Reviews On-The-Go # 3

Reviews on-the-go is a column that picks out a selection of soundtracks for single-paragraph “mini reviews”. Usually recent discoveries and releases, and usually recommendations, but not exclusively.

Everybody Loves Diamonds (Ralf Hildenbeutel, 2023)

This is an Italian heist series currently streaming on Amazon Prime, inspired by the socalled “Antwerp Diamond Heist” in 2003. German composer Ralf Hildenbeutel provides a score befitting the genre conventions, heavy on loungey funk and jazz licks (often with a Roy Budd vibe, or similar to the Ocean’s series), but with pronounced electronic elements stacked on top. Of particular interest is the opening title track that gets down with luscious EDM grooves – one wishes it had nurtured that aesthetic more consistently. Not reliant on melodies or themes, and perhaps slightly on the long side, it nonetheless shoots off propulsive energy that captures the nuts and bolts of the robbery planning and logistics. Favourite tracks: «Everybody Loves Diamonds», «No Plan B», «Aglio e Olio»

Carmen (Nicholas Britell, 2022)

Nicholas Britell raised the bar (for me) with his hip hop baroque score for the TV phenomenon Succession, but this is something else altogether. A 2022 musical drama directed by Benjamin Millepied, it’s a “re-imagining” of Bizet’s famous 1875 opera by the same name. The songs, however, are less interesting than the score, which is ripe with gorgeous choral harmonies laid out on soft string cushions, organ or other forms of chamber ensemble. Spacey, dynamic and religioso in tone, it moves beyond the class-driven love story and into spiritual awe – sometimes just in fragments, sometimes in longer lines. Certainly one of the highlights of the year. Favourite tracks: «Overture – La Vie Errante», «Calling Home – Le Destin», «Jamais Carmen ne cèdera»

Magnificat (Nathaniel Méchaly, 2023)

One more choir-driven score for this French film, directed by Virginie Sauveur, about an investigation into a deceased priest who led a secret life as a woman. Nathaniel Méchaly, who previously impressed me with his romantic score for Swoon (2019), writes elegantly, introspective and haunting for voices in what is essentially a 23-minute chorale mirroring the religious backdrop of the story. Sometimes also broading the palette with discrete electronics or a solo wind instrument. The film appears to be sparsely spotted, allowing the melancholic strains room to impress as punctuation marks throughout. Not as big as Carmen, but operating more on an intimate level, the two scores constitute highlights of vocal writing for film in 2023. Favourite tracks: «La lettre de Pascal», «L’ombre est le plus beau des refuges»

A Thousand and One (Gary Gunn, 2023)

This is the debut feature film of director A.V. Rockwell, about a New York mother who breaks her son out of foster care to bring him up herself. Gary Gunn was an unknown name to me, but the 70s jazzfunk-style first track of this score was an immediate ear opener (gotta love those sneaky strings over a lazy bassline!). While some of these elements reoccur throughout, the rest of the score is more experimental and downkey, with stripped-down, often electronic chord progressions floating freely – as if “breathing”, skirting the dissonant. This is certainly one of the most fascinating scores of the year, combining old school blaxploitation tropes with contemporary, explorative features, and is well worth checking out. Favourite tracks: «Opening Theme», «You’re Blood Now»

La Contadora de Películas (Fernando Velázquez, 2023)

The super talented Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez hasn’t really ignited me since his masterpiece Lo Impossible 11 years ago(!). But now he returns with a warm, delicate score that finally plays to his strengths, in a story about a young girl living in a mining town in the Atacama desert, with an uncanny ability to recount film stories – a film by veteran Danish director Lone Scherfig. The score exists somewhere between Stanley Myers’ iconic «Cavatina» (especially those dreamy guitars) and Morricone’s nostalgic Cinema Paradiso as it tells the family’s stories in cautious strokes. Due to the sameness of the music, the album is about 20 minutes too long, with an abundance of short tracks, but nothing a whittled playlist can’t fix. Favourite tracks: «La aldea», «¿Dónde se fue mi madre?», «Margarita y Magnolia»

TRON: Identity (Dan le Sac, 2023)

There have been a number of new TRON “products” following the 2010 film TRON: Legacy, including an animated show, a video game, a comic book and this 2023 “visual novel”. It’s not easy to follow in the footsteps of Wendy Carlos and Daft Punk, but that is the task given to composer Daniel Stephens aka Dan le Sac. Stephens is perhaps better known in electronic hip hop, and draws on his experience both from that and from the 2010 Daft Punk score as he expertly recaptures the slick backbeats and zithering, 8-bit-style textures of the now-defunct French band. Not quite on that level, of course, and more restrained, but a perfectly curated, conceptual TRON album at 33 minutes. Favourite tracks: «Antiques», «Last Steps», «Imposition»

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