Tag Archives: Soundtracks

2016 in Review: A Soundtrack

10-cloverfield-lane-jukebox

It’s been a while since we did a review of the year’s soundtracks, so we drafted in frequent collaborator Tony Black – and head honcho at the TV and film music podcast Between The Notes – who put down his microphone in favour of writing down his thoughts on the top soundtracks of 2016. Plenty to consider before you vote in this year’s Failed Critics Awards.

Let’s be honest, it’s not been a great year at the movies has it, 2016? Not if you’re a major blockbuster at least. Oddly enough though, the same can’t quite be said for the scores to many of those films, dodgy or otherwise. David Ayer, Zack Snyder or even Scott Derrickson may have let you down, but Michael Giacchino, Clint Mansell or Cliff Martinez have been right on the money with their orchestral scores to some of this year’s most disappointing or divisive pictures.

Here are five scores to the biggest (and not necessarily best) movies that have troubled your multiplex that I consider to be composers close to the top of their respective games:


5 – THE WITCH (Mark Korven)

Just like you probably hadn’t heard of The Witch before early this year, chances are you won’t have heard of Canadian composer Mark Korven. He’s a new kid on the block. Much like how Robert Eggers wowed us with his debut feature, Korven backs him up with a score that drips remote, screeching, primeval terror and the coldness of the austere Puritan setting in which Eggers tells his chilling tale. It’s not Sunday afternoon easy listening, but it’s one of the best horror/chiller scores in years.

Standout track: Caleb’s Seduction


4 – STAR TREK BEYOND (Michael Giacchino)

The new master and heir apparent to John Williams; it’s rare Michael Giacchino has a bad year. After a stonking 2015 scoring a raft of average movies with stunning music, he delivers this year both with Doctor Strange and even more so Star Trek Beyond. It’s his third score for the JJ Abrams spearheaded revival of the classic TV score and it’s possibly his best yet, a heady mixture of iconic, reworked themes with powerful, thrilling brass and an elegant sense of galactic scope. Plus you’ll always have a good laugh at the wonderful puns that litter the names of his cues, as if you needed more of a reason to listen!

Standout track: Night on the Yorktown


3 – 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (Bear McCreary)

You’ve heard Bear McCreary, even if you don’t know his name. Trust me. He scored the excellent Battlestar Galactica remake and it’s his music that forms the memorable title track to The Walking Dead. He’s been much more television based (and continues to be) but in scoring the underrated, Hitchcockian sequel to secret blockbuster Cloverfield, he truly advances to the big leagues with a score one parts mythic, and two parts a gorgeous mesh of dark thriller & Jerry Goldsmith-esque creeping mystique. Even if you don’t love 10 Cloverfield Lane (and you should), it would be a surprise if you don’t end up a little in love with how it sounds by the end.

Standout track: Michelle


2 – THE NEON DEMON (Cliff Martinez)

Following previous partnerships with Nicolas Winding Refn on films such as Drive or Only God Forgives, Cliff Martinez perhaps reaches amongst the peak of his accomplishments with his remarkable and unique work on The Neon Demon. Now, not everyone took to Winding Refn’s garish horror about the fashion industry, but Martinez’s music drips with substance. It often sounds like diamonds falling onto a cold floor, infused with a sense of warped, pulsing disco, underlain with painful violins capturing the tragedy of Elle Fanning’s main character. It’s a stunning piece of work, and remarkable for the fact the standout piece, ‘The Demon Dance’, is a contributing from Julian Winding, the directors brother. If it’s not being played in clubs forevermore, it’ll be a travesty.

Standout track: The Demon Dance


1 – HIGH-RISE (Clint Mansell)

There’s a strong argument that Clint Mansell is the greatest composer on this list discussed today and, after listening to his score for High-Rise, it’s hard to provide a counterpoint. Ben Wheatley’s absurdist, neo-capitalist, period masterpiece and searing critique on Thatcherism may both be the greatest film of 2016 but also have a score to match. Mansell belies his roots as a Midlander growing up in the gaudy, concrete monstrosities of the 60’s & 70’s to deliver an operatic and creeping piece which matches Wheatley’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s commentary. It’s full of brash violins, strong towering themes and an underpinning of controlled mayhem which Mansell explodes outward for effect at just the right moments. Of all these pieces, it’s the score that can be most listened to and enjoyed in isolation. Even in Mansell’s glittering career it’s a standout, possibly career best piece of work.

Standout track: The World Beyond the High Rise


In terms of honourable mentions, a shout out again to Giacchino for Doctor Strange, to Henry Jackman for The Birth of a Nation, the great John Williams for The BFG, Johann Johannson for Arrival, John Ottman for X-Men Apocalypse, Abel Korzeniowski for Nocturnal Animals and John Powell/David Buckley’s collaboration on Jason Bourne. There are more I’ve missed, undoubtedly, from even the honourable mentions, let alone the best of list.

So take a moment to remember than even in a hellish political year, or a largely average one for movies on the screen, the composers behind the music are still delivering work you’ll be listening to for years to come. 2016 does have one saving grace, after all…

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2014 in Review: A Soundtrack

Aside from very generously offering to collate the votes in our Failed Critics Awards 2014, James has also found time to return to the site to run through his favourite soundtracks of the past 12 months. The big question is, of course, did he manage to find something to get even more excited about than when Kristen Wiig sand a David Bowie song last year? Let’s find out…

by James Diamond (@CarlVaggio)

Apart from the awards themselves, this is always the most fun article I get to write for the site. And these days it’s pretty much the only article I get around to writing. I’m at the age now where I don’t really feel like I need any more music, and I’ve certainly stopped listening to the radio or watching MTV. Or even VH1. Almost all of the new music on my mp3 player these days comes from film soundtracks, and this article is a small celebration of the brilliant songs I’ve heard used in films this year. Some of them are old friends seen in a brand new light, while some are original compositions that won me over. All of them have been earworms at 6am at one point or another over the year. So, in no particular order…

Frank’s Most Likeable Song Ever (Frank)

Lenny Abrahamson’s film (loosely inspired by author/screenwriter Jon Ronson’s time as a keyboard player with Frank Sidebottom) has a number of great musical moments that deserve a place on this list, as befitting a great musical road movie that takes elements from films like Spinal Tap and the Leningrad Cowboys films. Jon’s (Domnhall Gleeson) opening scenes walking around his suburban town and failing miserably to gain inspiration from his surroundings are delightful, while the performances of Frank’s band The Soronprfbs are all very watchable. However, this thirty second ditty sums up the inner turmoil of the outsider artist who deep down just wants to be loved.

Hooked on a Feeling (Guardians of the Galaxy)

The soundtrack for James Gunn’s Marvel space opera was a wonderful concept, taking the form of the cassette that was Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) only remaining possession from his childhood on earth, and as such was packed with some cracking songs from the 1970s. I’m cheating a little bit though, as although this song was used well within the film itself, I’m choosing it here purely for its appearance in the film’s first trailer. I had mixed expectations of the film when it was announced, but hearing the familiar OOGA-CHAKA chant and refrain of the chorus towards the end, coupled with the original (and superior in my opinion) tagline “You’re Welcome” completely put my mind at ease. This film was never going to be anything but great fun.

Interrogation Song (Muppets Most Wanted)

A little like the second series of Flight of the Conchords, Brett McKenzie’s songs for this film initially suffered in comparison to the accessibility of his first efforts, and much like that underrated second season, the songs in Muppets Most Wanted prove to have a depth and charm that easily matches those from the 2012 ‘original’. ‘We’re Doing a Sequel’ would have been the obvious choice, opening the film in a self-referential and tongue-in-cheek fashion (“we can’t do any worse than The Godfather 3”), but it’s this classic musical song starring Sam the Eagle and Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) that stole the show for me. Surely a Brett McKenzie-penned Broadway musical is on the cards?

Live and Let Die (American Hustle)

Last year’s article featured a hilarious performance from a great actor lip-syncing to a cheesy but enjoyable chart classic, and this year is no different. American Hustle’s soundtrack is probably my favourite collection of songs released this year, and everyone one of them is used with clinical precision in David O. Russell’s heavily nominated, but not hugely liked (except by me it seems) true-crime thriller. Jennifer Lawrence did two things in this film that I will forever love her for. The first is introducing the phrase ‘science oven’ into my lexicon, and the second is this; miming to Wings’ Live and Let Die while doing the housework in front of her stunned son.

Everything is Awesome (The Lego Movie)

This is another one of those moments when very early into a film everything just clicked and I settled in to enjoy the ride. If you follow me on Twitter, listened to me on the podcast, or were simply unfortunate enough to bump into me in the street, then you probably know how much love and respect I have for The Lego Movie. I’ll be going into more depth on the Failed Critics Awards podcast, and in my review of the year piece next week, so I’ll just leave you to enjoy a clip from the funniest and most heart-warming advert ever made.

Higgs Boson Blues (20,000 Days on Earth)

I almost feel like I’m cheating here, as this clip is essentially a performance by one of the most electric and interesting frontmen in rock. Of course this documentary/concert film/therapy session about Nick Cave was going to grab a spot on my list, and I don’t care how unfair anyone says it is. The clip I’ve chosen is the recording session for one of the tacks from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds most recent album, Push the Sky Away. Concert films are pretty common, but we don’t very often get a chance to glimpse into the creative process, something which this film is brilliant at showing us.

Please Mr Kennedy (Inside Llewyn Davis)

From a very real recording session to a completely fictional one, but one that is no less entertaining. One of the great things about Inside Llewyn Davis (if you enjoyed the music and the film, pretty painful if not) is that every song and performance is played in full, giving it a chance to breathe and relax into the wonderful 1960s New York universe that the Coen Brothers created. This is the most upbeat and fun song of the lot, and interestingly features Star Wars Episode 7 stars Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver, alongside Justin Timberlake. Here’s hoping JJ Abrams can persuade JT to cameo in the film and we might get a reunion of sorts in the Mos Eisley Cantina.

If James has convinced you that there were some great soundtracks this year, now’s your time to tell him by voting in our end of year awards! Voting closes Monday 22nd December 2014 at 5pm.

2013 in Review: A Soundtrack

I’ve always loved film soundtracks, but ever since I’ve been film blogging they have pretty much replaced radio and MTV in being my primary channel for discovering new music and previously undiscovered classics. So, just as l did last year, here is my ‘Cinematic Soundtrack of the Year’, starring my favourite musical moments from film in the last twelve months.

Cuddly Toy by Roachford – Alpha Papa

Unfairly overshadowed by another Oscar-winning, tightly shot close-up musical performance (more on that later), the sight of Steve Coogan lip-syncing to forgotten 80s ‘classic’ Cuddly Toy while driving to work in his sponsored car let me know that everything was going to be okay with the one film I was desperate not to fail this year. It stayed true to the spirit of the TV show (in fact it’s very reminiscent of Alan’s air bass guitar to Gary Numan’s ‘Music for Chameleons’ in series 2), while laying down a marker for how this very British sitcom was going to expand onto our cinema screens by spending 3 minutes on one joke, which would have been unthinkable in a 27-minute programme.

Silver Lady by David Soul – Filth

Filth’s soundtrack is one of my favourites of the year, featuring a great Clint Mansell score as well as a number of interesting covers and rediscovered classics. However, the pinanacle of the film’s marriage of bizarre imagery and 70s soul comes in a scene where David Soul arrives in a car, picking up Shauna Macdonald (playing the wife of James McAvoy’s Bruce Robertson). The ensuing car journey has Soul singing his own ‘Silver Lady’, complete with glamorous backing singers in the back seat. Utterly bizarre and hilarious.

I Follow Rivers (The Magician Remix) by Lykke Li – Blue is the Warmest Colour

This must have been a huge hit in France, not only featuring on the soundtrack to Rust and Bone (my film of 2012), but even more memorably in this year’s Palm d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour. In a picture notable for its lack of a conventional score, the party scene where Adele finds some much needed familiarity with her friends and family comes to life with this brilliant track.

Can’t Forget by Cliff Martinez (feat. Mac Quayle & Vithaya Pansringarm) – Only God Forgives

Like Nicholas Winding Refn’s last film Drive, Only God Forgives is scored superbly by Cliff Martinez. The highlight for me being the karaoke performance of a softly spoken, samurai sword-wielding police office played with an unearthly grace and calm by Vithaya Pansringarm. The scens of him singing his heart out to a room of impassive stony-faced colleagues was unnerving and almost Lynchian in its banal nightmarish qualities.

Space Oddity by David Bowie (and Kristen Wiig) – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Pipping the films use of the brilliant Arcade Fire track Wake Up is the moment where Kristen Wiig enters a bar in Greenland, dressed in winter clothing and with a guitar slung over her shoulder, and starts to sing David Bowie’s Space Oddity. A wondrous collision of incredible music and Ben Stiller finally seizing the day as my cinematic proxy made this one of my favourite moments in a cinema all year. Seriously, it was like porn to me.

Let’s Go Fly a Kite by Jason Schwartzman, BJ Novak, and Emma Thompson – Saving Mr Banks

Any film featuring the near-perfect songs from Mary Poppins was always going to end up on this list, but even I was surprised by how affected I was by this film’s exploration into the themes and motivations behind the creation of Disney’s finest film. The moment that PL Travers (Emma Thompson) and the song-writing Sherman Brothers (BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman) finally reach a moment of understanding and conciliation over the climactic Mary Poppins is a joyous scene.

Let It Go by Idina Menzel – Frozen

This Disney musical is huge return to form for the animation studio that has struggled in Pixar and Dreamwork’s shadow over the last decade. But while other studios stagnated this year, Disney produced their best film since the renaissance of the early nineties. Frozen, based on a classic Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale, looks absolutely fantastic and features songs comparable to Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, but with a post-Wicked twist. Idina Menzel’s (who has history as a Disney princess from Enchanted) performance as Elsa at the mid-way point of the film is the perfect marriage of stunning animation and incredible vocals.

I Dreamed a Dream by Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables

I simply couldn’t look beyond this as my choice for musical moment of the year. I’ve been a huge fan of the original musical ever since my wife persuaded me to grow up and forget my preconceptions about musical theatre, and it has been a long wait to see the musical version of Victor Hugo’s novel finally make it to the big screen. Luckily, the film didn’t disappoint (let’s just pretend Russell Crowe didn’t happen) and Tom Hooper’s film gained Oscar nominations and a place in my films of 2013 list.

The moment of the film that most sticks in the mind though is that incredible sequence where Anne Hathaway rescues one of theatre’s great songs from the hands of Susan Boyle. The close-up, the impassioned vocals, and the sobbing endeared Hathaway to a legion of new fans, and rightfully won her an Oscar.

These tracks, and more, are available on this collaborative Spotify playlist. We’d love you to add your favourite soundtrack music that we missed.

2012: The Year in Film (in Music)

2012 was the first year in a long time where I didn’t compile a playlist of my favourite songs of the year. Either I’ve reached the age where I can’t hear ‘new’ music because nothing will ever top Mansun’s Attack of the Grey Lantern, or I’ve been too focussed on film to notice. I just haven’t had time to properly explore the great new music that is out there (although I did really enjoy the new Spector album). I did, however, listen to  more film soundtracks than ever before. I present a virtual mix-tape of my favourite musical moments in film during 2012.

holy_motors_accordn_sept12Let My Baby Ride – Doctor L (Holy Motors)
Otherwise known as ‘that awesome accordion song from Holy Motors’, which is exactly what I typed into Google to find out its proper name. One of the most exhilarating moments of Leos Carax’s bonkers masterpiece. Sadly there is still no sign of a Holy Motors soundtrack, so watching this on YouTube will have to do for now.

Tainted Love – Soft Cell (Sightseers)
One of the great advantages of discussing the best music used in film during the year is that a few stone cold classics will appear. This is one of those old songs given new life by a new context; this time by Ben Wheatley in his black comedy about a couple on a caravanning holiday who enjoy the thrills of serial killing. Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’ gave the film a beautifully dramatic climax, but Soft Cell’s electro classic is the song that everyone remembers from the start of the road trip.

Firework – Katy Perry (Rust and Bone)
Another song given new meaning by the context bestowed on it, this time by Jacques Audiard in my favourite film of the year. As well as being the soundtrack to a tragic accident involving a killer whale, it is used to even greater effect in one of the film’s most touching moments. Sadly not included on the official soundtrack, which means I’ve had to actually buy a Katy Perry track.

Skyfall – Adele (Skyfall)
You can judge a Bond film very quickly by the quality of its pre-credit sequence, and its theme tune. Skyfall delivered wonderfully on both counts, with Adele’s effort creating the best Bond theme since Goldeneye, and a throaty homage to Shirley Bassey at her best.

Jamming (live at the Jamaican Peace Concert) – Bob Marley (Marley)
I know this feels a little bit of a cheat, a  Bob Marley song from a documentary about Bob Marley. However, this version (as used in the film and on the official soundtrack) is taken from a pivotal moment in the life of Bob Marley; his return to Jamaica to headline the 1979 Peace Concert where he persuaded the two political rivals of the time to shake hands on stage. An incredible moment.

Who Were We – Kylie Minogue (Holy Motors)
Another entry for Holy Motors, this time performed by the wonderful Kylie Monogue and written by Neil Hannon (of The Divine Comedy) in full-on Jacques Brel/Scott Walker mode.

man or muppetMan or Muppet – Jason Segel & Walter (The Muppets)
The song that earned an Oscar for one half of The Flight of the Conchords, and the highlight of Brett MacKenzie’s soundtrack for one of the funniest films of the year. I have adopted it as my own personal theme tune.

The Concept – Teenage Fanclub (Young Adult)
The resurrection of this classic track from the vaults of Scottish indie-band Teenage Fanclub was made possible by writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, who used it to great effect in one of the most underrated films of the year. What made this song unforgettable for me was how integral it was to the film, and how it became the trigger for Charlize Theron’s character (in an incredible performance) to go fully off the rails.

Song of the Lonely Mountain – Neil Finn (The Hobbit)
Watching The Hobbit felt like slipping on a pair of comfortable slippers. I knew exactly what I was going to get, and I was very content to spend a few more hours in Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth. A major contribution to that was provided by the Howard Shore score, and in particular this song which combined the vocal talents of the wonderful Neil Finn with Shore’s recognisable music, and the sound of Dwarfs singing and hammering on metal.

As well as these individual songs, I cannot end my round-up of the great film music of 2012 without mentioning the incredible work of Alexandre Desplat. This year alone he has produced brilliant scores for Moonrise Kingdom, Argo, Rust and Bone, and Rise of the Guardians. I cannot think of a more consistent brilliant composer working today.

Reboot-era Bond themes: A reflection

Today’s inevitable Bond-related piece is from Guest contributor Liam Pennington as he walks us through the modern-era Bond themes. 

Goldeneye – Tina Turner (Goldeneye – 1995)

How to do “old” with a new twist. It’s got Bassey all the way through it, with a touch of 90s bombast and a respectful air for both the franchise and Tina Turner. It still stands up today, its movie score background making it a little incongruous on a list of power ballads, though it retains a credible pop sensibility

Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997)

Not the easiest title to put into a song and yet it’s not a bad job. The lyrics are clunkier than a car with square wheels but when you’ve got to retain Sheryl Crow’s country motif there’s no harm in throwing everything into a recording studio with a shit-tonne of melancholy and a slide-guitar. As ‘difficult second album’ type syndromes go, it’s not a bad song outside the context of Bond

The World is Not Enough – Garbage (The World is Not Enough – 1999)

Well I love Garbage as much as I do freshly boiled black pudding swimming in vinegar so yes, I’m gonna say it’s a good track. Oddly though, it’s not the most enduring of the ‘reboot’ songs, as it sits uneasily between a knowingly ironic Bond theme and a deliberately low-key Garbage album track. As such it comes across now as a bit too ‘arch’ or sneery. Very well sung

Die Another Day (Die Another Day – 2002)

And then the wheels fall off, the dog dies, the water dries up, the clouds part to reveal a sky made of stained bedsheets…..This was a leap too far in the wrong direction for the franchise, for Madonna, for just about everyone involved. This is face-swapping, invisible car driving nonsense of the highest order. As a dance song, it’s crap. As a pop song, it’s over produced, over-layered, badly structured, barely memorable. As a Madonna track, it’s weak, and that includes the one she did repeating “Hollywood” for approximately five hypergazillion times. Terrible, terrible song

You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (Casino Royal – 2006)

Reboot number 2 – the Bourne Years. It simmers, it burns, it catches in your ear for the rest of the day, it’s VERY good. I love this track still today – a broad-brush rock song which ditches the guns/Martinis/broken heart stuff and dumps the film’s name for a refreshing re-imagining of the franchise’s soundtrack.

Another Way To Die – Jack White & Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace – 2008)

Given that Question of Sport was utter bobbins, this wasn’t such a bad song. It’s a bit clumsy and derivative lyrics wise, and I could do without the hash of a chorus, but it’s not all that terrible. I know it’s been labelled one of the worst, if not the worst, songs of all the Bonds, I don’t agree it’s that bad. Doesn’t stand out, doesn’t deserve to be labelled as rotten as Quandary of Boris

Skyfall – Adele (Skyfall – 2012)

Well I like it. Adele splits opinion right down the middle, I can understand why, though this one does it for me. The clichéd lyrics are back, the stirring of the Bond theme motif is back, the overblown choruses are back, and for all the lack of fashion, I think it all works really well. Having rebooted the franchise with Tina Turner taking on the task of being that era’s attempt of a Shirley Bassey number, it’s fitting to see the very same attitude with Adele. Here’s the 2012 version of “Goldeneye” – they needed a big, bold, brass ballad with all the subtlety of having anal pleasure with a switched-on kettle, and they got it.

Liam Pennington is at the action side of 30 years old and is the On-Line Editor for High Voltage. When not making good use of PR companies’ guff, he can be found groundhopping, writing for whoever else wants him, singing along to Eurovision records and sitting through arthouse films at Cornerhouse, Manchester.

@doktorb
www.liampennington.blogspot.com