Home > Reviews > Under-the-Radar Round Up 2021, Part 3B

Under-the-Radar Round Up 2021, Part 3B

September 22, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

2021 is already more than half way done and, as the world of mainstream blockbuster cinema and film music continues to recover from the COVID-19 Coronavirus, we must again look to smaller international features not as reliant on massive theatrical releases to discover the best new soundtracks. As such I am very pleased to present the second part of my third installment (for this calendar year) in my ongoing series of articles looking at the best “under the radar” scores from around the world.

The five titles included here are again a mixed bag of styles, genres, and national origins, and include quirky comedy from Finland, a children’s fantasy-comedy from Germany, a serious religious drama from Greece scored by a Pole, a Japanese animated adventure, and a French comedy-drama about the creation of the first modern restaurant!

 

DÉLICIEUX – Christophe Julien

Délicieux is a French comedy-drama directed by Eric Besnard. Set at the dawn of the French Revolution, it follows the fortunes of Pierre Manceron (Grégory Gadebois), a daring but proud cook who is sacked by his master the Duke of Chamfort (Benjamin Lavernhe). With a bit of encouragement from his new apprentice (Isabelle Carré) Manceron leaves behind the shackles of servitude and undertakes his own revolution. Together, they invent a place of pleasure and sharing open to all: the first ever restaurant. While a few historical liberties have been taken here and there, this is nevertheless a fun and interesting look back at the birth of what has since become a worldwide global phenomenon.

The score for Délicieux is by French composer Christophe Julien, who also impressed earlier this year with his score for Le Sens de la Famille, and whose previously popular works include the 2017 crime comedy Au Revoir Là-Haut, and the 2016 sci-fi thriller Arès. Délicieux is a gentle period score written for a chamber orchestra, with a focus on strings and harp as lead instruments, and which offers a whimsical, magical take on this gastronomical and culinary story. The title cue, “Délicieux,” is very much rooted in the score’s common sound, in which plucked strings and harps combine with a soft boys’ choir, to excellent effect. As the cue develops, it becomes more charming and sprightly, with a more dashing air to the strings, a playful woodwind element, and even a touch of harpsichord, all of which comes across as a delightful combination of Rachel Portman and Alexandre Desplat.

Much of the rest of the score develops in this vein. Cues like “Le Repas” are very old-fashioned and classical, with a prominent harpsichord and an air of Bach, while cues like “L’Exil,” “Le Miroir de Nos Vies,” “Elégance du Geste,” and “Passer et ne Jamais Revenir” focus more on the piano and, when combined with the prominent plucked basses, have a flavor of ‘Air on the G String’ about them.

Cues like “Les Saisons” and “La Renaissance” are full of movement, prancing pizzicato string textures and harp glissandi, which give the central cello melodies a sense of elegance and refinery. “L’Éveil des Sens” and “Le Restaurant” feature the boys’ choir, and have a graceful, reverential sound. “Les Gourmets” revisit the lyrical and playful woodwinds as part of a series of cues which seem to celebrate the art of cooking and the ballet-like partnership between Pierre and his apprentice in the kitchen.

“Le Poison” is darker and more intensely dramatic – you can probably tell what’s going on from the cue title – but this is a rare foray away from the overall sound. The penultimate cue “1789” is one of the few cues where the full orchestra raises its voice to truly emotional heights – echoes of ‘Zadok the Priest’ here – while conclusive “Délicieux Générique Fin” is an excellent 6-summation of the score’s highlights, and would be my recommendation to listen to if you want a sampler of what thee score is all about.

Délicieux is a lovely score, elegant and pretty, with a delightful period sound which will absolutely appeal to those whose tastes lean towards a more classical chamber sound. It’s also a good reminder that Christopher Julien is one of a group of excellent young composers to come out of France over the last few years, whose careers are worth following . The score is available to download and stream via most good online sites.

Track Listing: 1. Délicieux (3:29), 2. Le Repas (1:08), 3. Les Saisons (3:12), 4. L’Exil (1:24), 5. L’Éveil des Sens (1:05), 6. La Renaissance (3:45), 7. Le Miroir de Nos Vies (1:59), 8. Les Gourmets (2:17), 9. Elégance du Geste (2:06), 10. Le Poison (1:33), 11. La Veillée (1:40), 12. Le Temps d’Une Vie (1:04), 13. Le Restaurant (1:39), 14. Passer et ne Jamais Revenir (1:46), 15. Vous me le Paierez (3:38), 16. 1789 (3:10), 17. Délicieux Générique Fin (5:55). Nord-Ouest Films, 40 minutes 43 seconds.

 

HELP, I SHRUNK MY FRIENDS – Anne Kathrin Dern

The third film in what I have decided to call the ‘Geschrumpft Trilogy’ – mainly because I really like typing the word ‘geschrumpft’ – Help, I Shrunk My Friends (known as Hilfe, Ich Hab Meine Freunde Geschrumpft in German) follows on from the first two films, about shrinking parents and shrinking teachers, and again stars Oskar Keymer as Felix, the young man who learned the secret of ‘shrinking magic’ from the ghost of Otto Leonhard, the teacher who founded his school. In this adventure Felix falls in love with a new student named Melanie but then, during a class trip to the museum dedicated to Leonhard, accidentally shrinks some of his friends – something which again attracts the attention of the evil Hulda Stechbarth, Leonhard’s ghostly nemesis.

The score for Help, I Shrunk My Friends is again by the brilliantly talented German composer Anne Kathrin Dern, who also scored the previous film in the series, Help I Shrunk My Parents. Like its predecessor, Dern’s score is by turns magical, comedic, and adventurous; much of the score retains the tonal similarities to the work of Danny Elfman and John Williams, although interestingly the main theme from the last film (which was inspired by the most famous part of Czech classical composer Bedrich Smetana’s The Moldau) has mostly been replaced with all-new thematic content – it does still feature, but it’s nowhere near as prominent.

The “Opening” is light and sunny and charming, is full of a sense of light adventure, and some delicious orchestral textures, including some sparkling dancing woodwinds. There’s a lovely, sentimental theme for Felix’s best friend in “Ella,” which hints at some underlying but unspoken romance between the pair. Dutch soprano Tineke Roseboom gives “The Tale” a delightfully spooky edge with her wordless vocals, which offset a rich classical violin.

The supernatural elements of the score feature some wonderful moments of dark drama and fantasy magic, notably in “The Book,” the charming “The Village” with its playful combination pizzicato-and-woodwind writing and hints of medieval dance music, “Potions and Breakfast,” “The Necklace,” and even “Melanie,” which relates to the new student that Felix develops a crush on, but feels very fantasy-like with its swirling strings, even when it combines with a more contemporary guitar element. The finale in “Goodbye” returns to present some of these ideas at their most emotionally powerful, resulting in a poignant sendoff to the entire ‘Geschrumpft’ series.

Interspersed throughout the score are a number light action and caper tracks which build on the style of scores like Fearless and further enhance Dern’s credentials as a really good action composer. “Escape” is clever in that it does feature a highly rhythmic setting of the main theme, enlivened with tapped percussion and a whimsical light action style, and this idea returns later in “Defeat”. “Attack” is exciting and rambunctious, with a rhythmic part that reminds me of part of Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek score. “Hostages,” “Rescue Mission,” “Truth,” and “Fire” each generate a significant head of steam too, emerging into some boisterous and creatively arranged action after a slow, tension-filled buildup.

Rounding out the album are two original pop songs performed by LA based Dutch-Indonesian singer Kia Knoester, which Dern co-wrote and which are very good, but for me her score is the star of the show. It’s tuneful, beautifully orchestrated, and full of fun and personality. The score is available as a digital download from Moviescore Media, and to stream via most of the mainstream sites.

Track Listing: 1. Unstoppable (performed by Kia) (2:09), 2. Opening (2:00), 3. Ella (2:48), 4. The Tale (3:36), 5. Escape (2:02), 6. The Book (2:50), 7. The Village (5:12), 8. Melanie (4:18), 9. Potions and Breakfast (3:12), 10. The Necklace (4:06), 11. Practice (2:13), 12. Attack (1:46), 13. Distrust Among Friends (3:46), 14. Hostages (2:29), 15. Rescue Mission (3:47), 16. Truth (2:52), 17. She’s A Woman (2:22), 18. Fire (3:02), 19. Defeat (4:10), 20. Tea (1:12), 21. Goodbye (2:06), 22. What Friends Are For (performed by Kia) (2:17). Moviescore Media MMS-21063, 64 minutes 03 seconds.

 

MAN OF GOD – Zbigniew Preisner

Man of God, known as O Anthropos Tou Theou in the original Greek, is a dramatic biopic written and directed by Yelena Popovic. It chronicles then life of Saint Nektarios of Aegina, one of the most renowned saints in the Eastern Orthodox church. Nektarios was controversial during his lifetime for his dedication to helping those in the most need, even to the extent where he drew criticism and condemnation from his superiors in the church who claimed that his work would “bankrupt the church and usurp the patriarchy”. This film specifically concentrates on the period of Nektarios’s life in the late 1880s and early 1890s when he was Bishop of Cairo, and looks at the power struggle that developed between him and the members of the local diocese. The film stars Aris Servetalis as Nektarios, features Mickey Rourke in a supporting role as a sick man whose life affected by an encounter with Nektarios, and has an original score by Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner.

This is the second prominent score by Preisner to be released in 2021, following the Colombian film Forgotten We’ll Be, and with it this becomes one his most productive and high profile years in quite some time. Preisner has a love for Greece, its culture and people, which resulted in him creating a truly outstanding score for Man of God. To reflect the spirituality of Nektarios, Preisner built his score around a number of original pieces performed by a Byzantine choir, the Maestros of the Psaltic Art, and accompanied them with some beautiful orchestral textures, with added colors from a palette of keyboards, and local instrumental textures such as the qanun zither. In addition, following their collaboration on the film Valley of Shadows in 2017, Preisner again asked songwriter-composer Lisa Gerrard to contribute two new vocal tracks to his score. The end result is, for me, one of the best Preisner scores in many, many years, which can stand with some of his career highlights.

Several cues stand out for their beauty and excellence. The opening “Man of God – The Beginning of a Story” is a piece for solo qanun, and is both intimate and expressive in its depiction of classical Greek culture. Qanun solos feature prominently in several other cues, notably “Aegina” and the gorgeously striking “Beauty of Aegina”, while the Byzantine choir anchors cues such as “Kyrie Eleison” with their deep, polytonal, overlapping vocals and tone of deep spirituality.

More traditional instrumental and orchestral textures are more prominent in cues like “Searching for Values,” “Evia,” the calm and reverential “Serenity,” “New Life,” and the moving “Conversation with God,” which often highlight solo performances for cello or piano. Preisner’s minimalist tendencies, and the way he often focuses on just one instrumental idea, gives Man of God a very personal sound that is very compelling. Elsewhere, delicate electronic textures add a new dimension to cues like “Conversation” and “In the Darkness”. There are several recurring themes that weave through the score too , but they are quite subtle, and are often subservient to the changes in instrumental color. This is a score that enthralls with its texture and timbre rather than its bold melodic content.

The two Lisa Gerrard cues are “Misery” and “Loss,” and they have that soulful, uniquely intoxicating sound that she previously brought to scores like Gladiator. The “Song for Saint Nectarios” is something that Preisner composed before the score was written, him having been inspired by the screenplay, and it does not feature in the film. It’s a beautiful piece with simple lyrics, and it provides a superb gateway into the final cue, “Man of God – End Credits,” in which Preisner allows the full orchestra to rise to its most fulsome heights.

For me, Man of God represents Zbigniew Preisner as his very best. The score maintains the small, personal, serious tone that has typified much of his work throughout his career, but the fact that it is also enlivened with both Greek folk music and Byzantine choral music that represents Greek religious spiritualism fleshes out its tone and gives it a superb Mediterranean warmth and appeal. The score for Man of God was released on CD by Caldera Records, and is available to purchase and download from most good online retailers

Track Listing: 1. Man of God – The Beginning of a Story (0:46), 2. Searching for Values (1:15), 3. Conversation (1:47), 4. Evia (1:12), 5. In the Darkness (2:16), 6. Serenity (2:15), 7. Kyrie Eleison (1:43), 8. Aegina (1:15), 9. New Life (2:17), 10. Conversation with God (2:03), 11. Kyrie Eleison – Byzantine Version (1:28), 12. Beauty of Aegina (2:02), 13. Deceptive Calm (1:44), 14. Kyrie Eleison – Prayer (2:01), 15. Misery (1:34), 16. Serenity – Orchestral Version (1:55), 17. Humiliation of the Priest (0:52), 18. Loss (1:56), 19. Final Breath (2:05), 20. Song for Saint Nectarios (0:53), 21. Man of God – End Credits (4:54). Caldera Records C-6045, 38 minutes 04 seconds.

 

MY HERO ACADEMIA: THE MOVIE – WORLD HEROES’ MISSION – Yuki Hayashi

My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission is a Japanese animated superhero film, and the third film based on the My Hero Academia manga comic book by Kōhei Horikoshi. The film is set in a world where most of the human population has gained the ability to develop superpowers called ‘quirks’, Within the quirk-enhanced population, a few of them become “Heroes,” who work with the authorities to rescue civilians and apprehend “Villains” who abuse their quirk powers. The comic focus specifically on Izuku Midoriya, who is discovered by Japan’s greatest hero, and who enrolls him in a prestigious high school for heroes in training. In this particular story, Izuku is one of several students who are chosen visit another country, but while he is there he is framed by some villains into causing an international incident that makes him one of the most wanted criminals in the world.

The score for My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission is by Yuki Hayashi, a Japanese composer and arranger best known for his work on the soundtracks for television dramas, anime, and films. His most famous works include Triangle, Zettai Reido, Diabolik Lovers, Asa Ga Kita, Haikyū!! and the previous two My Hero Academia films, but this is the first full score I have heard by him – and it’s impressive. My lack of exposure to the prior entries in this series likely means that I am missing some thematic depth and development, but even going in blind there is still a great deal of enjoyable music to be found.

The score is mostly orchestral, with some electronic and choral textures to flesh it out, and there are numerous highlights to be found, ranging from the spiritual-sounding choral opening “Humarise,” the electronically-enhanced religioso theme for the villains in cues like “Terrorism” and “Mysterious Villains,” the heroic and uplifting “Opening”. Some of the middle album cues, notably things like “A Tough Decision” and “Deku’s Whereabouts” employ a much more prominent electronic element that occasionally strolls back into the early 80s sound of Harold Faltermeyer and Vangelis, while elsewhere cues like “Rody’s Past,” “Inferiority Complex,” and the lovely “Rody’s Heart” have a more poignant string-and-guitar-based sound that is at times quite soothing.

The action music that appears frequently throughout the score is engaging and at times quite intense, and often features powerful rhythmic string ostinato underneath direct and striking writing for brass, percussion, and even some rock guitars, which occasionally gives it something of a classic Hans Zimmer sound. Cues like “Nerves Before Dispatch – The Story So Far,” “Pursuer,” the enormously intense “Rescue,” the epic “Relief for Humanity,” are terrifically entertaining, while others like “Tactics” adopt a funkier 1970s jazz groove sound with more prominent pianos and thrumming bass guitars.

The conclusion of the score is probably the best part of the whole thing, wherein cues such as “Flect’s Trap,” “Fight Against the Strong,” “Flect’s Thoughts,” “Flect’s Power,” and the emotionally direct “Surrender” really concentrate on larger orchestral and choral forces, and adopt a more straightforward action tone. The rock, electronica, and light dance music elements are still present, of course, but the last 8-10 cues are where it really comes into its own and shows what a genuinely talented orchestral composer Yuki Hayashi is. Perhaps the highlight of the score is the beautiful and soaring “The Spirit to Succeed,” a rousing anthem of positivity .

There are some more obnoxious hip-hop and hard rock-inspired instrumental cues which are not at all to my personal taste and might be worth skipping (“Incident Occurs,” “Impatience,” “Reasons to be Chased,” I’m looking at you), and lack of a strong unifying main theme makes the score feel a little disjointed at times, but despite these occasional misfires the score mostly impresses with its range and scope, and for the way Hayashi gradually builds to a truly outstanding finale. My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission is available as a CD import from Japan via online retailers like CD Japan and Play Asia, and to stream and download through Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and other notable streaming services.

Track Listing: 1. Humarise (1:48), 2. Terrorism (1:55), 3. Nerves Before Dispatch – The Story So Far (4:19), 4. Opening (1:35), 5. From the Slums to the Cities (0:44), 6. Incident Occurs (3:00), 7. Mysterious Villains (1:28), 8. Tactics (1:02), 9. Impatience (0:52), 10. Reasons to be Chased (2:15), 11. Wanted Criminal (1:41), 12. A Tough Decision (1:10), 13. Deku’s Whereabouts (0:52), 14. Rody’s Past (2:18), 15. Pursuer (1:42), 16. Inferiority Complex (2:40), 17. Rody’s Heart (2:11), 18. Surprise Attack (1:52), 19. Rescue (1:08), 20. Relief for Humanity (2:03), 21. Opposition (2:11), 22. Message (1:25), 23. Flect’s Trap (5:44), 24. Fight Against the Strong (4:04), 25. Flect’s Thoughts (1:24), 26. Flect’s Power (3:02), 27. Surrender (3:02), 28. Resolved Action (3:08), 29. Todoroki’s Counterattack (2:32), 30. The Spirit to Succeed (4:52), 31. Go Straight! (1:54), 32. Sacrifice and Peace – Friendship (2:17). Milan, 71 minutes 56 seconds.

 

THE POTATO VENTURE – Panu Aaltio

The Potato Venture, known as Peruna in its native tongue, is a quirky comedy-drama from Finland, written by Pekko Pesanen and directed by Joona Tena. The film stars Joonas Nordman, Kari Hietalahti, Kari Ketonen, and Mikko Penttilä, and follows the adventures of an ambitious young man in 17th century Finland who tries to start a new business importing potatoes into the country. His idea is to appeal to the tastes of a new class of emerging wealthy bourgeoisie with something equally new and exciting in the culinary market, but his plans threaten the stranglehold maintained by the local Turnip-Sellers Guild, who will stop at nothing to prevent this new vegetable from taking root.

The score for The Potato Venture is by Panu Aaltio, who previously worked with director Tena on the children’s adventure comedy film Super Furball in 2018, and so clearly has no trouble tackling films with extraordinarily odd premises. In the album’s press notes, Aaltio muses: “What kind of music do you write for a comedy and adventure film about modern startup culture dropped into 17th century Finland involving potatoes? To say I was dreading writing the first note would be an understatement. The pandemic also prevented us from involving a traditional orchestra, so I had to get creative with the instrumentation. The score ended up mirroring the film’s anachronistic nature, and became a hybrid of baroque music and modern film scoring – quite different from anything else I’ve done!”

The resulting score is a tremendously fun and entertaining mishmash of styles and approaches. It all builds out of the “Main Title” a boisterous piece for harpsichords, voices, and jaunty orchestral textures, performing a dance-like theme that is enormously entertaining; whether this has anything to do with the music of 17th century Finland is open to debate, but I certainly like it. The rhythmic element that runs through the cue – the undulating figure – reoccurs frequently throughout the score, and established itself as the score’s only real main recurring identity. The fanfare-like brass version in “Recruitment” is notably terrific, as is the majestic choral version at the end of “The Dramatic Story”.

Cues like “Archangel,” “City Wonders,” and “Loss” have liturgical overtones, with choirboys and female sopranos intoning in a what sounds like a combination of Latin and classical Finnish, accompanied by pipe organs. Meanwhile, cues like “The One Who Lost Everything” and “Moving to England” adopt Aaltio’s baroque tones, where solo violins and recorders perform chord progressions that typify the period style to a tee. There’s some real beauty here; even for a comedy as silly as this, Aaltio never undercuts it with ’amusing’ music, and instead plays the drama, although in some tracks (notably “Ground Pear Kings,” “Pitching Session,” and others) the tone is notably lighthearted, and perhaps a little mischievous. The exception to this rule is “Seasons Pass,” which is an intentional homage to Vivaldi’s most famous works.

“Accident,” “Bandits Attack,” parts of “The Startup Event,” “Funding Round,” “Open Source Ground Pear,” and the superb “Planting at Night” re-imagine the baroque orchestrations in a light action music setting, resulting in a fascinating mish-mash of styles which occasionally comes close to epic grandeur, especially when the choir is used. Darker textures make “Insurmountable Odds” feel like a variation on a Morricone spaghetti western, the humming chorus in “The Round Continues” makes the whole thing feel ominous, and “Deprived of Freedom” even offers some light dissonance and overtones of horror.

The Potato Venture is a fun, charming, quirky little score which really highlights Panu Aaltio’s versatility and adeptness across multiple genres and multiple genres, sometimes simultaneously. It’s a different beast from his nature documentary scores, or things like 95 or Super Furball, but that’s the hallmark of a great film composer – the ability to write interesting and enjoyable music for whatever film is placed in front of you. The score is available as a digital download from Moviescore Media, and to stream via most of the mainstream sites.

Track Listing: 1. Main Title (3:00), 2. Archangel (1:29), 3. The One Who Lost Everything (1:23), 4. Accident (1:49), 5. Ground Pear Kings (2:38), 6. Bandits Attack (2:15), 7. The Startup Event (3:05), 8. Seasons Pass (1:28), 9. Insurmountable Odds (2:20), 10. Pitching Session (1:21), 11. Funding Round (1:42), 12. Returning Home (1:49), 13. The Round Continues (1:25), 14. Birger the Great (2:37), 15. Recruitment (2:29), 16. Seed Capital (1:34), 17. The Dramatic Story (2:21), 18. City Wonders (1:20), 19. Magnus Leaves (2:08), 20. Deprived of Freedom (3:08), 21. The Turnip Guild (2:40), 22. Story Time (2:34), 23. Open Source Ground Pear (3:14), 24. Planting at Night (2:08), 25. Moving to England (1:47), 26. Invention (2:31), 27. Loss (2:34), 28. Potato Suite (4:18). Moviescore Media MMS-21003, 62 minutes 51 seconds.

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