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 am remedying this, partly with a monthly cluster of recommendations.
Well in this case… two monthly. Much as my aim is, similar to my end of year lists, recommend five albums by highlighting a track from them each, each month, the reality is that March/April only delivered five albums which tickled my fancy enough to bring to your attention.
I have thrown a few honourable mentions into the joint March/April Spotify playlist you’ll find at the bottom though…
We continue with March/April 2019, featuring tracks from composers including Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman and Alexandre Desplat…
5. ‘Dumbo’s Theme’ (Dumbo – Danny Elfman)
A fairly average Danny Elfman score is always better than a legion of other soundtracks and his score to Tim Burton’s Dumbo–by all accounts another lacklustre effort from the director–is no exception. Elfman’s score for Dumbo is a confection of the like you would expect from a composer-director team up that has produced some remarkable musical compositions over the years.
And while Dumbo doesn’t hit the heights of a Batman or Edward Scissorhands, pieces such as ‘Dumbo’s Theme’ do provide some level of choiral and orchestral union that injects some magic into what sounds like, otherwise, a fairly un-magical movie.
4. ‘Anthem’ (Us – Michael Abels)
Two years ago, Michael Abels came out of nowhere to score Jordan Peele’s brilliant satirical horror Get Out, with the creeping ‘Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga’ which opened the picture emerging as a slithering slice of choiral beauty, and Abels repeats the trick with ‘Anthem’, which opens Peele’s celebrated second feature Us. ‘Anthem’ could well end up just as potent with its staccato, heightened verbs in rhythmic, repetitive motion; it’s like a twisted fairy tale song living inside a Stephen King story, as Abels applies a score alongside it that heavily borrows from the likes of Bartok and Penderecki. The Shining is without doubt a signature influence.
Abels continues to mark himself out as one of the most innovative talents working today.
3. ‘Strange People’ (The Aftermath – Martin Phipps)
Though a wartime drama largely lost in the mists between major tent pole superhero movies, The Aftermath stands out as one of the finest scores of the year so far. British composer Martin Phipps fused together a gorgeous use of piano and strings with the truly inventive concept, in ‘Strange People’, of dropping bombs and wartime chaos, evoking the contradiction between melody and narrowing reality. Much of the album is beautifully composed and classical in note, and stands out amongst a sea of louder or electronic pieces in recent months.
You may never watch Keira Knightley in The Aftermath, but do seek out its score. It’s sumptuous.
2. ‘To San Francisco’ (The Sisters Brothers – Alexandre Desplat)
Quite the oddity of a film, The Sisters Brothers split opinion as a piece of work but it’s hard to not see sparks of brilliance in Alexandre Desplat’s score. ‘To San Francisco’ is a terrific piece of music that evokes mood, a sense of travel and the plains of the frontier the titular Sisters brothers explore. Desplat’s album is a mesh of conceptual ideas, some playing off earlier ideas, others feeling a touch ethereal or fantastical in nature, but they blend into a heady brew which, while discordant at points, works as an individual listening experience.
Desplat continues to stand out as one of the signature composers working today with a distinctive, melodious sound.
1. ‘The Real Hero’ (Alan Silvestri – Avengers: Endgame)
A few people, myself included, felt a little let down by Alan Silvestri’s Avengers: Infinity War score last year; a brooding, dark, noisy action piece which at the time felt underwhelming. Endgame not only puts it into greater context but serves as a wonderful capstone to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first era; thrilling, grand, melodious action and character-based musical storytelling with Silvestri toward the top of his game. While the album has plenty of stand out pieces, ‘The Real Hero’ is a beautiful, elegiac goodbye in musical form and stands out as the jewel among riches.
Endgame might be the best score of 2019 to date, and it’s enormously heartening that Silvestri, much like the film, stuck the landing.
As promised, below is the full March/April 2019 expanded movie mix on Spotify for you to delve into for more of these recommended albums. Enjoy!