ACL 2019 ~ The Year’s Best Film Scores

We’re not talking about the same films as everybody else, but for good reason; we’ve packed our slate with dark horse candidates.  So no Star Wars (too obvious), no Joker (the artist’s score for Chernobyl was better), no Ad Astra (not the composer’s best soundtrack), no Us (although we’ve got plenty of suspense below) and no Lion King (Hakuna matata!).  These are our picks for The Best Film Scores of 2019!

Our cover image is taken from the Icelandic-Ukrainian film Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð), starring Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir.  While the score didn’t make our list, the film has the best use of music we’ve seen all year, as the camera frequently pans out to display the band as the music is playing.  We highly recommend the film!

Five Favorites (in alphabetical order):

Alex Somers ~ Honey Boy (KRUNK)
The score is playful and pensive in equal measures, as one might expect from Alex Somers (Riceboy Sleeps).  Perky electronics peep around the edges, along with snippets of song.  Think what you may about Shia LeBeouf, but he knows how to pick a composer; this is ebullient music, recommended to those who enjoyed the OST to Where the Wild Things Are.


Bobby Krlic ~ Midsommar (Milan Records)
Do we really need the movie to enjoy this one?  The film was released to great hype and fell like a brick.  Perhaps the 4th of July was not when moviegoers wanted to see a film that pulled their guts out.  The title fit, but we believe it belonged in October.  This being said, Bobby Krlic (The Haxan Cloak) was an inspired choice.  He’s turned in a superlative work that references the haunted ballroom genre, falls into dissonance yet concludes with the surprising sweetness of “Fire Temple.”

Forest Swords ~ The Machine Air (Dense Truth)
We cover a lot of drone music at A Closer Listen, but until today we’ve covered only one album about physical drones (Gonçalo F Cardoso & Ruben Pater’s A Study into 21st Century Drone Acoustics).  The Machine Air is the score to a new film about drones, filmed by drones; Matthew Barnes integrates the sound of the machines into an electro-acoustic context.  The result is at times glorious and gliding, at times dangerous and foreboding.  Are you sure you want that package delivered by drone?


Matt Morton ~ Apollo 11 (Milan Records)
A documentary without narration, Apollo 11 needed a strong score to carry the day ~ and Matt Morton stepped up to the launch pad.  Synth pulses alternate with ambient textures, and a few tracks are even harsh, underlining the drama of the competition between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that dissolved “for one priceless moment (when) all the people on this Earth (were) truly one.”

William Ryan Fritch ~ Exit 12 (Lost Tribe Sound)
We were all ready to give the fifth spot to William Ryan Fritch’s Artifishal (which is about fish), but then this short one came in, and it’s a stunner.  Exit 12 won the Best Short Film at SXSW, and the score has received accolades as well.  It may not be what you expect from Fritch, but it’s a compact powerhouse, accompanying images of dancers portraying the ravages of war.  Fritch is easily the best film composer who hasn’t yet landed a major motion picture; it’s only a matter of time.  Hear both scores below.


Five Additional Contenders (in alphabetical order):

Ben Lovett ~ The Wind (Lakeshore Records)
With scores including The Signal, The Ritual and now The Wind, it’s fair to say that this composer is getting typecast.  But it’s good to know a go-to artist who can create a sense of creeping terror.  The dark strings recall There Will Be Blood, putting Lovett in the company of some very serious peers.


Daniel Lopatin ~ Uncut Gems (Warp)
Uncut Gems was the last score to make our list as it just came in and was so good it bounced another one off.  (We’ll never tell!)  The film is a huge change of pace for Adam Sandler, who has left his goofy days behind him and embraced the darkness of adulthood.  The score reflects the tension of the film, but also its scrappy victories.  Lopatin’s electronics carry the mood, but every once in a while there’s a surprise: a turn of timbre, a sudden choir.  Dialogue snippets punctuate the spaces between tracks.

Warp Records stream

Jung Jaeil ~ Parasite (Milan Records/Sacred Bones Records)
The crazy little movie that could, Parasite took the industry by surprise in 2019.  Every segment of the film contributed to its success, but the mood was established by the score.  “The Belt of Faith” is the highlight of an exquisite set, a declarative statement not to overlook the indies!

Mark Korven ~ The Lighthouse (Milan Records/Sacred Bones Records)
Creepy, tense and atmospheric or boring as hell?  It’s hard to feel the pulse of The Lighthouse, though by all accounts it’s beautifully filmed, the narrative carried more by the score than the acting.  The opening foghorn minutes set the pace, then it’s a long, slow crawl to the mythic finale.

Mica Levi ~ Monos (Lakeshore Records)
Mica Levi seems to be on this list every year, but the composer is of “Under the Skin” and “Jackie” is so diverse that it’s always a surprise what sort of score will be arriving next.  This survivalist/rebel drama received great reviews but few views.  Levi portrays the wide open spaces as both refuge and threat, morphing with whatever frame is on screen.

Richard Allen

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