What can I say? 2018 has been a fantastic year for film music, whether you like your big bombastic action scores or your plinky indie piano. Over the last twelve months we’ve been privy to one of the best Marvel scores, the return of a legendary smuggler with a brand new theme, not one but two scores by Radiohead members (only one has made the cut here though), and the swan song from a dearly departed composer. This was a tough list to put together, so don’t be too mad if I missed your favorite; this was like cutting off fingers if I had three hands.
10. Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Perhaps appropriately, one of Hildur Guðnadóttir‘s previous collaborations with the late Jóhann Jóhannsson was for Sicario (2015), where she played solo cello on the score before graduating to composer for the sequel. Any thoughts that the grinding dark of the previous film’s music might be lightened are dismissed immediately with thundering dirty percussion and high strings lingering distantly behind, echoing the moral separation in the film. There’s no doubt in the subterfuge going on here. There are no heroes and villains, and even the pieces for Benicio Del Toro‘s Alejandro have a fatalistic edge. What remains is a tense journey into hell where Guðnadóttir makes one thing crystal clear: everyone is complicit.
Understandably, one of the first questions on everybody’s lips, when a new Halloween installment was announced, was “is John Carpenter returning to score?” Mercifully the answer was yes, with the horror master bringing along son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies to give David Gordon Green‘s slate-wiper a real musical kick. Carpenter’s 1978 film was a big influence on the electronic horror score scene that is still so popular today and it’s easy to see why, with that theme still as sharp and relentless today as it was forty years ago. Also introduced was a sobering new take on Laurie’s Theme and the momentous ‘The Shape Stalks’, along with some truly deep and violent grooves. He’s still got it.
8. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Despite Disney’s almighty screw-up by giving it a May release date and strangling the marketing, Ron Howard‘s smuggler origin story turned out pretty well, with a fine set of performances and a looser sense of fun that the saga films perhaps can’t commit to. One of the best things was that John Williams came back to finally give Han Solo a theme, four decades after the character was first introduced. The beautiful charm and swashbuckling nature of the theme gave actual composer John Powell something to grasp onto, allowing for an old-fashioned symphonic score that concentrated more on space chases and space-train heists than emotional resonance, with a dash of the old themes to boot. One of Powell’s best moments is the tribal chanting of Enfys Nest’s theme, though it’s Williams’ theme that provides the backbone for the score, and one of his finest musical moments since, well, last year and The Last Jedi.
One of the great moments of 2018 was seeing the music of Terence Blanchard receiving more recognition through Spike Lee‘s hit comedy-drama. Whether he’s parodying the classic music of Max Steiner for the opening or bringing his trademark jazz undercurrent to a more traditional film scoring form, Blanchard’s music is dynamite. The main theme itself is a fantastic earworm but the real achievement is Blanchard not only showing his aptitude to a larger audience but also his method, writing some wonderful work for strings that recalls some of John Williams’ compositions for political movies but with a much more subversive edge.
6. Black Panther
One of the big music-related deals of recent times was Alan Silvestri returning to score Avengers: Infinity War and next year’s Endgame, but Marvel’s best musical work this year came from Black Panther and Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson, who had previously contributed a knockout (yes, deal with it) score for Creed and director Ryan Coogler. Göransson’s extensive research – he visited Senegal and South Africa to discover and record authentic African music – and talent gave Black Panther an immediate impact and individualistic feel. An example of the power of the score is the appearance of the main theme in Infinity War as they arrive in Wakanda, a musical cross-pollination that does not often happen in the MCU. Long may it continue.
Death may be a well-trodden path in fictional feature films but dealing with the reality of it is explored less so, with music a crucial element that tends to be less overtly manipulative; more mood boards than traditional methods. In lieu of this, Patrick Jonsson‘s score for Orlando von Einsidel‘s documentary Evelyn is beautiful and delicate, telling the story of the director’s own family as they come to terms with the suicide of one of his siblings – Evelyn – thirteen years previous. Jonsson’s music is like the long drawn-out breaths of contemplation, you can feel the anguish and the pain of extraction of memories modulated through a conduit of meditation. What’s so powerful is that the grieving process can be felt throughout, but less specific and perhaps voyeuristic and more an overall treatise on how humanity deals with such a thing. And a life-affirming one at that.
One of the great losses of 2018 was that of composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who had become an important name and sound in film music due to scores like Arrival and The Theory of Everything. Jóhannsson’s last work was for Panos Cosmatos‘ insane horror movie Mandy, and what a swan song it was. Jóhannsson’s score sounds like a literal descent into several stages of hell, employing guitarist Stephen O’Malley of doom metal band Sunn O))) to creative some blistering hard rock soundscapes to contrast the ethereal textures used to anchor the emotional grounding. Birthed from this is a wholly cathartic experience, with an extra veneer of poignancy from the passing of its composer. A masterwork.
3. Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse
Chamber doom may not be a genre most are familiar with, but out of it has come band MMMD and their foreboding and unsettling score for Lukas Feigelfeld‘s folk horror masterpiece Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse. A slow-burn of a score and film, MMMD’s music carefully unfolds with ultra-low strings and electronics and envelops the listener in a doom-laden mist as relaxing as it is uncomfortable. The score’s hypnotic tones have a melancholic progression to them, and there’s a tension drawn out that is kept up until the final moments. I bet Black Phillip‘s a fan.
2. If Beale Street Could Talk
One of the highlights of Barry Jenkins‘ Moonlight was the mesmerizing score by Nicholas Britell and the pair’s reunion for If Beale Street Could Talk is another beautiful musical experience. Using brass and strings as a base and spreading out further with experiments in form and tone, Britell’s score is hugely rich in both emotional and aesthetic content and perfectly conveys the narrative journey of the film’s relationship and the trials the main characters undertake. There’s such an incredible maturity in Britell’s score that it feels like it was written by someone like Alex North or Elmer Bernstein, a perfect encapsulation of American love that feels like a privilege to listen to.
1. You Were Never Really Here
What’s surprising and overall satisfying about the trajectory of Jonny Greenwood‘s scoring career is that while he hasn’t stayed in one place, he’s also embraced parts of traditional film scoring as well, forging a bridge between the classicists and the hipsters. You Were Never Really Here is another example of what is less idiosyncrasy and more stylistic tendencies, with certain metamorphoses mirroring Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix‘s wildly brilliant journey. The euphoric waves that bookend the film, the sparse and unsettling textures of the brothel with the string undercurrents that feel like untold tales of the girls who aren’t rescued, the bouncy synths that score Joe’s manic and often terrifying exploits. It’s just incredibly fearless, inventive, and frankly mind-blowing.
As well as new scores it’s also been a fabulous year for catalog reissues and expansions, both on CD and vinyl, with many releases no one thought we’d ever see. Therefore, feast your eyes on the best this year had to offer from the catalog depths and the wonder of the 12″ LP.
10. Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Edition (La-La Land)
Yes, we’ve had this multiple times, but these are from the best sources available and contains tons of unreleased and unused cues by the master Michael Kamen.
9. Kubrick’s Music (Cherry Red)
A lovely box set looking at all kinds of music from the films of Stanley Kubrick, such as score from Lolita, source from The Shining, and other music that inspired the director when putting his films together, such as Prokofiev‘s Alexander Nevsky.
8. Harry Potter: The John Williams Soundtrack Collection (La-La Land)
Expanded and remastered editions of the first three scores of the film series. Williams’ music still defines Harry Potter to this day, so here are seven discs worth of it.
7. The Valley of Gwangi (Intrada)
Jerome Moross‘ score for the thrilling Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs and cowboys flick has been missing for ages, so it’s wonderful to be able to hear this brilliant score in pristine sound.
6. The World Is Not Enough (La-La Land)
Finally an expanded edition of one of the best of the David Arnold James Bond scores, with a decent Garbage song behind it but more importantly some fantastic previously unreleased moments.
5. The Mummy (Intrada)
Fans have been clamoring for an expanded edition of Jerry Goldsmith‘s epic 1999 adventure score and their wishes were granted with this supreme 2-CD version, showing the true breadth and scope of Goldsmith’s music in beautiful sound.
4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (La-La Land)
The origins of Wojciech Kilar‘s score for the Coppola film have always been mysterious, but here we have a whole three CDs of music from the film, including unused and original versions. A supreme edition of an incredible score.
3. The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (Intrada)
Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the 1975 horror has been a holy grail, well, since 1975, and it’s finally here. It’s a monster of a score, fully deserving of its reputation, and it’s just amazing that we actually have it now.
2. Dracula: The Deluxe Edition (Varese Sarabande)
Another in the exploits of Stoker’s Count, here by John Williams, that was supposedly lost but now found. Williams’ score was composed in that golden age of his between 1975 and 1984 and it sounds amazing, not just in terms of sound quality but the composition of the full score, which is an absolute out-and-out masterpiece.
1. Alien 3: 2-CD Limited Edition (La-La Land)
Various reasons had been previously given for why Elliot Goldenthal‘s murky score would never be expanded, but thankfully all have been bypassed. It’s an angry score, a beautiful score, complex and dark and terrifying but still wonderfully thematic, and this presentation finally illustrates its sheer brilliance.
10. Logan’s Run (Waxwork)
Long the butt of stupid jokes about reaching 30, the best thing about Logan’s Run has always been the music and Jerry Goldsmith’s score has been beautifully presented here by Waxwork.
9. Get Out (Waxwork)
Michael Abels‘ score for Jordan Peele‘s horror masterwork was a revelation and it was treated appropriately on vinyl, with a fantastic pressing and super-grotesque cover art by Leslie Herman.
8. My Neighbour Totoro (Ghibli)
A repress of the amazing Joe Hisiashi score for the Miyazaki animated classic, the only downside here is that it’ll cost you a pretty penny to own, which is pretty much standard for Japanese releases.
7. The Adventures of Tintin (Music on Vinyl)
Maybe a surprising inclusion, but nevertheless John Williams’ jaunty score for the Spielberg adaptation of Herge‘s stories is a fantastic listen, showing Williams’ jazz influences and skills with an absolutely perfect pressing.
6. Profondo Rosso (Waxwork)
Goblin and Gaslini is the order of the day, with another pressing of the legendary giallo score from the Dario Argento masterpiece. The entire score is pressed here over three records, sounding great and looking amazing with superb artwork by Malleus.
5. Halloween (Death Waltz)
With the new movie debuting it was not surprising to see another pressing of the original score that started it all, here in its complete glory with moody art by Mike Saputo.
4. Tenebrae (Waxwork)
Is it Goblin? Sort of. Band members Claudio Simonetti, Fabio Pignatelli, and Massimo Morante here score another of Argento’s gialli in the guise of the twisted Tenebrae, and provide another essential soundtrack. Once again the pressing is divine and Nikita Kaun‘s sleeve art is iconic.
3. Daughters of Darkness (Music on Vinyl)
The lesbian vampire is a long-existing trope, but it was a bit fresher back in the 70’s when it was featured in Harry Kumel‘s decadent picture, with Francois de Roubaix‘s haunting yet mischievous score a key element of the film, here presented wonderfully despite imperfect source material.
2. Candyman (One Way Static)
A repress, but an important one nonetheless. Calling Philip Glass‘ score to Bernard Rose‘s 1992 classic horror haunting is a supreme understatement, the memorable “music box” hook embeds itself in your brain and will not let go until the bitter and bloody end. Doesn’t hurt that it comes on a fantastic pressing.
Michael Mann‘s soundtracks are famously brilliant and this is one of his best, the famously 80’s vibe established by Miami Vice leading to a moody and emotional journey through the mind of FBI agent Will Graham. Waxwork’s edition sounds beautiful, looks beautiful, and includes previously unreleased tracks.