Moviedrone! Charlie Brigden’s Best OST Albums Of 2019

From Midsommar and Us to box sets of classic horror and sci-fi, it's been a great year for movie music, says Charlie Brigden

It’s been a good year. In recent times, we’ve had a lot of people going on about how film scores are not as good as they were however many decades ago, but really, this is a load of shit. They’ve changed for sure, but they’ve evolved. You could probably make a case for mainstream blockbuster music not being as good, but that’s somewhat the same as the films; homogenisation breeds apathy. The democracy of film scoring has also increased, with the nature of modern communication and technology allowing composers from all backgrounds to add their diversity to the mix, both culturally and stylistically.

One of the big trends of recent years is the number of artists crossing over from other genres to score films; I mean it’s something that’s always been around, but it feels like there’s been a big breakthrough in seeing the larger kind of movies having composers from pop, rock, EDM etc. Just look at Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL, now a bonafide blockbuster composer with scores such as Mad Max: Fury Road and Alita: Battle Angel under his ever-increasing belt.

The other hot potato of recent times that has been further emphasised by this year is the quality of scores for horror movies. Of course, horror is still looked upon by many with a great deal of sneering – which is why we have people using ridiculous reductive terms like “elevated horror” or calling them “psychological thrillers” – but looking at the genre not only through the films on the below list but also the ones on the fringe from this year, there is a clear throughline of brilliance. We’ve had Ben Wallfisch’s IT: Chapter Two, Brian Tyler’s Ready Or Not, Christopher Young’s Pet Semetary, Bear McCreary’s Child’s Play, even a fun score by Jim Jarmusch’s SQÜRL for his zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die.

And then looking at the titles on the list – especially the first-ever release of the original tapes for Bride Of Frankenstein and the beautiful new Hammer recordings – and it’s just a great time to be a fan of horror music. 2020 promises to be equally as good, with films on the horizon such as The Invisible Man, Halloween Kills (with another score by John Carpenter), Jordan Peele’s Candyman (another opportunity for the great Michael Abels), and the Guillermo del Toro-produced Antlers, which will have a score by the great Javier Navarrete, who previously scored del Toro horrors Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. You should be foaming at the mouth already.

10. Mark Korven – The Lighthouse

With the success of The Witch, ye olde horror fans have been clamouring not only for Robert Eggers’ follow-up but also the accompanying score by Mark Korven, whose authentic puritan-age stylings helped Eggers’ debut terrify entire generations of moviegoers. The Lighthouse isn’t so overt, instead taking more of a slow-burn approach as it tells its tall tale of madness and farting, but it’s a wild experience that feels like someone’s brain unravelling into the salty ocean water, portentous and groaning like the wood of a ship swelling and breathing underwater.

9. Michael Abels – Us
(Back Lot Music)

Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out attracted a fair bit of musical attention through its trailer, using a creepy distended remix of 90’s classic ‘I Got 5 On It’ from Oakland duo Luniz which ended up in the film as the ‘Tethered Mix’. But equally important is Michael Abels’ score, which takes a fairly classical approach reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, perhaps echoing Peele’s role as Hitchcock’s modern heir apparent. However, Abels splits away with his terrifying use of a children’s chorus, along with the pairing of cimbalom and violin to link thematically with the film’s theme of chaotic duality. It also ends with Minnie Ripperton’s storming ‘Les Fleur’, which can never be a bad thing.

8. Various – Dracula/The Curse of Frankenstein
(Tadlow Music)

When British studio Hammer unearthed the classic monsters as originally brought to the screen by Universal, they had the advantage of being able to not only produce the films in full garish technicolor but also to have the bright red blood violently spurting at the screen. However, their secret weapon was composer James Bernard, who helped the films sink their teeth into the cultural fabric with his decadent gothic symphonies. Famous for coming up with themes by singing the film’s title in syllables, Bernard was one of Hammer’s MVPs along with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and director Terence Fisher, and here is a set that contains brand new recordings of his scores to The Curse Of Frankenstein and Dracula, as reconstructed by composer Leigh Phillips and performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The music is wonderful and the performances and recordings are exceptional, making this an absolute treat for fans of Hammer, which really should be all of us.

7. Various – Planet Of The Apes – The Original Film Series
(La-La Land)

Speaking of groundbreaking film music, this beautiful box set collects the five original films from the Planet Of The Apes series, consisting of the original 1968 film and sequels Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, and Battle For The Planet Of The Apes, all beautifully remastered. All of the scores here have merit, especially Jerry Goldsmith’s undervalued effervescent jazz funk effort for Escape, but the real gem is Goldsmith’s score for the first film in pristine sound and complete fashion. It’s a brilliantly sombre, violent, and barking mad piece, with mixing bowls and horns aplenty, and an essential piece of film music history.

6. Daniel Pemberton – Motherless Brooklyn

Edward Norton’s adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s neo-noir may not have been on many people’s radar, but Daniel Pemberton’s menacing and classy score is a sure-fire home run. The score embraces the noir aesthetic while paying homage to the paranoia and crime thrillers of the 1970s (think David Shire and Dave Grusin) and has a remarkably soulful and human voice, characterised by a featured role for the genius trumpet maestro Wynton Marsalis. What’s also great is the way Pemberton uses percussion with an improvisational vibe, resulting in it taking on a malevolent presence that also feels like it’s ready to supply breakbeats to the next generation of hip hop.

5. Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury – Luce

Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury have consistently shown the score world how it’s done for a few years now, and their soundtrack to explosive drama Luce is perhaps their best effort. What immediately stands out is their theme for the title character, a curiously minimalist piece that perhaps feels more like Philip Glass than their previous offerings, but which ideally represents the assumptions the film focuses on. The score is happy to turn any preconceptions on its head; from elements put together as a sort of musique concrete to a more mature and developed sound perhaps unexpected, but is mesmerising to its very end.

4. Franz Waxman – Bride Of Frankenstein
(La-La Land)

When it comes to films from the advent of sound, it’s very difficult to come across copies of the original music, let alone anything in significantly decent quality, so when a score of Bride Of Frankenstein‘s quality shows up, you pay attention. Franz Waxman’s score for James Whale’s magnificently queer classic horror is a sheer masterpiece, characterised by an innovative mix of the terrifying and the hilarious, with evocative themes for the monster, the mischievous Pretorius, and the titular bride. That this incredible music has survived, and in such wonderful quality as attested by this album, is nothing less than a miracle.

3. Mica Levi – Monos

You can’t keep Mica Levi down, and who would want to? What’s amazing is that her soundtrack to Alejandro Landes’ tale of child soldiers in the Colombian jungle sounds nothing like her previous music, but still sounds unique to her. It’s a truly startling score. There are shades of Ennio Morricone through a whistling motif, and she amps up the surrealism of the film’s concept with layers of growling electronics and sounds from the jungle, introducing further depth with childlike winds and lamenting melodies. There is regret here, and violence, but also beauty, and what Levi has produced is just stunning.

2. Emile Mosseri – The Last Black Man In San Francisco

Astonishingly, The Last Black Man In San Francisco is Emile Mosseri’s debut feature score. It’s a work of great emotional depth that deconstructs notions of nostalgia and community and looks at those honestly, with a palette that emphasises the wistful lament of oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, and the evocativeness of saxophones and trumpets to create a sense of questioning, along with flavours of classic Americana. Beyond this, it’s also just a sheer pleasure to listen to, to imbibe the lush sounds Mosseri produces and just enjoy the journey that this wonderful score takes you on.

1. Bobby Krlic – Midsommar

Holy shit. It was perhaps surprising that director Ari Aster decided to work with a different composer after the positive reception to Colin Stetson’s work on Hereditary, but his choice of Bobby Krlic (aka The Haxan Cloak) is fully justified with this masterpiece of folk chaos. It grabs you instantly by the throat with winding dissonant strings that threaten to tear parts of you and just launches itself at you, with foreboding passages of doom-laden electronic fog amidst lush pastoral pieces that sound gorgeous but at the same time not quite right, lulling you in. You become hypnotised and it feels like a hallucination, almost transcendent, and it never quite reveals itself, leaving you to wonder what exactly it is, while you marvel at its majesty.

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