the likes of Morricone, Rota and Barry. His name is one that is linked with so many movies that became classics, but also as many if not more films that received a limited release outside of Greece. Blue is a movie that probably does not come to mind instantly when discussing westerns from the 1960’s. But it contains a particularly haunting central theme which is first heard in the opening cue, ‘The River’, and is reprised throughout the work in cues such as ‘Nocturne’, ‘Scherzo’ and ‘Blue and Joanne Near The River’. As well as the lighter interludes, the score also contains an equal amount of action and dramatic moments, as in the infectious and nerve jangling ‘The Mexicans in The Village’ and the driving, thematic, and intense sounding ‘Preparation of The Villagers’.
Hadjidakis utilises the guitar solos of Laurindo Almeida to great effect and the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra play their hearts out under the composers direction. I also think that the composers use of cimbalom on some of the cues is particularly effective, but it must be noted that he also uses instrumentation that is considered part of the western film music line up as in Harmonica, strings, guitar, and brass, but utilises these in such a way that the sound achieved is striking and memorable. The orchestration on the score is highly original and inventive throughout the composer realizing great dramatic and romantic heights by combining instruments that we sometimes do not associate with the western score, thus Hadjidakis created a new sound for the western, which was familiar but at the same time innovative.
The CD release on the Sirius label is packaged lavishly with extensive notes on the film, the composer, and the score. It also has letters and quotes from the composer that he wrote whilst staying in The United States working on the score. There is also a full filmography for Hadjidakis and several stills from the movie and photographs taken at the recording sessions, with Hadjidakis conducting the orchestra, it is a score that is certainly worth adding to the collection, and if the actual disc is as elusive as I think it is, then please do not be put off by it being a download, either way you have to track down this score and savour its unusual but effective musical content that is stunning and beguiling.
A must have addition to any film music collection. Next time on soundtrack supplement I guess we will be diving into the magic, sparkle and mystery of Christmas and releases both old and new. Till then, keep listening.