Over the last few years the film score has become very important to me. It was always there, even from a little kid getting goosebumps thanks to John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, and Ennio Morricone, the film score was making its mark on me whether I realized it or not. But just within the last few years I’ve started going back to old horror soundtracks and then new ones and saw such a vast and overwhelmingly beautiful musical world where I could get lost in. Whether it was a progressive rock band, a guy with a synthesizer, or a full orchestra, these composers and musicians not only made the film they were scoring that much better but many stand on their own as impeccable musical art that begs to be played both in context and out of context of the films they were made for.
Not only has it been a great year of music from some of my favorite artists and bands, it’s been a pretty stellar year for film scores and soundtracks. Two of my favorites in a really long time came out this year(well, I bought them this year anyways.) So some of these may not have been released in 2017, but they did come into my possession in 2017. Whether they be reissues or I just happened to stumble upon them finally, these are soundtracks that came into my life this year and I’m very thankful for that.
10. The Void by Jeremy Gillespie and Brian Wiacek and Various Artists
I think Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie’s The Void was one of the biggest horror film surprises for me this year. It was a low budget, mostly practical effects-filled occult-heavy hard doom flick that in all regards shouldn’t have worked but it did. It did because these guys were pulling from the likes of Clive Barker, HP Lovecraft, John Carpenter, and even Ridley Scott(definitely some Alien love here.) They hit the mood just right, both stylistically, visually, and aurally. The sound design was perfect and the NIN-meets-Ennio Morricone-meets-John Cage soundtrack was a huge part in giving this little, freaky horror film the push it needed into future cult classic territory.
9. Suspiria by Goblin
I know, I know, why didn’t I own this already? It’s an absolute stone cold classic, right? It’s the score to Dario Argento’s masterpiece, right? It’s fucking Goblin, right? Well, while I am quite aware of how great this album is(as well as the film, ya dingus) I never got around to picking up a copy. I’d see OG pressings here and there but never dropped the cash for one or for any of the reissues. Then Death Waltz/Mondo announced they were putting out a reissue at Beyond Fest. I was sweating and panting as I looked at its majestic beauty online. Of course I wasn’t going to be at Beyond Fest so I missed out. But alas, they were selling a limited amount on their webstore so not all hope was lost. Then the goddamn thing sold in like a minute. Good for Mondo, not so good for Johnny Midwest(that’s me.) Fear not, readers. Mondo threw a couple in LIght In The Attic’s direction and I was able to get a copy thanks to my local brick and mortar. I spun it twice last night and it was amazing. And look at that album art by Randy Ortiz. Absolutely amazing.
8. The Thing by Ennio Morricone
I have to admit that the score to John Carpenter’s The Thing was the last thing I noticed about it. This movie scarred me when I saw it as a kid. The kennel scene still burns brightly in my cerebral cortex as one of the most disturbing childhood movie memories(besides Leonard Part 6 of course.) Going back to The Thing as an adult I’m still enthralled with the effects and the Agatha Christie via Sergio Leone via Invasion of the Body Snatchers cinema gumbo Carpenter offered up, but Morricone’s score is a new highlight for me. There’s so much nuance and quiet dread in there that never made its mark before when I was still a pre-teen. Thanks to Waxwork Records I was able to snag a copy of their reissue, complete with absolutely stunning artwork by Justin Erickson of Phantom City Creative. It’s such an underrated masterpiece.
7. Christine by John Carpenter
Another Carpenter classic that far exceeded Stephen King’s source material, this film oozed Carpenter’s stylized camera work and dread-filled synth work. The movie was a fun 80s gem and Keith Gordon’s scene-chewing performance was worth the price of admission alone. I hadn’t really thought much about the movie for quite a few years, until this year when it was announced Varese Sarabande was reissuing the soundtrack. Of course I picked it up on blue-colored vinyl and was immediately taken aback by just how good it was. It sort of feels like an outlier in the Carpenter/Howarth canon. It’s more subtle and quiet than previous work. It sounds darker and more minimalistic than what came before(and after, really.) When I put it on this year I was instantly reminded of the more recent work of Zombi’s Steve Moore. His The Guest S/T owes a big debt to Christine. At least that’s what my ears hear.
6. Before The Flood by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Mogwai, and Gustavo Santaolalla
A soundtrack to a documentary that I really should watch but I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Still, I knew I’d want it with the Reznor/Ross team and Mogwai both contributing. It’s a 3LP set worth of compositions and incidental music for the Leonard DiCaprio-produced doc about climate change. It was directed by actor Fisher Stevens and the score is subtle but moving. Everyone here works well together to make a well-blended collection of pieces that I’m sure help push the narrative along quite nicely in the film. I can say it’s a great listen. Despite the length, it runs along nicely and it holds up to Mogwai and the Reznor/Ross team’s best.
5. Mayhem by Steve Moore
Steve Moore continues to push his film scoring work to bigger heights. His score to 2015s The Mind’s Eye was an impeccable collection of moody synth and this year’s Mayhem is no different. Well, actually it is. Moore has pushed his film music into newer territory with Mayhem, bringing in 80s techno rhythms at times and pushed into more of a pop-centric vibe. It works incredibly well, and I think establishes Moore as one the premier indie film composers working today.
4. Hyper Light Drifter by Disasterpeace
Hyper Light Drifter is a soundtrack to a video game I’ve never played, but that’s okay. You know why? Because the masterful score by Disasterpeace is really all I need. It’s a 4LP behemoth and it’s a sensory overload in the vein of his excellent work on Fez. He works within the realm of chiptune which adds both a child-like wonder and overwhelming nostalgia to everything he does. With the sound of early 80s all over this, you feel like your back in the neon decade watching Saturday morning cartoons and playing on your Commodore 64. But Rich Vreeland isn’t just some nostalgia guy. The work he creates is very serious and can evoke emotions just like someone working with the full symphony. Hyper Light Drifter might just be his masterpiece.
3. Blade Runner 2049 by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch
I know I’ll get a lot of flack for saying this, but I was a hell of a lot more hyped about seeing Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins'(his cinematography was as integral as the direction) Blade Runner 2049 than I was Rian Johnson’s Star Wars : The Last Jedi this year. Maybe it was the 37 years in-between, the mystique of the project, or the stellar group involved in bringing that world back to life, but the idea of heading back to that dystopic future seemed like a fitting way to close out 2017(after seeing the newest trailers for The Last Jedi I’m officially at peak hype level now.)
Besides the actors, writers, director, and DP, I was extremely thrilled to hear that Villeneuve also had his composing collaborator Johann Johannsson signed on to score the film. As October got closer and closer the story had changed a bit. It was reported Johannsson was going to share scoring duties with heavyweight Hans Zimmer. While I wasn’t too disappointed, I had hoped Zimmer was going to leave his over-the-top style from the Nolan, Miller, and Snyder films at the studio door, in lieu of something a little darker and more restrained.
Well by now you know that Johannsson was completely off the project by the end of it all and Zimmer took the reigns, with help from Benjamin Wallfisch. What started out as disappointing news and a general bummer turned 180 degrees once I heard the score for the first time. Zimmer and Wallfisch created a moody, melancholy, and spatial musical world for Officer K, Deckard, and Luv to come alive in. There are no huge blasts of over-the-top drama. Hans Zimmer pays tribute lovingly to Vangelis’ original and perfect score while still adding a more modern, darker feel. A post-modern dystopian symphony to get lost in.
2. The Girl With All The Gifts by Cristobal Tapia De Veer
Another cinematic treat this year was The Girl With All The Gifts. A different take on the virus apocalypse that was part 28 Days Later and part road movie, but with a precocious teen at the center. Besides the unique take on a well used story, the score by Cristobal Tapia De Veer was an absolute brilliant outing. Part electronic, part voice, but all so one of a kind. There’s something very alien about the use of voice and rhythm throughout, giving the whole thing a very ghostly feel. Part Mica Levi and part OPN, but very much its own beast. An absolute gem.
And now, my favorite score of the year:
Arrival by Johann Johannsson
Arrival is one of a handful of recent science fiction films that I think have retooled the genre and have breathed new life into the science fiction world. It wasn’t concerned with reeling in teenagers or people that need things spelled out for them. It took adult themes, complex storylines, and incredible visuals and created a truly emotional, thought-provoking film. So much of that was pushed forward by Johann Johannsson’s thoughtful and intricate score. He uses an orchestra like one may use a synthesizer. It’s not a conventional score, but it’s filled with so many eerie dynamics that you can’t help but get pulled into the world it makes. It’s like Steve Reich wrote a symphony for whales, with it to be played underwater. It’s mysterious, spatial, and at so many points absolutely beautiful. This is easily one of the most compelling film scores I’ve heard in years.
Last night as I played this for the umpteenth time my son says to me “This part in the movie I cried. It was so sad.” He was referring to the end where Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” played. If you’re familiar with the film and scene you’ll understand my son’s reaction to the piece and the scene. I cried, too. Richter’s piece plays like bookends for Johannsson’s overall score. They both work together flawlessly, which is why this is my absolute favorite score of the year(at least within the year I bought it, that is.)
There were lots of great soundtracks that I picked up this year. Here’s a few others you should check out if you haven’t(especially that Hellraiser. Damn):
Hellraiser by Christopher Young(reissue)
Southbound by The Gifted
Atomic Blonde by Various Artists
Baby Driver by Various Artists
Watchdogs by Brian Reitzell
Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me by Angelo Badalamenti
You’re Next by Various Artists
The Streets Run Red by Timothy Fife and David Ellesmere
Forbidden World by Susan Justin
So the big lists are out of the way. I’ve still got a couple end of year posts I’m going to share. Keep checking back. And go pick up some albums, guys and gals!