Thursday, 19 January 2017

Top Ten Soundtracks of 2016

When The Note Comes In

Top Ten Contemporary
Score CDs of 2016

Well, it’s that time of year again when people start asking me what I thought the coolest scores of 2016 were and, I’d have to say, I’m kinda disappointed with my list this year. One of the problems with that is I limit myself, quite strictly, to what is allowed to go on this list.

It goes without saying that I don’t include the redundant, vinyl only releases of the year and nor do I include the evils of the electronic download as a viable alternative to the magic of compact disc as the required format for any soundtrack listener worth their sort. So that sort of “but it had a (insert either of the two evil formats here) release" isn’t going to cut it with me. It has to have had a compact disc release in the year the movie came out to be eligible. Something which has scuppered my number one spot this year, as I’ll go on to explain.

Apart from this, my other rule is that the score has to be from a movie released this year in the UK or US. There are gazillions of good archive scores released nowadays from small, boutique labels of restored old scores, most of which would run rings around anybody’s pick of soundtracks from just one year... with this year being no exception. I would love to put a proper listing together for the many resurrected film scores coming out in any year but it would just take me too long to properly compile the damn thing. There are a lot of ‘holy grail’ type releases coming onto the market, often monthly, and there is just so much stuff now getting released that every soundtrack listener’s wallet is under threat... with companies like Intrada, La La Land, Quartet and Varese Sarabande putting out some truly great stuff (although many of my personal Holy Grails seem to have been left untouched... cough cough... The Final Programme, Work Is A Four Letter Word and proper releases of Doc Savage and Blade Runner).

Okay, so my biggest problem with this year’s listing, asides from the fact that it seems to be all American scores this time around, which is not a great thing, is that the score that would easily take the top spot, Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s amazing The Girl With All The Gifts, has not even made it onto one of the lesser useful formats as yet, let alone a nice CD release. This is a shame but I’m going to have to leave it off because, without the CD to give it some ‘stand alone’ context, I really can’t, in good conscience, include it.

So here we go... my top ten score CDs from contemporarily released movies of 2016 in reverse order.

10. Nerve by Rob Simonsen
There either seems to have been a resurgence in electronic music in films over the last few years or I’m getting older and noticing it more. The film is an okay movie but the score on this one is phenomenal... easily the best of a bunch this year (many of which seemed to be trying to sound just like late 1970s John Carpenter... which is no bad thing... but not quite getting there) and as accessible for someone like me as, say, the Tron Legacy score was a few years back. Definitely worth picking up. My review of the movie is here.

9.  10 Cloverfield Lane by Bear McCreary

One of my favourite modern TV composers, Bear’s score for this spin off from the original Cloverfield is fraught with tension and some interesting and melodic atmospheres... plus he uses the musical instrument known as the 'blaster beam' (which is rumoured to be able to give women spontaneous orgasms). Check out my review of the movie here.

8. Inferno by Hans Zimmer
Zimmer’s synth heavy score picks up where his masterpiece, Angels and Demons, left off. It’s not as strong a work but it does its job in the movie (which wasn’t the best of the series) and it's very listenable away from the movie. His Professor Langdon theme gets referenced here, of course, but so too does his chase music from the previous movie. Not 100% sure how the leitmotif on these films works but, who cares when it’s so much fun? The movie review to this one can be found here.

7. The Forest by Bear McCreary
Bear’s second and final entry into this list sees him providing some incredibly eerie atmospheres and a lot of his, almost trademark, drumming. Set in Japan, the score somewhat reflects this and is easily one of the most satisfying listens of the year. I reviewed the movie here.

6. Rogue One by Michael Giacchino
Giacchino’s score to one of the most frustrating Star Wars movies of all time (so far... my trust in Disney has gone right down after seeing this) is equally frustrating... both in the movie and as a stand alone listen. The composer has a lot of the musical language down but there aren’t enough big themes to make it totally sound like a John Williams Star Wars score (some would argue that it shouldn’t). Also, the choice of leaving off the opening title crawl, with the familiar main theme, was a bad call. At least it’s on the end titles but... astoundingly... on the album it isn’t. Honestly, this is absolutely a terrible thing to do... like leaving the latest James Bond song off of a James Bond score. Which is something else they’ve started doing of late. This is a quite good stand alone listen which grows on you with repeat listens but it really needs a proper, full length CD release. My review of the movie is here.

5. Hail Caesar! by Carter Burwell
Burwell’s affectionate look back at Hollywood in the Golden Age, filtered with a little of today’s sensibilities, is a beautiful and fun homage to the scores by the likes of Miklos Rosza and the kinds of songs of Comden and Green used to turn out in their heyday. Just a completely ‘smileriffic’ album which stands up away from the visuals as much as it supports them in the movies. My review of this completely underrated movie, one of the best of the Coen Brothers, is here.

4. The Nice Guys by David Buckley and John Ottman
This Shane Black movie set in the 1970s gets exactly the score it deserves. This sounds like a dozen funky TV cop shows from that era without actually pinpointing any of the influences down. It’s slick and, maybe a bit short for an album release but it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. This movie probably wouldn’t be sunk without the funk but, man, it has it in spades here. Crucial grooves from a movie which I reviewed here.

3. Doctor Strange by Michael Giacchino
Given the amount of superhero movies we’re getting on our screens every year, you’d think that a few more of them would have made it into my top ten. However, this is the only one which managed that trick in 2016. I was really looking forward to a Brian Tyler score for this movie, especially since he seems to be the only guy who was able to bring a semblance of musical continuity to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Alas, he seems to have mysteriously parted company with Marvel (although I’ve heard nothing official, it’s just my observation based on a few things and I sincerely hope I’m wrong) and so we have Giacchino scoring Doctor Strange and... it’s really pretty good. The main theme and the beautiful end statements of it, especially in Go For Baroque and Master Of The Mystic End Credits would elevate it to this list most years and its’ supported by some nice stuff. My review of the movie can be found here.

2. Arrival by Jóhann Jóhannsson
Jóhann Jóhannsson is not someone whose work I’m very familiar with and so I’m inevitably going to compare it to his similarly atmospheric score for Sicario. This one really suits the subject matter with some interesting moods and a modus operandi which really fits in with the idea of language and the way it can sometimes be seen as a code... the patterns made by the music reminding the audience of this at key points and also, if you’re anything like me, frightening the  audience half to death when the sheer density of the music kicks into high gear with a more thunderous wailing than the quieter passages of musical texture around it. My review of the movie is here.

1. The VVitch by Mark Korven
At times a jarring but absolutely riveting score and quite popular with those who actually liked the movie. This score sounds very simple but it holds a power reminiscent of some of the choral work of one of my favourite composers, György Ligeti. Lay your head down in a darkened room with this and it’s pretty much guaranteed an unsettling atmosphere will develop. Simply one of the best horror scores since the 2015 score to It Follows... which is high praise indeed. My review of this film is here.

And that’s my short contribution for this year. Hope you find some time to delve into these soundtracks. If you do, let me know in the comments section below. Happy listening.

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