It’s been an equally exciting year at the cinema as its been in the record shop. I’ve seen some amazing films(either at the theater or at home.) Honestly, it’s been a pretty amazing year for films and the scores written for them. Of course I find myself wishing I could get to the theater more often and also that better films would make it closer to me. Due to my location in the Midwest among cornfields, McDonalds, and churches quite a few of the films I really wanted to see this year didn’t make it anywhere near me. Or if they did it was a one night showing at 10pm on a Tuesday night.
So as with past years I’m often deep-diving into soundtracks far sooner than the film it was written for. That’s just how it goes with me. When I do get to see the film and experience the celluloid with the sound it’s that much more special. So here are some of my favorite film scores of 2018. Some of the movies I’ve seen. Some I haven’t.
Le Matos : Summer of 84
If I had to pick a favorite soundtrack this year, then I’d be okay with picking Le Matos’ excellent Summer of 84 S/T. I’ve been a fan of Le Matos since I first heard Chronicles of the Wasteland back at the beginning of 2016. And yes, I had the soundtrack before I saw Turbo Kid. These guys just know how to write great songs, and their scores are just incredible. With Summer of 84 Le Matos captured perfectly the vibe of an 80s summer. Big melodies, bigger beats, and a knack for tapping into a time period and giving the proceedings just the right amount of magic. I absolutely loved RKSS’ love letter to early 80s Spielberg kids adventure films, as Summer of 84 felt like a darker version of the Spielberg model of cinema. Le Matos gave the picture a beating heart and sometimes ominous dread that lingered over the proceedings. The soundtrack is one of those scores that works on its own, as well as within the context of the film.
Le Matos can do no wrong. The sooner you realize that, the better.
Johann Johannsson : Mandy
One of the greatest triumphs and tragedies in film scores this year is Johann Johannsson’s Mandy S/T. A triumph in that it’s one of the best combinations of music and cinema this year, but a tragedy because Johannsson passed away before he could hear his masterpiece fully formed. What Johann created in Mandy was this dark, doom-laded mixture of synths and guitar dirges that was both ominous, brutal, and also quite beautiful. The composer died before he could completely finish what he’d started for Panos Cosmatos’ follow-up to his Beyond The Black Rainbow, but with the help of friends and fellow film composers like Pepijn Caudron(Kreng), the score was finished and became the monolithic work of Gothic beauty it is now. One of the most gripping scores and films of the year.
Colin Stetson : Hereditary
Though many didn’t feel that Hereditary lived up to the hype that surrounded it, I feel that it indeed did live up to the hype and went far beyond. What Ari Aster did in that film was to create horrors both literal and mental, showing a family already stunted and frayed by a domineering presence in life only to see that presence continue to dominate in death. Dysfunction becomes demonic and we see a family slowly going to Hell. Colin Stetson’s score feels like a character in and of itself. His ominous soundscape has the feel of a specter in the room, breathing down our necks and whispering threats in our ears. The horns and orchestration work to build a wall of dread, while at some points even lulling us into a sort of trance. It’s one of the most riveting and effective scores in recent years.
Thom Yorke : Suspiria
I’m one of those Thom Yorke fans that pretty much eats up anything he serves. I’ve not found an album he’s done that I haven’t loved on some level, including Radiohead, solo work, Atoms For Peace, or even the occasional guest spot. When I’d heard he was tapped to write the soundtrack to Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria I wasn’t sure what to think. I was certain he was up to the task, but would it be as iconic as Goblin’s work on Dario Argento’s original? The answer was sort of a yes and no. What Thom Yorke has created for Suspiria is about 180 degrees from the manic madness Goblin wrote, but it’s just as engaging and memorable. Yorke went for a very subdued, melancholy approach, covering the film in quaint and tinkling piano and baroque strings. It matches Guadagnino’s stark greys and muted reds of his Germany and dance school. Yorke is no stranger to mournful piano and lilting vocals, and he fills the film with lots of both. Along with actual score, Thom Yorke gives us a few new actual songs and they are some of the loveliest work he’s done yet. He may not be up to Jonny Greenwood level of film work, but he’s on his way.
Steve Nolan : Sodium Party
I have not seen Sodium Party, but I have heard Steve Nolan’s quite beautiful score. The musical world Nolan creates for Sodium Party is piano and synth-led, giving the feel of old school composers like Bernard Herrmann and Pino Donaggio’s work with Brian DePalma. There’s a gentleness in the compositions here; a feeling of innocence and innocence lost. The sparseness of echoing piano and lilting strings is a refreshing reprieve from the sometimes overpowering, in-your-face scores both symphonic and electronically derived. Steve Nolan goes for a more subdued path compositionally and it works beautifully.
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad : Luke Cage Season Two
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad continue the old school magic they began on the first season of Marvel’s Luke Cage and move it right into the second(and sadly last) season of the show. Gritty, urban vibes and old school soul come together to create the kind of background noise you tend to pay as much attention to as the butt-kicking Cage inflicts on the thugs trying to overrun Harlem. While this season’s score didn’t blow me away like the first season did, I was still considerably impressed and listen to this soundtrack quite often. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad are masters at the game, and I look forward to what’s up next from these two.
John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies : Halloween
I don’t think there was much more John Carpenter and his new crew could do to add to his iconic Halloween score. Change it up too much and the diehards would have his head, while not doing much at all would seem sort of lazy. Instead, Carpenter, his son Cody and his Godson Daniel Davies sort of gave us a funhouse image of the original film’s music and gave the overall themes a tune-up. The results are a nicely constructed, modern day version of a piano line and electronic pulse that doesn’t take away from the original’s impact, but still gives it a modern feel. Not everyone was going to love what he did here, but that’s okay. And I’m sure John Carpenter could care a less what we thought anyways. He’s been making music pretty much full time since 2015s release of Lost Themes and it shows in just how good this score came out. In his son Cody and Daniel Davies he’s got two guys that are fully entrenched in the modern world of making music, and in Carpenter himself those two have the master of horror to learn from. How could what they do not be engaging? I don’t think it could be.
To be continued…