The Top Ten Film Scores & Soundtracks Of 2015
Thank you for the all the positive feedback I’ve received in the past week regarding my Top 100 Albums of 2015 list. Whether by e-mail, Facebook, comments and texts, you sure know how to make a guy feel like his website has more than ten readers!
Even though I made mention of at the beginning of the post you might have glanced over my warning: no soundtracks were featured on the list. That’s because I want to address film music separately, as I feel it is worthy of distinction.
Since it’s raining today in Los Angeles and there isn’t much for me to do other than clean my tiny little abode or do laundry, I’ve decided to spend the afternoon catching up on recent record purchases (now playing: Atriarch – An Unending Pathway) and writing yet another list. I know, it’s 2016 now. Let’s put 2015 in the past for good, shall we?
The Top 10 Soundtracks & Scores of 2015
10. Warren Ellis – Mustang – I didn’t see Mustang; I don’t know the first thing about Mustang. What I do know is that I love Warren Ellis. Whether as a member of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, or as the “frontman” for Dirty Three (and by that I mean the only guy in the trio who has a microphone with which to troll audiences), his talent is immeasurable. His work with Cave on scores for The Proposition and The Road are fantastic. The slow burn of the compositions used in Mustang might not be for everyone. A violin string plucked here, the whisper of a distant flute there. It’s not the most dynamic score on this list. Then again this list is being written by a guy who finds beauty in 80-minute, one-note drones.
09. Olga Neuwirth – Goodnight Mommy – I had big hopes for Goodnight Mommy. Truth be told, I’m not even sure the film could live up to my expectations upon seeing the trailer. Was my first glimpse of the preview before screening Angst at the Silent Movie Theater? Or did it precede Devils at Beyond Fest? I can’t recall. Either way, the trailer looked amazing, and the film that followed was…less than amazing. Brutal? Sure, to a certain degree. Exemplary? Not quite. The score was one of the better aspects of the film though.
08. Ennio Morricone – The Hateful Eight – Perhaps the best composer for film who has ever lived was tasked with scoring a film for a writer/director whose entire career seems indebted to the kinds of films said composer made his mark scoring. Is it a match made in heaven? Or a match that sounds forced and contrived? Luckily for fans of Morricone (and Tarantino) the result is beautiful. No, nothing here could ever compare to “L’estasi dell’oro” but that doesn’t make the music of The Hateful Eight any less impressive. When it comes to Major Motion Picture (note the caps!) film music this year, it’s my opinion that nothing compares. John Williams’ work on the new Star Wars flick will be the too-obvious Oscar favorite leading up to the awards, but I’m hoping Morricone walks away with the award for best original score this year. He deserves it. He is the master.
07. Various – A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – This is the only entry on this list with which I truly struggled. Technically it’s the only various artists compilation on this list. There are eight artists credited with tracks on the soundtrack, so it is the only (I think…) entry that is not the work of a single person or a collaboration. And yet, everything flows together beautifully and — juxtaposed to the film itself — everything works to support and enhance the experience of watching the film. The other thing is…the movie was technically released in 2014. The wide release didn’t happen until 2015 but if you really want to be a stickler (read: an asshole) you’ll tell me that this shouldn’t qualify as one of the best soundtracks of the year. To that all I have to say is: fuck you. It is.
06. The The – Hyena – If it weren’t for my buddy Mark I still wouldn’t know The The (aka Matt Johnson). “This Is The Day” would forever be that song from the M&Ms commercial. Or that song from the Dockers commercial. Mark makes sure I know all there is to know regarding his entire discography, as well as his current recording projects. Thankfully there’s so much more to Johnson’s oeuvre than that one song from Soul Mining we keep hearing behind TV ads. After several smaller scale releases, such as the soundtrack to Tony, Johnson scored Hyena this year. The soundtrack was released by Death Waltz, which makes it easily obtainable. Whereas the film itself isn’t as good as Tony, the score is magnificent. For those of you unfamiliar with the recorded output of The The, you won’t want to start here, but it stands on its own as a great score. If you want the good stuff, start with Burning Blue Soul and then Dusk. There aren’t many more gut-wrenching songs than “Love Is Stronger Than Death.”
05. Ryuichi Sakamoto & Alva Noto – The Revenant – A recent review of The Revenant hailed the score as reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. There really isn’t much more you need to know in terms of the quality of the music Sakamoto and Alva Noto composed for one of the best films of the year. Yeah, the movie is a little slow (how much crawling and gurgling can YOU put up with?), but the score is unimpeachable. I have to admit I am not a big YMO fan, but the more I hear of Sakamoto the more I need to delve into his previous output. Recommendations as always are welcome… [Listen to “Killing Hawk“]
04. Ben Salisbury/Geoff Barrow – Ex Machina – My second favorite film of the year (thanks Fran!) also boasts one of the best scores of the year. To be fair, aside from Beth Gibbons I had no idea that Geoff Barrow was a member of Portishead, but listening to the film music for Ex Machina the connection seems more obvious. The film itself is a real downer and the musical accompaniment perfectly matches that tone. Sparse, heady and cold, I can’t think of a better score to juxtapose to the brutal, futuristic morbidity of Ex Machina. Yes, someone has posted the whole score online. Let’s just pretend you didn’t hear about it from me. [Listen to “Falling“]
03. J0hann J0hannson – Sicario – My favorite film of 2015 just happens to also feature a phenomenal score. Johannson has previously produced records by the Hafler Trio, recorded with Hauschka and other Icelandic artists, and won several awards for his score to The Theory Of Everything. And while Sicario is an imperfect film, I still thought it one of the most engrossing and exciting of this past year. Johannson’s score was a major reason for that. Parts of it remind me of Hans Zimmer on steroids, other parts are reminiscent of the Nurse With Wound Shipwreck Radio albums where they broadcast transmissions from the arctic circle. The string arrangements will make you cry. The percussive swells will quicken your heart rate. The ambient movements will wash over you. It’s got everything. It’s nearly perfect. [Listen to “The Beast“]
02. Steve Moore – Cub – Alright, Cub was another film that was technically released in 2014. But the score wasn’t released until this year. Just like A Girl Walks Home At Night. Because of that both are eligible for inclusion on this list. Whatever. Anyway… I don’t think there’s anyone making music better suited for horror films right now than Steve Moore. The few times I was lucky enough to see Titan back in the day were downright revelatory, and Moore was an essential part of those experiences. Now with Zombi he consistently captures the spirit of the Carpenter/Howarth duo better than pretty much any other imitator. The film itself might have been week (it was largely funded by an IndieGoGo campaign so what do you expect?) but the music was as good as anything else released in 2015. Except, of course, for the top spot on this list…
01. Disasterpiece – It Follows – Even Cub was…a distant second. No movie benefited more from its score than It Follows. Let’s be realistic here. Of all the horror flicks released in 2015, It Follows wouldn’t sniff the top ten if it weren’t for the amazing music Rich Vreeland dreamt up for it. The Babadook was more psychologically rewarding. Goodnight Mommy had the more brutal denouement. Bone Tomahawk walked away — soaked in blood and viscera — with the best on-screen death of the year. And yet, It Follows, which wasn’t really all that innovative — or terrifying — sticks in my mind as one of the better films I saw this year. It is my belief that this is overwhelmingly due to its score. It’s as close as we’re going to get to a modern Carpenter/Howarth collaboration. It could stand on its own as one of the best ALBUMS of the year, yet alone a soundtrack. That’s the mark of a truly outstanding score. Kudos, Mr. Vreeland, you owned it this year. [Listen to “It Follows (Theme)“]
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