What is it?
Queen of the South is a crime drama series available on Netflix that first premiered on USA Network in 2016, currently in its third season. It tells the story of Teresa (Alice Braga) who flees Mexico after her boyfriend is murdered, and settles in Seattle to both launch her own drug smuggling empire and to avenge her lover’s murder. The series has received mostly positive reviews, even if it has to compete with similar hit shows like Breaking Bad and Narcos in a somewhat oversaturated “drug-themed” market.
It was actually in an exclusive interview with Celluloid Tunes in 2015 that Giorgio Moroder first revealed his involvement in this series. The legendary synth wizard, film composer and pop producer, now 78, had been relatively absent from the film and TV scene since the Leni Riefenstahl documentary Impressionen Unter Wasser (2002) when this assignment landed in his lap. Co-composer Raney Shockne has not only produced songs for Moroder and other famous artists in the past, but also has an extensive career in film and TV, with such shows as Anger Management, Pawn Stars and Project Runway on his resume. It seems to be a perfect match for this particular show.
How is it?
Given the iconic, popcultural status of Moroder’s Scarface (1983), it makes sense that the producers wanted a similar sound for this particular, drug-themed show. The album seems to be a mix of Moroder’s more clearcut, retro beats and melodies, and Shockne’s more gritty, textural bits in a more contemporary thriller style. The first part of the 71-minute album centers on Moroder’s stuff, while the latter half is mostly Shockne.
The Moroder bits (whether composed by him or approximated/referenced by Shockne) are unquestionably the highlights of the album. «The Queen of the South», which kicks off the album, is the female sibling to «Tony’s Theme» from Scarface. «Escapar» and «The Lifestyle» have the funky «Chase» bassline from Midnight Express (1978) all over it, the former surrounded by ARP 2600 modulations reminiscent of Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene. The delightful «Cemetery Stroll» and «Saga De Sangre» are drenched in glorious Moroder melancholy (think «Swamps of Sadness» from The Neverending Story), while «The Gospel of Teresa» adds a certain kind of warped religiousity through choir and fuzzy oscillations.
From about track 10 onwards, the album seems to veer in a more textural, grittier direction – probably centered on Teresa’s eventual fall from grace. There are definite highlights here too. «The Book of Falling Kings» has a more contemporary EDM beat over a descending melody line, «Halcones» sounds like an outtake from an early 90s Amiga action game. But eventually, the breakbeats, clanging counterpoints and acidic noise modulations become a bit overbearing.
No doubt the extensive 71-minute running time of the album does it no favours. One could easily have weeded out (no pun intended) at least 20 minutes here, and interspersed the Moroder with the Shockne more evenly to avoid a top-heavy listening experience. But with a little bit of customization, it should be fairly easy to make one’s own, more succinct and varied playlist of the material. Either way, it’s incredibly satisfying to witness the meeting ground between an old and young electro master balancing the nostalgic with the contemporary; the melodic with the ambient so elegantly.