Movie Curiosities — Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom
January 5, 2014
Movie Curiosities — 2013: The Honorable Mentions
January 5, 2014

Travis's Top 20 Soundtracks of 2013

Berberian Sound Studio by Broadcast berberianComposed by English band Broadcast as their first film soundtrack, this giallo-inspired album of music and sound collages is a smorgasbord of atmosphere and texture. Broadcast was originally hired to only compose music for The Equestrian Vortex (Berberian’s Argento-esque film-within-a-film), but after director Peter Strickland heard what Broadcast had to offer, he decided to have them score the whole thing. If you like Goblin’s Argento scores, you’ll dig this. It’s much more minimalistic than Goblin’s work, often relying solely on organ or mellotron, but it oozes just as much atmosphere. Standout Track: The Equestrian Vortex Available on Vinyl: Yes Buy it on Amazon!

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs by Jessica Curry

amnesiaIn a male-dominated field, it was so refreshing to hear Jessica Curry’s work in this game. Her music for Dear Esther really stood out to me last year, mostly due to its surprisingly simple but remarkably affecting themes. A Machine for Pigs is more overt horror, and she really stepped up to deliver a genuinely scary score. Her best work on the score is in the lyrical sections, where strings and piano create heartfelt interludes between the creepy exploration music.   Standout Track: A Child’s Shadow Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

Prince Avalanche by Explosions in the Sky & David Wingo

princeIn their first film score since 2004’s Friday Night Lights, post-rock band Explosions in the Sky teamed up with film composer David Wingo, a frequent collaborator of director David Gordon Green. The result is a simple, moving score which features loads of fingerpicked acoustic guitar, simple piano melodies, and small, beautifully written parts for brass and woodwinds. It’s haunting, but never heavy. It all helps serve the beauty and the absurd humor of the film.   Standout Track: Alone Time Available on Vinyl: Yes Buy it on Amazon!

Thor: The Dark World by Brian Tyler

thorI was hooked the moment I heard Brian Tyler’s new Marvel Studios fanfare. Tyler’s score for Iron Man 3 was fun, and gave us the first memorable Iron Man theme, but he really knocked it out of the park with Thor: The Dark World. Paying no homage to previous Thor composer Patrick Doyle, Tyler created a handful of new (and instantly hummable) motifs for all of the major players, giving Asgard and its inhabitants a palette of signature sounds. Like the film itself, the score is huge, fun, and even contains a brief appearance from Alan Silvestri’s Captain America theme. Standout Track: An Unlikely Alliance Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

The Last Days On Mars by Max Richter

lastdaysI had no clue that Max Richter, one of my favorite contemporary composers, had scored this until I was watching the credits. This flick got no love, which is a real shame because it really ain’t half bad. It’s well directed, stylishly shot and designed, well cast, well acted, and it’s got a really fantastic score. It’s got a classical, foreboding sci-fi sound that brings Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score to mind. Richter has a knack for hypnotic, repetitive motifs that slowly build, often featuring soft, distant piano, and mournful cello solos. Richter has been doing a lot of film work in recent years, which I’m ecstatic about. In 2013, he  composed another beautiful score for acclaimed Saudi Arabian film Wadjda, and also worked with Waltz with Bashir director Ari Folman again, scoring his latest animated film, The Congress. Standout Track: Lost In Space Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

Hannibal by Brian Reitzell

hannibal copyCurrently, the only way to hear this unbelievable soundtrack is to listen to the equally unbelievable show. Composer Brian Reitzell is the man behind the gut-churning, frequently disturbing score for David Slade’s 30 Days of Night. I’m pleased to see Slade and Reitzell working together again, because nobody else makes music quite like Brian Reitzell. Despite the first season’s  familiar procedural formula, it’s things like Reitzell’s hair-raising score and Slade’s direction that made Hannibal the most exciting show on television. Check out the season one blu-ray for a cool featurette featuring an interview with Reitzell. Standout Track: None, since there is no soundtrack album available. Somebody needs to get on that. Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

The World’s End by Steven Price

worldsendAnd then, seemingly out of nowhere, came Steven Price. Steven was a music editor who’d worked on a whole bunch of flicks since the late nineties. He worked with Nigel Godrich on Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim, but I didn’t hear Price’s name mentioned as a composer until Attack the Block arrived. That hip-hop-infused score, composed by Price and Basement Jaxx, put Price on the map, and now he’s done scores for two of 2013’s most acclaimed sci-fi films. His score for The World’s End pulls out all the stops, using a full orchestra, tasteful and clever electronic elements, rock influences, and even some western-style slide guitar. The orchestral stuff is lush, used for the film’s big emotional beats. The electronic elements represent the film’s big bad, the alien intelligence known as The Network. Have you ever put your cell phone next to a speaker and heard that rhythmic “dit-dit-didit” noise coming from the speaker? That’s called GSM interference, and that clever bastard Price used it as a motif in his score, giving the audience a subtle clue about the role of technology in the film. The western guitar stuff peppered throughout the score foreshadows the film’s ending, presenting Gary King almost like an Old West gunslinger. How fucking cool is this stuff?! Standout Track: The Cross Hands Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

Gravity by Steven Price

gravityWhile not as fun as his score for The World’s End, Price brings out the big guns for one of the year’s most visceral films. While mostly electronic in nature, the music of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity also includes orchestral instruments, but seemingly never without the presence of whirling, whooshing synths, or heavily filtered samples. What makes this particular score so unique is that the electronic and the orchestral parts are blended so seamlessly that they create a unique homogenous sound. During the film’s quieter moments, the synth ambience never crushes the tender string arrangements. In the film’s action set-pieces, the horror movie violins never overwhelm the anxiety-inducing push of the electronic drums. While not as easily listenable as his score for The World’s End, Steven Price’s work on Gravity is just as impressive. Standout Track: Gravity Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

Trance by Rick Smith

TranceThis flick’s got a tremendous aesthetic, but I think the trashy nature of the plot turned a lot of people off. I still like Trance, and I can’t help but feel that people were expecting something classier from the now Oscar-winning Danny Boyle. Composer Rick Smith is a member of electronic band Underworld, who worked with Boyle on the score for Sunshine. Smith is in top form here, creating one of this year’s more compelling electronic scores. What really elevates the soundtrack album to absolute must-buy status is the inclusion of some of the film’s source music, including an amazing jazz tune called Sandman, sung by Kirsty McGee. Listen closely to the rest of the score, and you’ll hear bits and pieces of Sandman sampled all over the place. Standout Track: Raw Umber Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

How I Live Now by Jon Hopkins

howiliveJon Hopkins, another one of my favorite contemporary composers, wrote the music for Gareth Edwards’ Monsters. That soundtrack album became one of my most listened soundtracks of the past five years. Now, Hopkins is back with what could almost be a sequel to that soundtrack. The music of How I Live Now is much more understated than Hopkins’ recent solo work, achieving a balanced simplicity and cleanliness that is rarely found in contemporary, non-orchestral film scores.   Standout Track: The River Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

Upstream Color by Shane Carruth

upstreamShane Carruth is so talented that I just want to hate him sometimes. I can never bring myself to do it, because he’s just too damn good at what he does. His second film ever, directed by him, written by him, produced by him, edited by him, starring him, and featuring a score composed by him, just happens to be one of the year’s most impressive sci-fi films. Upstream Color’s score represents just how much Carruth has evolved as an artist, because it’s light years ahead of his score for Primer. He lacks the finesse of a contemporary classical composer, but he still wrote a damn good score. Standout Track: I Love to Be Alone Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

Man of Steel by Hans Zimmer

manofsteelI had grown pretty tired of Hans Zimmer over the past few years. He’s not a bad composer, but he saturated the tentpole market in such a way that other composers began to emulate his style. Luckily, that trend has eased, and Zimmer has composed another really good score. He made a wise choice by going with a heavier sci-fi flavor, enhancing the more spacey, alien feel of Zack Snyder’s Superman universe. It also doesn’t hurt that main theme is crazy good. It’s like someone managed to capture the sound of racing around the world at a million miles per hour. Standout Track: What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World? Available on Vinyl: Yes Buy it on Amazon!

Prisoners by Jóhann Jóhannsson

prisoners copyIcelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson is a man of many talents. He’s the guy who wrote an entire album inspired by a recording of the sounds made by an IBM 1401. He’s weird. He’s also brilliant. In Jóhannsson’s score for Prisoners, he piles on the melancholy by using icy strings and bone-rattlingly low drones. Glass harmonica is used almost like a church organ, creating a funereal atmosphere, building upon the film’s themes of loss and religion. It’s not easy to listen to, but it’s effective and haunting in a way I haven’t heard in a long time. Standout Track: The Candlelight Vigil Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

The Kings of Summer by Ryan Miller

kings copyI had heard Miller’s music in Safety Not Guaranteed, but didn’t really seek him out until I saw The Kings of Summer. I’ll be looking out for him in the years to come. In what could’ve been a bland coming-of-age tale, Ryan Miller’s chiptune-inspired score imbues the actions of our main characters with fantasy, making the film feel almost mythic. Of course, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ stylish direction really helps with that, too.   Standout Track: Land Trunt Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

Escape From Tomorrow by Abel Korzeniowski

escapeAbel Korzeniowski’s job on this film must have been difficult. Not only does his amazing orchestral score imitate the distinct sounds and melodies of classic Disney scores, but it also had to stand on its own. And holy shit, does it stand on its own. One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with this film is the score. The unexpected grandiosity makes a very small film feel big enough to take on the corporate juggernaut that is Disney.   Standout Track: Gates of Tomorrow Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

Stoker by Clint Mansell

stokerThe first hour of this film is a wicked seductress. The rest of it is pretty damn good, too, but not like that first hour. I got high on cinema in a big way while watching this film, and Clint Mansell’s chilling, hypnotic cues only elevated my high. The sense of intrigue that Mansell manages to get across is unparalleled by any other this year. Mansell holds back, with a simple, piercing clarinet motif that demonstrates India Stoker’s curiosity about everything around her, and the audience’s curiosity about India Stoker. This film is a textural feast, with some of the best costumes, editing, cinematography, music, and sound design of the year. Philip Glass was originally hired to compose the score, but Mansell was brought in to replace him. While part of me would love to hear Glass’ score, I think Mansell’s is such an integral part of the film that I don’t think I could give it up. The only composition by Glass remaining in the film is the intensely erotic piano duet, which also serves as my favorite scene in the film. Standout Track: Blossoming Available on Vinyl: Yes Buy it on Amazon!

Dark Skies by Joseph Bishara

darkskiesJoseph Bishara is quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s most promising horror composers. His experimental, John Cage-esque music for Insidious really knocked me on my ass, and his scores for The Conjuring and the wacky Insidious: Chapter 2 are quite good as well. What I didn’t expect from Bishara was 2013’s most unique score: Dark Skies. Bishara uses droning electronic noise to great effect, creating an audio atmosphere you won’t hear on any other soundtrack this year. This score really straddles the line between sound design and music, and is unforgettably eerie. Not an easy listen, but a very rewarding one, indeed. Standout Track: Night Ride2 Available on Vinyl: Yes Buy it on Amazon!

Bioshock Infinite by Garry Schyman

BioShock-Infinite-SoundtrackGarry Schyman’s scores for Bioshock and Bioshock 2 are some the most effective orchestral scores composed for video games in the last decade. Schyman’s music is a crucial part of the Bioshock universe, and I really believe that without him, the series wouldn’t have held up as well. In this score, Schyman recalls American music from the early 1900’s, occasionally employing melodies that wouldn’t be out of place in a Stephen Foster songbook. The greatest thing about Bioshock Infinite’s score is that even in moments of harmony, the sinister undercurrents of Columbia are almost always there. While I think his score for Bioshock 2 is still his best, Infinite is my favorite orchestral score of any video game released in 2013. It’s too bad the soundtrack was only offered as a digital download for suckers like me who preordered the deluxe edition of the game. Standout Track: Lighter Than Air Available on Vinyl: No Buy it on Amazon!

Evil Dead by Roque Baños

EvildeadEvil Dead is quite a small film. It’s not as small as Raimi’s original classic, but it’s still fundamentally about a small cast of characters that go out to the middle of nowhere so that the cast can get steadily smaller. What I didn’t expect was that such a small film would have such a huge score. Spanish composer Roque Baños really swung for the fences on this one, and some claimed he went way over the top. I say he fucking nailed it. This film is all about being over the top. Ludicrous amounts of blood literally rain from the sky in this film. Baños makes some really amazing choices here, like acknowledging the presence of evil by using a hand-cranked siren, something I’ve never EVER heard in a musical score before. He uses a large orchestra and a full choir, lending an epic quality to the film’s unnamed demonic force. The whole score, while very atmospheric, is also surprisingly lyrical. There are hints of Howard Shore and Danny Elfman, and it’s very refreshing to hear such identifiable themes in a contemporary horror film. This is great stuff, and definitely one of the year’s coolest scores. Buy the CD version using the link below, and you’ll get 25 minutes of additional music that you won’t find on iTunes. Standout Track: The Pendant/Evil Tango Available on Vinyl: Yes Buy it on Amazon!

Only God Forgives by Cliff Martinez

onlygodNow, we come to my favorite soundtrack (and film) of the year. Sexy. Frightening. Stunningly beautiful. Everything that the film is, the score is, too. Cliff Martinez’s work meshes perfectly with Nicolas Winding Refn’s shockingly grotesque (and deeply alluring) imagery, making for a singular, homogenous experience. Brooding, contemplative orchestral cues create an almost noir feel, but the score also brings a strong Asian influence by using gamelan percussion. Martinez also uses his signature Cristal Baschet to great effect, using its glassy, chilling tones to introduce Kristin Scott Thomas’ mother character. There’s also this year’s best use of pipe organ, a bone rattling, horrific Bach-style fugue juxtaposed with Daft Punk-style arpeggiated synths. Martinez even wrote the music to several of the film’s karaoke songs, which sound authentically Thai. Every time I listen to this score, I am instantly transported back to the film, a highly underrated and nightmarish work. Standout Track: Ask Him Why He Killed My Brother Available on Vinyl: Yes Buy it on Amazon!]]>