The Top Ten Movie Soundtracks/Scores Of 2019
Nothing says RELEVANT like a Year End list published in late February. Excuse my poor timing, I’m trying to get back into this whole blogging-on-the-reg thing again. I finished the most important list of the year on time. If this one and the best beers of the year list are a few months late…who cares, right? I guess watching the Oscars a couple weeks ago reminded me that in years past I have discussed film scores around awards season. By the way, speaking of the Oscars, The Nightingale was my pick for film of the year, and I thought it also had the two best acting performances of the year (Parasite was number two, Tigers Are Not Afraid was number three). Unfortunately I didn’t as many promo score CDs this year as I have in years past, so I’ve had to rely on my own detective skills to track down most of what film composers recorded/released in 2019. These are the kinds of things that happen when I forget for eight months that I have a blog. Now I’m trying to write regularly and I’m realizing I’ve pretty much forgotten how. Or, at least, my grasp on the English language has started to loosen. Maybe I’m just finally at the age where I’m beginning to experience cognitive decline…
Some of the best soundtrack/score work this year came from the world of television, and not film. What Ben Frost has done working on Dark for the past few years is remarkable. What Cliff Martinez accomplished on Too Old To Die Young was worthy of much more acclaim than I think he’s received. Although perhaps the best use of music in Too Old To Die Young was “Mandy” during that all-night car chase. Man, that show was a slog — but totally worth it. If I extended this list to include television, you’d probably find Chernobyl, Watchmen, Dark, and Too Old To Die Young on it…and that’s just off the top of my head. Maybe TV has supplanted film as the medium of choice for creative composers? My point is, film scores in 2019 were by-and-large not that great! Some of them were great, but they movies they were attached to were not very good. It made compiling this list throughout the year very difficult. Alas, there were some diamonds in the rough if you searched (and listened) hard enough. With that said, here’s my list of my favorite scores of the year.
The Top Ten Movie Soundtracks/Scores of 2019
10. Daniel Lopatin – Uncut Gems – Warp Records – Count me as one of the (apparently) few people who finished watching Uncut Gems and wasn’t in love with it. I thought the directors did a great job of building tension throughout but I wasn’t really sold on Sandler’s performance and the story as a whole. I enjoyed the score more as the movie progressed. I found the opening of the movie — a major key ditty that follows Sandler for like 8 minutes — was actually a bit distracting. Like, totally forgetting that Mr. Oneohtrix Point Never composed the music, I thought to myself, “Well this is going on for way too long and it’s actually getting in the way of the dialog.” After a while I supposed maybe that was the point, do something slightly more uplifting to counter the complete mess of a human I was watching unravel on screen. By the end of the film I was all-in on the score, even if I wasn’t all-in on the movie itself. I know it has a lot of fans, so feel free to tell me what I missed in the comments section below.
09. Disasterpeace – Under The Silver Lake – Milan Records – Another pretty-bad-to-terrible movie with a surprisingly good score. Rich Vreeland made a name for himself (or his nom de plume) with his score for the horror film It Follows. That achievement in retro-sounding dark ambient music was my favorite score of 2015. And while Under The Silver Lake finds Vreeland re-teaming up with David Robert Mitchell, don’t approach this film expecting the same kind of music as It Follows. This is way more orchestral, string-heavy, and noir-ish. For that I have to applaud the composer, because the film itself was kind of goofy and awkward but the score helped ground it in some kind of reality. On paper it’d be easy to assume pairing the same writer/director and composer on a project that veers between black comedy and thriller would result in another It Follows (at least in a musical sense). This is a much more mature score, and I think that’s part of what I like about it. I don’t think elements of it would be out of place in old Twilight Zone episodes. That’s high praise coming from an obsessive Twilight Zone fan like myself.
08. Mark Korven – The Lighthouse – Sacred Bones – “This is a movie for men,” my girlfriend said after looking up from her book for about 5 minutes of The Lighthouse. I found almost nothing enjoyable about the movie other than the music. I’m sure I’m in the minority (again) when it comes to Robert Eggers, but I fell asleep during The Witch and was bored almost to tears by The Lighthouse. As harrowing as the score is, I don’t think the story matched the music in terms of intensity. The acting performances certainly came close, but I only have so much patience for two people Acting (that’s capital-A Acting!) at each other for almost two hours. The score at least kept my interest enough to keep glancing at the screen to see if I was missing some integral plot point (I wasn’t). Korven’s nightmarish score makes for a great soundtrack to late-night drives or attempts at writing. In fact it’s one of two scores I’ve re-listened to while penning this post!
07. Climax (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) – Milan Records – The lone SOUNDTRACK on this list belongs to Climax, a movie I don’t think had an actual score. There were two songs composed by frequent Gaspar Noé collaborator Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk), but other than that the soundtrack features songs by M/A/R/R/S and Aphex Twin and Giorgio Moroder and Gary Numan and others. As the plot of the movie transitions from jubilant dance party into utter chaos the soundtrack brilliantly follows suit. It goes to show that you don’t NEED a unique composer to capture the essence of a film — a brilliant music supervisor (in this case there were two, Steve Bouyer and Pascal Mayer) can accomplish the same feat. As for the film itself, I quite liked Climax.
06. Max Richter – Ad Astra – Deutsche Grammophon – I’m a sucker for a good outer space movie score. I loved Gravity, and Interstellar and Arrival so even though I had very little interest in the film Ad Astra I had a feeling Max Richter scoring an outer space movie was going to be right up my alley. He’s responsible for the bulk of the score, with Lorne Balfe contributing eight tracks and Nils Frahm just one. When I think about my favorite scores from the genre, I think of sparseness (duh) and these composers perfectly capture the emptiness and loneliness of space with a yearning for connection that fits perfectly in my own little personal Hall Of Great Outer Space Movie Music. Apparently Ad Astra was in consideration for an Oscar nom but it was disqualified because the composers didn’t have an equal number of credits. Total bullshit, as I think it would have been given serious consideration for best of the year if it were eligible.
05. Thomas Newman – 1917 – Sony/Music On Vinyl – The first of two films on my list that was actually nominated for an Oscar this year. I vacillated on whether I wanted this or Joker to win, mostly because I love Hildur Guonadottir but wasn’t a fan of that movie at all, and while I’m not a huge Thomas Newman fan I thought 1917 was legitimately one of the five best films of the year. So, it would have been nice to see him win. The combination of Roger Deakins cinematography and Newman’s score made for some undeniably brilliant sequences. It was a scene worthy of its own oral history-style writeup in the LA Times. Totally spine chilling.
04. Mica Levi – Monos – Invada – I saw the trailer for Monos for the first time at one of the Beyond Fest screenings I attended, and right from the outset I knew it was a film I was going to connect with. I don’t think I knew at the time that the score was composed by Mica Levi (of Under the Skin fame), but when it started getting hyped by Invada/Lakeshore (around the same time the Dark soundtracks were released) I started to pay closer attention to it. Without fail, if I listen to this at work someone will complain about the whistling. Other than that, the blend of synthesizers, strings, and organic sounds gives everything an incredibly tense, eerie feeling that permeates throughout the film. By the way, I know this list has been by and large filled with great music and pretty middling movies…but I really liked Monos and highly recommend it. See? I didn’t hate every movie I saw in 2019!
03. Bobby Krlic – Midsommar – Milan Records – If you thought I wasn’t going to geek out about the first official Bobby Krlic (aka Haxan Cloak) film score, you clearly don’t read this website. I mean…Excavation came out in 2013! It’s been almost SIX YEARS since I saw him and Pharmakon at the old Church on York. I’m fucking jonesing for some fresh ‘Cloak. Of course, this being a major motion picture, I did not expect it to sound like one of his studio albums. A man can dream (I literally just typed “cream” which says a lot about how much I want an official Haxan Cloak album), but a man should also dream pragmatically! That said, the end result was about as good as I could have hoped for. Pieces like “The House That Harge Built” showcase some serious film composer chops, while others like “Ritual In Transfigured Time” are genuinely terrifying.
02. Hildur Guonadottir – Joker – Watertower Music – Count me as one of the folks who genuinely did not give a fuck about Joker when it was released, had no motivation to see it, and eventually settled on watching it at home when a screener was thrust in my face. I didn’t particularly like the movie, nor did my level of appreciation rise higher than a flippant “I guess he’ll probably win the Oscar.” Hildur Guonadottir, on the other hand, is a genius. And I could not be happier or more surprised by her Academy Award win. Like I said earlier, I was rooting for either her (longshot, but she’s worked with Sunn O))) and Ben Frost!) or Thomas Newman (great score by a generally boring, by-the-books composer). That she persevered over a field with a combined 7 Oscars (none of which were won by Newman, who has 15 lifetime noms) is a testament to her brilliance. What a year, between this and Chernobyl. I can’t wait to hear what 2020 and beyond have in store for us.
01. Colin Stetson – Color Out Of Space – Waxwork Records – You cannot imagine how stoked I was get a ticket to the Beyond Fest screening of Color Out Of Space back in October. I followed the film from its announcement through production (fiendishly searching for an sharing with friends any production stills I could find online) and the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. I was so amped for the screening I left work early even though I had plenty of time to get to the theater. The film was everything I’d hoped a Nick-Cage-directed-by-Richard-Stanley Lovecraft horror movie would be. And Colin Stetson’s score was the perfect accompaniment for such an outlandish, balls-to-the-wall sci-fi horror fever dream. It’s a little more dreamy and ethereal than his spine-chilling score for Hereditary, but Stetson is quickly coming one of my favorite modern film composers. If you haven’t seen the movie, grab your favorite 1:8 CBD/THC vape and give it a whirl. You won’t regret it.
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