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Cliff Martinez

Only God Forgives

(Milan)

5


Cliff Martinez
Only God Forgives


Cliff Martinez’s Drive, unlike any other film score in recent years, was a massive breakthrough, and with Only God Forgives—a film even bleaker than that Los Angeles noir—Martinez is back at it again with director Nicolas Winding Refn, with deliciously dark results. Whereas Drive‘s music is glossed with a subtle ‘80s sheen, Only God Forgives utilizes the stylistics and moods of dark ambient and electronic music, with punctuated stabs of Thai karaoke and Daft Punk-esque high voltage (the aptly named “Wanna Fight”). It’s the former that proves especially effective at elevating this soundtrack above simple noir-by-numbers; in juxtaposing sounds familiar to the hood-and-trenchcoat genre with murky, fog-evoking synths, Martinez, in tandem with Refn’s film, pushes noir into new realms. “I think I’m getting good at the dark thing,” Martinez told me in the September entry of “Notes on Celluloid”. Much like Breaking Bad‘s Walter White, Martinez gets more and more thrilling as his style descends into bleaker, more murderous territory. Brice Ezell


 

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Shane Carruth

Upstream Color

(erbp)

4


Shane Carruth
Upstream Color


The score for Upstream Color feels most intimate and massive, like two lovers standing on an endless plateau. Carruth—who, it bears mentioning, also served as the film’s director, writer, producer, editor, cinematographer, etc., etc.—favors tonal clusters and long protracted notes, often in rhythms of two or three, and he uses synthesizers and programming to mimic the sounds of acoustic instruments like strings and horns under duress, barking at the audience from somewhere far away. Like the film it soundtracks, the score is decidedly smooth and languid, favoring rounded edges to points, more evocative than textual. It’s fantastic. Robert Rubsam


 

3


Rick Smith
Trance


Danny Boyle and Underworld are at a point in their collaborative career where they’re comfortable with each other. This is not to say, however, that they’ve stopped pushing themselves into exciting new territory. Following Underworld’s long history with Boyle, including a jaw-dropping score to Boyle’s underrated masterpiece Sunshine, founding member Rick Smith teamed up with Boyle for Trance, a kinetic, more Freudian take on the mind games of Inception. Smith matches Boyle’s Technicolor energies with appropriate aplomb, moving from hypnotic figures (“Bullet Cut”) to reflective pieces (“Raw Umber”) to club bumpers (“The Heist”). Trance is a difficult film; its mental trickery is as obfuscated for the audience as it is for the characters on the screen. In capturing the shifting realities of Boyle’s cinematic world, Smith proves yet again that Underworld and Boyle are at the forefront of film scoring in the present day. Brice Ezell


Trance

Soundtrack Featurette


 

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Mogwai

Les Revenants

(Rock Action)

Review [12.Mar.2013]

2


Mogwai
Les Revenants


For the soundtrack to this French TV show, Mogwai work in miniature, eking power out of minor additions of percussion and synthesizer chimes. While the band’s music is no stranger to themes, as most of its best songs follow simple patterns to exciting ends, this soundtrack is a forcible constriction, requiring songs to get to the point quickly. It’s a slimming down of the band’s sound, but also a revitalizing. If a sound is present, it feels vital and necessary, and there is no repetition for repetition’s sake. “Whiskey Time” features bass playing melodic counterpoint to piano, and “Relative Hysteria”, with its dramatically rising guitar line and undergirding synths, may be the best song Mogwai has made in years. Les Revenants (The Returned) feels like a rapid racking of the focus, the band’s goals thrown sharply into view. Mogwai finds a way to be thrilling without telling us why. Robert Rubsam


 

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Mike Patton

The Place Beyond the Pines

(Milan)

1


Mike Patton
The Place Beyond the Pines


If there’s one thing everyone can count on Mike Patton to do this far into his lengthy career, it’s to never stop surprising. From a collection of Italian pop songs to a film noir soundtrack—to say nothing of his tenure in the zany Mr. Bungle—Patton continues to take on projects that expand his polymath tendencies into new realms. In particular, scoring for film has become one of the main ways he’s shown his talent; following the mathematically minded score to the film adaptation of The Solitude of Prime Numbers, his work for Derek Cianfrance’s bold epic The Place Beyond the Pines. Incorporating elements from Prime Numbers and his first soundtrack, A Perfect Place, Pines interweaves haunting choral passages (check the smart inclusion of “Miserere Mei”) and moody guitars, with a recapitulation of the wistful “Snow Angel” theme from Prime Numbers included for good measure. Now only four scores into his film career, Patton is showing off impressive talent, advancing his skills both as a film scorer and a musician as a whole. Brice Ezell


 

Honorable Mention



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Gustavo Santaolalla

The Last of Us

(Sony Masterworks)

Gustavo Santaolalla
The Last of Us


I have never finished a game and realized I needed to hear the score again. Even when a big-name composer is involved, the result is typically bland, the dynamics over exaggerated, the theme screaming “Isn’t this catchy?!?!?” at you. This is because, even more so than in movies, games relegate the score to pure white noise; beyond certain controlled moments, moving the game at the player’s pace prevents the kind of thematic evocation we get in a well-scored film. But Santaolalla, who has also composed for big-name movies like The Motorcycle Diaries, allows The Last of Us to be a brutal, coarse thing, beautiful without any sugary sweetness. Primarily written for nylon string guitar, the result is sparse, open, but utterly devastating when paired with the game. The use of “The Choice”, a distorted guitar figure, as the game harshly transitions from “Summer” to “Spring” is daring, unsettling, and as vicious as anything else we see, even though it is just a black title screen. Without the music, the scene would still produce an effect; with Santaolalla’s score, it becomes unforgettable. Robert Rubsam


Notes on Celluloid
9 Jul 2014
In evaluating what makes a great film score, writers, composers, and listeners must ask themselves if the function of cinematic music limits the form it has to take.
8 May 2014
From Biblical epics to run-of-the-mill rom-coms, Notes on Celluloid takes a look at (and listen to) some of the strongest film music of 2014 thus far.
4 Mar 2014
PopMatters speaks with Jóhann Jóhannsson about his latest venture into music for cinema, his moody and melancholy score for the police thriller, McCanick.
By Brice Ezell and Robert Rubsam
10 Dec 2013
This year saw no shortage of innovative, exciting film scores. Notes on Celluloid counts down the ten soundtracks that lingered the longest in our minds.
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With the very fine new album Rave Tapes out this month, PopMatters looks back on Mogwai's rich career by picking 13 of the finest songs from the full span of the post-rock band's work.
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