August Film Music Reflection

August traditionally has been a slow month and tends to be the dumping ground for films. But streaming competition means that the "Fall Season" surprises come earlier sometimes and that is the case in a couple instances in music from the past month.


Perhaps the standout score for the month David Buckley's work on The Sandman for Netflix. He has crafted a strong main title theme that then floats about the score as it progresses. He captures that sense of darkness, magic, and drama that blends well throughout the score. It is enhanced with some colorful orchestration and dramatic thrusts that help bring out the mystery and danger along the way. Often these emotional components are the result of carefully thought-out instrumental timbres that heighten the moment. The score is a rather delicious blend of a sort of Murray Gold Dr. Who-style with a little Harry Potter perhaps thrown in for good measure. The blend of electronic textures with the orchestra is masterful.This is a more than ample program which might feel slightly repetitive as it approaches its later stages, but Buckley continues to amaze with his various orchestral and electronic colors. It all works well on its own too.


Natalie Holt has been getting some good high-profile work since her excellent musical backgrounds for Loki garnered high critical praise. When word came she would be entering the Star Wars universe for Disney+'s Obi-Wan fans were excited to see what she would bring to the table. But then, John Williams decided to write a new theme for this titular character and William Ross was brought in to also integrate this with Holt into the material. While it might seem a bit sketchy, it seems like it was overall a fruitful collaboration and the end result is some well-integrated material that honors both the respected master and the younger composer. Certainly that must have been a bit intimidating. One wonders though if that has not opened the door for other "problems" in Holt's projects. I say this because also this month I had a chance to hear her score for a little action fantast, The Princess, from hot new Vietnamese director Le-Van Kiet (Furie). Holt provided a strong medieval action fantasy type backdrop to most of the score. But then for some reason this got overlaid with a lot of rock music material making it rather jarring from one moment to the next. It feels disjointed as a result but perhaps works better in the film.


Michael Abels continues to provide strong scores for Jordan Peele's films and that is also the case for Nope. The film is a sort of wink and homage to the blockbuster alien sci-fi of Spielberg with a touch of Rod Serling perhaps. Abels music also has some of that homage like moments with big Elmer Bernstein-like Western statements for the ranch, and some contemporary orchestral writing that builds on the aleatoric and atonal moments of Williams' classic Close Encounters score. It is all an engaging listen with an overall great flow to the album as well.


Finally, I also want to point out Sarah Schachner's work on the new Predator prequel, Prey. Prey is a darker listen and a bit harsher than some of the action scores in the franchise, but its Native percussion and instrumentation components add a unique sound world that stands in contrast to the visceral and unsettled sounds. It should work well to amp up the atmosphere of the narrative here in an impressive, somewhat experimental score from Schachner that should hopefully open the door to additional work.


Most encouraging as the summer wraps up is that we are seeing more female composer's work being made available. The streaming download delivery of most scores these days is aiding the distribution, or at least availability of these composers to have their work more in front of listeners than has ever happened before. Almost half of the new scores that came across my desk this past month were by women and many of them were for higher profile projects than we have ever seen. This is a great sign that hopefully will continue!


On the horizon here is music from the new Lord of the Rings series which will likely be one of the "best of" picks from the buzz that has preceded it. For now, head to your favorite streaming service to check out the scores mentioned here, or enjoy them in their visual contexts which is often even better!

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