Film music has long been a passion of mine, but I’ve realised I don’t really talk about it on Cultural Conversation as much as I would like. 2019 I plan to remedy this, partly with a monthly cluster of recommendations.
The aim will be, similar to my end of year lists, recommend five albums by highlighting a track from them each. The idea will be for this list to drop at the start of the month and concern films to be released in UK cinemas that month, accompanied by a Spotify playlist which goes into a bit more depth about each album.
We continue with February 2019, featuring tracks from composers including Mychael Danna, John Powell and Bear McCreary…
5. ‘The Children of Our Age’ (If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell)
In the second album in as many months for Nicholas Britell, after Adam McKay’s Vice, his Oscar-nominated turn for If Beale Street Could Talk is arguably the stronger piece of work than Vice’s jazzy discordance. Beale Street is slow, romantic soul, laced with a deep sense of Deep South melancholy that punctuates the themes inside Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel.
Though a short piece early on in the album, ‘The Children of Our Age’ stands out as redolent of themes Britell carries through the album, with a lingering trumpet alongside twinkling piano which breathes a rich mood. It reminds one more of his work for Moonlight, with a deeper sense of heartbreak and tragedy. Melodious.
4. ‘Arthur’s Theme’ (The Kid Who Would Be King – Electric Wave Bureau)
The Kid Who Would Be King looks destined to be a picture forgotten by the masses and enjoyed as part of a cult following, perhaps due a rediscovery when not sandwiched between all kinds of blockbusters with box office expectations weighing it down. Joe Cornish’s picture has bombed in the US and UK, who perhaps didn’t quite know what to do with a child-friendly, urban take on the Arthurian legend.
Electric Wave Bureau’s score could end up following a similar fate unless people make a point of listening to it, as particularly ‘Arthur’s Theme’ is a rousing mix of electronic instrumentation and orchestra, fused together in a heady, retro brew which suggests childhood adventure and mythic undertones. It reminded me acutely in places of Matthew Margeson’s equally rousing, retro electronic theme to Eddie the Eagle.
Worth a listen.
3. ‘Two Tuesdays’ (Happy Death Day 2U – Bear McCreary)
Bear McCreary is not quite a household composer name akin to modern greats such as Giacchino or Zimmer but you get the feeling it’s only a matter of time for a talent who has steadily grown into one of the most confident and exciting voices in film music. A McCreary score is now an ‘event’ to anticipate, as was the case with his Happy Death Day 2U score, following a hugely enjoyable, weirdly beautiful orchestral take on the first Happy Death Day movie.
‘Two Tuesdays’, the opening piece, established that unusual grandiosity for what is, ultimately, a fairly disposable pair of horror takes on the Groundhog Day idea. Happy Death Day 2U is another recent box office failure which may put paid to a third outing for McCreary’s music, which likely stands out as one of the best things about the film – a real mix of full blown violin and percussion with tense, taut strings.
It’s another unusual horror score worth enjoying even if horror is not your bag.
2. ‘Go On, Professor Ginsburg’ (On the Basis of Sex – Mychael Danna)
Though a long-standing voice in film music, Mychael Danna is another composer who does not automatically leap out as a must listen talent whenever an album is released, but his music to new political drama On the Basis of Sex is really rather a highlight this month. Danna underscores the struggle of Felicity Jones’ Ruth Bader Ginsburg with real pathos and bravado.
‘Go On, Professor Ginsburg’ is a triumphant piece which builds across a 4-minute running time to incorporate a character theme of tinkling piano notes for Ginsburg which is layered in across the entire album skilfully, complimented by strong violin and brass instrumentation, with drums, which gives the piece a swagger and delightful confidence that caps off an album that’s very listenable outside of the film.
1. ‘Furies in Love’ (How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World – John Powell)
Quite a few people gave John Powell the ultimate accolade last year for his excellent score to Solo: A Star Wars Story, a score much better than its film, and he’s back with a familiar franchise again in his third and final (probably) score for the How to Train Your Dragon saga in The Hidden World, which is really delightful embrace of sweeping adventure and orchestral themes of the like Powell can do so well.
‘Furies in Love’ is a sumptuous, grand and romantic theme which lies at the heart of a very busy score packed with familiar refrains and new ideas, bringing in choir to accompany a range of instrumentation capturing the magic of the world Powell is playing in. You don’t have to have seen The Hidden World to be entranced by its music and, in all likelihood, this score will be up there for film music enthusiasts once the year is out.
As promised, below is the full February 2019 expanded movie mix on Spotify for you to delve into for more of these recommended albums. Enjoy!