2022 was a particularly good year for film scores, continuing a resurgence from the paucity of the pandemic years. We’ve chosen an eclectic list this year, including a score that was just made available for a film released in 2018, a new score for a hundred-year-old movie, two scores from popular films and the rest from less publicized Indies. Five were featured on our site earlier this year, while the others are all introduced here. The films range from documentary to drama to horror, while the artists include a post-rock band trying their hand at modern composition and a saxophonist without his sax. Some people go to the movies for the writing, acting or cinematography; we go with an ear to sound, and this is the best of what we heard in 2022.
Aaron Martin ~ The End of Medicine (Lost Tribe Sound)
The next pandemic is coming, but we may be able to stop it, if we’re willing to change our ways. Alex Lockwood’s documentary explores the inhumane conditions of livestock maintenance, while Martin’s score emphasizes first the threat, then the pathos, and finally the hope. Even if one cares more for one’s self than for the rest of the animal kingdom, it’s still a legitimate reason to act.
AVAWAVES ~ Savage Waters (One Little Independent)
How large is the perfect wave? Some surfers say 5-7 feet, others up to 20; few would set their sights higher, to an unpredictable monster. And yet, some do. Savage Waters follows one such journey, while AVAWAVES ~ the duo with the perfect name ~ offers excitement and empathy, willing to ride out on the jet ski and pick up the pieces if necessary.
Colin Stetson ~ The Menu (Sony Soundtracks/Milan)
Is The Menu a thriller? A black comedy? A societal commentary? All three mingle like the guests at Ralph Fiennes’ dinner party. Colin Stetson captures many feelings as they tumble: anticipation, realization, dismay. Like the film, the score has its dark parts, but winks at the audience for being smarter than the guests. Those who spun Stetson’s Chimæra I earlier this fall will hardly believe this is the work of the same composer, although the title itself is a hint.
Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch ~ Living (Filmtrax)
The film is about a bureaucrat whose life burns brightest as it reaches its end; Bill Nighy gives a spectacularly nuanced performance. Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch offers a commensurate score, a particularly personal assignment given the fact that she had just lost her own father ~ a journey chronicles on her recent album Ravage. Living sounds like living, even in the midst of dying.
Galya Bisengalieva ~ Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive (One Little Independent)
We might invent a new category for this film score: soundtracks to things we’ll never do. Freediver Johanna Nordblad is not like most people; her ambition is to set a world record for ice diving, and this film chronicles her adventure. Bisengalieva dives in a concurrent fashion, into the depths of emotion. She hopes to find resolve beneath the fear, and succeeds in admirable fashion.
Hildur Guðnadóttir ~ TÁR (Deutsche Grammophon)
The film is splitting audiences, and for good reason: Cate Blanchett’s performance is spectacular, but the character she plays is reprehensible; Lydia Tár is brilliant, but far better role models exist among female conductors. Yet this should not affect one’s appreciation of the original parts of the score, composed by the still-rising Guðnadóttir. One of the strangest parts of the score is that most of it is not heard in the film, especially as the film is about a conductor. A fun side note: the label Deutsche Grammophon is mentioned by name in the film, dispelling any illusion of objectivity.
Jon Natchez ~ Luzzu (Phantom Limb)
Luzzu is the rare film score that shuffles the track order in a significant fashion, changing the narrative arc. This decision highlights the fact that a film score can be its own beast, operating by its own rules, which mimics the approach of the film’s protagonist. A guest appearance by Mary Lattimore carries the music to the next level.
Katharina Nuttall ~ Passion (Independently Released)
Maja Borg’s film is about the practices of Christianity and BDSM in the aftermath of a destructive relationship. This may sound like difficult viewing, but the Swedish director highlights the beauty and mystery, while Nuttall offers deep strings and compelling beats, led by the trifold “Wounds” and “Transcendence.” What is sacred? What is profane? Bring on the pain.
Matti Bye Ensemble ~ HÄXAN (Time Released Sound)
It’s safe to say that none of our readers saw this film when it was first released in 1922. The film has since been recognized as a classic, and many have tried their hands at composing new scores. Matti Bye Ensemble’s may be the best, elegant and foreboding at the same time. As a bonus, the album receives the elaborate Time Released Sound treatment, the special edition available in an antique film can, stuffed with ephemera.
MONO ~ My Story, the Buraku Story (Temporary Residence Ltd.)
On their first film score, MONO displays the quiet side of their musical face. More modern composition than post-rock (save for the closer), this film score contains the tenderness and sorrowful reflection accorded its subject matter: segregation based on ancestry and place of residence. The movie calls attention to the injustice, while the score amplifies the pathos.
Bonus: Mykyta Moiseiev ~ When the Trees Fall (Independently Released)
One of the year’s greatest pleasures has been a deep dive into Ukrainian music, thanks to staffer Gianmarco Del Re’s Ukrainian Field Notes series. Marysia Nikitiuk’s When the Trees Fall has been called one of the nation’s finest films, but the score only became available for purchase this year. We think it’s worth discovering, which is why we’ve listed it here; we stand with Ukraine.