young woman

Reviews On-The-Go # 7

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.

Ctrl+Alt+Desire (Ishai Adar, 2024)

This is a dark “true crime” mini series on Paramount+, about a man who kills his parents and brother after obsessing over an internet cam model.  As is so often the case with cautionary tales about technology and the internet, they tend to inspire great synth scores. Israeli composer Ishai Adar was an unknown name to me, but offers up an impressively melodic and lofty landscape, from the Jean Michel Jarre-inspired opening track to the seductive vocalizations seeping through. Perfectly curated at 33 minutes, Adar manages to balance the funky, sensual, melancholic and disturbing over the course of the runtime. Favourite tracks: «CTRL+ALT+DESIRE – theme», «life pointless», «to the parking lot».

The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Hans Zimmer & Kara Talve, 2024)

This Sky series, based on Heather Morris’ 2018 novel, depicts the life of a Jewish concentration camp prisoner whose job it is to tattoo identification numbers on the arms of fellow prisoners. Certainly an out-of-left-field assignment from Hans Zimmer (although it’s been just two years since his last Holocaust drama, The Survivor), now in collaboration with Bleeding Fingers associate Kara Talve. The score is both supremely dark and supremely beautiful at the same time, as its aching, strings-driven chords (sometimes underlined by dark electronic pulses, or oddly tuned piano) conjure up the enveloping misery of the Holocaust. There is hope in the misery, though, so when whittled down from about an hour to 35 minutes, it gets its point across more succinctly without turning into an endless downer. Favourite tracks: «Whatever It Takes», «The Tenor (Quando m’en vo)», «To See It Through These Old Eyes»

Sight (Sean Philip Johnson, 2024)

Sometimes, fine scores come from the unlikeliest sources. This is a socalled “faith-based film” from Angel Studios, about a Chinese immigrant to the US who becomes a successful eye surgeon (with Greg Kinnear as the main star power). It doesn’t sound very epic on paper, but composer Sean Philip Johnson, previously unknown to me, delivers a superbly sweeping, orchestral score that combines Western and Eastern modes in ways that were more common in the 90s (think a broad, string-heavy melody line carried by a solo erhu, for example) – specially demonstrated in the 17-minute end suite that makes up almost half the album. I have no interest in faith-based propaganda of the Christian or any other kind, but as a standalone album, this is pretty great. Favourite tracks: «Triumph Suite», «Sight Suite»

Masters of Light (Waveshaper & Paul Zimmerman, 2024)

Fresh off A Void Hope (which we just reviewed here), Swedish synthwave veteran Waveshaper teams up with German game composer Paul Zimmerman for another videogame score – this time a VR-based game encompassing fighting, workouts and dancing! While A Void Hope had dramatic flair, most of these tracks are closer to standalone singles, chugging along in the background as the players concentrate on their coordination skills. Waveshaper’s beatbased synthwave material definitely outshines Zimmerman’s moodier, more perfunctory cues, but a couple of the latter are necessary for a varied experience (again, you need to whittle away some 10-15 minutes for maximum flow). Favourite tracks: «Fighting Darkness», «Rite of Passage», «Trials and Foes»

The Last Kumite (Paul Hertzog, 2024)

Now to somewhat of an oddity – a crowdfunded, low budget martial arts movie that pays homage to earlier classics of the genre, featuring a throbbing synth score by Paul Hertzog. Hertzog, of course, is mostly famous for scoring the 80s Van Damme classics Bloodsport (1988) and Kickboxer (1989), so a very inspired choice. In essence a comeback after 33 years, his last known film assignment being Breathing Fire in 1991 – incidentally also reviewed on this site here. The album is on the repetitive side, with the same drum patterns repeating through most of the tracks, and little in the way of melodic variety, but there are certainly catchy nuggets to enjoy, with plenty of analogue synths, especially if whittled down properly (in my case to 31 minutes out of a 67-minute run time). Favourite tracks: «Cemetery», «Ultra Training», «Fight Montage»

Aliens: Expanded (Various, 2024)

We don’t normally review soundtracks with various artists on this site, but I’ll make this exception. This is another crowdfunded film, a behind-the-scenes documentary on James Cameron’s seminal Aliens (1986), featuring many of the core crew, including Sigourney Weaver and Cameron himself. Rather than allude to the original high octane orchestral score of James Horner, the filmmakers have employed the synthwave “network label” New Retro Wave to pick artists from their roster. These artists (including Neuromancer, who is probably the most famous of the lot) have composed zithering, delicious grooves and textures for outer space, without necessarily pinpointing the dread and horror of the Alien universe, resulting in a tight concept album of 33 minutes. Favourite tracks: «Voyage Beyond», «Contact», «Running  is Futile».

Young Woman and the Sea (Amelia Warner, 2024)

This is a rather sweet, old-school Disney film about Trudy Ederle, the first woman to swim the English channel, directed by Joachim Rønning and starring Daisy Ridley. For a story about female empowerment in a patriarchal society, Rønning maintained the importance of a female composer. Amelia Warner, who has previously impressed me with her scores for Mary Shelley (2017, reviewed here) and Wild Mountain Thyme (2020), now departs from the more orchestral, pastoral style she masters so well, and attempts a Trevor Rabin-style approach as she captures the athletic feats in broad, anthemic strokes (no pun intended). Some of the album wanders a bit aimlessly into typical RC tropes, but the highlights are delightful reminders of the more melodic orchestral/electronic hybrids of the late 90s and early 2000s. And in any case a demonstration of Warner’s heretofore uncharted versatility. Favourite tracks: «Sisters», «Reaction to Failure», «Triumphant Return»

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