Reviews On-The-Go # 4

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.

Rain Dogs (Alex Baranowski, 2023)

Alex Baranowski blasted on to the scene in 2020 with his two brilliant scores for A Christmas Carol and The Windermere Children. Now he returns with this BBC/HBO TV series about the relationship between a young mother, her daughter and a gay man. Part jazzy, part twangy country, part pop, it weaves its way between existing songs in the show, using soulful trumpet solos and strumming guitars as main components. Baranowski seems to have a knack for moody textures with a melodic base, once again on display here, creating an almost Lynch-ian soundscape in the proceedings. Favourite tracks: «Back Again», «A Glass of Wine», «Voicemails»

The Last Kingdom: Destiny is All (John Lunn, Eivør & Danny Saul, 2023)

The volume one soundtrack (2015) for this medieval/viking series, now on Netflix, was a stupendously beautiful concept album nurturing a New Age/Old Norse blend that was one of my favourites that year. For this second volume, John Lunn (still most famous for Downton Abbey, perhaps) reunites with Faroese singer-composer Eivør Pálsdóttir and newcomer Danny Saul for more of the same. While not quite on the level of its predecessor (it’s a bit more static), it once again highlights the attractive mix of chanting vocals, percussion, ethereal wind instruments and powerful synth backdrops – as if Enya and Ulver sat down with Nightwish to create a hybrid of their work. Favourite tracks: «Death of Aethelflaed», «Forever», «Hymn 49»

Killer Coaster (Rob, 2023)

I’ve been waiting for Robin Coudert (aka Rob) to return to the wonderful synth excursions he had in the early 2010s, and for this new, relatively obscure Amazon Prime series, set in the late 90s, about a woman who goes undercover at a fair to investigate a murder, he delivers just that. A little bit of Carpenter and Moroder, a little bit of synthwave, always with funky rhytms and darkly melancholic chord progressions close by. While not on the level of Made in France (2016) or the iconic Maniac (2012), it’s a solid 33 minutes of tongue-in-cheek, retro synth tropes that only reaffirm his position as one of the best electronic composers around (I only wish he did more of it!). Favourite tracks: «Archives», «Love Coaster Credits Full», «Fatalitas», «Grand Final»

Simple comme Sylvain (Forever Pavot, 2023)

Émil Sornin’s musical project/band Forever Pavot is utterly fascinating. It’s like he walked right out of 60s Euro Cinema alongside Morricone, Legrand, Lai and Delerue and straight into the 2020s, with his use of harpsichord, organs, humming vocals, discrete synths and strolling, rhythmical figures prevalent in the era. That is also the case for this Monia Chokri film about an affair between a university professor and her handyman. Although just 19 minutes in length, the soundtrack is a perfect tease and puts itself in a position to once again compete for a top 10 spot of the year, just as his score for Babysitter managed last year. Favourite tracks: «Les amants», «Générique (fin)»

Rustin (Branford Marsalis, 2023)

Famous US jazz saxophonist and composer Branford Marsalis has dabbled a few times in film music, including 2020’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but this is on a whole other level. For this George C. Wolfe film about 60s civil rights activitst Bayard Rustin, he taps into old-school big band tropes – from swing to R&B to gospel to blues. So elegant it sounds like it’s pulled directly from a 60s crime show. Often with sax as a central element (obviously), settling in luscious grooves and sweet melody lines, sometimes taking things down with more contemporary string harmonies. This is somewhat of a rarity in this day and age, and needs to be embraced for what it is. While some tracks are on the short side, everything comes together as a refreshingly oldfashioned and sophisticated work. Favourite tracks: «Show Me Your Ideas», «The Rustin Shuffle», «Fingertips Redux»

Split (Maude Geffray, 2023)

This is a new French series, directed by Iris Brey, about a stuntwoman who falls in love with the woman she’s doubling for on a series of feature films. Maude Geffray was an unknown to me, but she’s enjoyed some underground success as an electronic artist and DJ, known for her dreamy soundscapes. That is very much in play here, with ethereal, Johnny Jewel-like ambiance, often in the higher register and occasionally layered with a cautious pulse  (a couple of tracks are co-composed with slightly more famous DJ and composer Rebeka Warrior). In the legacy of Jean Michel Jarre, broad, melancholic, playful synth landscapes like these can only come from France, and Geffray is certainly a force to be reckoned with in that regard. Favourite tracks: «Opening Day», «A New Gaze», «Moonshine»

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