Home > Reviews > ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING – Siddhartha Khosla

ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING – Siddhartha Khosla

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Only Murders in the Building is a highbrow TV comedy-drama series from Hulu, set in the world of ‘true crime podcasting’. The show stars Steve Martin and Martin Short as Charles and Oliver, a reclusive former TV actor and a failed Broadway producer, respectively, who live in an exclusive New York apartment building. They are both fans of true crime podcasts and, when a young man named Tim Kono is apparently murdered in their building, they come together to make a podcast of their own, and begin investigating Tim’s death. However, things become more complicated when a third party, a young woman named Mabel (Selena Gomez), also shows interest in Tim’s death, and joins the podcast gang. There is more to Mabel than meets the eye, and before long the trio is knee-deep in a conspiracy more dangerous than they ever expected. The show co-stars Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan, and was created by Martin and screenwriter John Hoffman along with Dan Fogelman, the producer of the hit NBC drama series This Is Us.

The score for Only Murders in the Building is by the Indian-American composer, songwriter, and musician Siddhartha Khosla, whose origin is as the front man of the indie rock band Goldspot. Khosla has received three Emmy nominations for his work scoring This Is Us, which was his breakout project starting in 2016; since then he has also scored shows such as Marvel’s Runaways, The Royals, and Love Victor, but none of his work prior to Only Murders in the Building ever really made me sit up and pay attention – what little I heard of the music for This Is Us always felt a little guitar-noodly and under-developed to me. However, Only Murders in the Building is different in that it has a much more expansive and varied style which will likely increase his appeal to wider film music audiences.

Khosla had to strike an interesting balance between comedy and drama when scoring Only Murders in the Building. Of course, in the first instance, the show begins with the brutal death of a young man in his apartment, which is clearly not funny in the slightest, and Khosla has to address that drama. But then on the other hand, when you have comedy legends like Steve Martin and Martin Short constantly bickering and verbally sparring, and engaging in some superb physical comedy, that aspect has to be addressed too. For this, Khosla works in some fun and engaging light caper music that has some of its roots in New York jazz.

Everything in the score builds out of Khosla’s “Main Title” theme, which is clearly based on the main theme from the popular podcast ‘Serial’ by Nick Thorburn – listen to those plinky pianos! – and has a fun, inquisitive vibe. Khosla enhances the staccato piano motif with swirling strings, cooing vocals, and light jazzy percussion ideas. The rest of the score is, basically, deconstructions of this idea, re-orchestrated and re-arranged for different instruments to set the varied mood. It’s not usually done backwards like this – the convention is for a composer to bring everything together at the end rather than start with the full theme and break it apart – but I guess Khosla is sort of mimicking the progression of the story with his music, and how Charles, Oliver, and Mabel are breaking apart the mystery of Tim Kono’s death.

There are four themes and two thematic variations that come out of the main title, the most important of which is the Mission Theme, which relates to the investigative shenanigans the central trio undertakes across the series. The two-part “Mission Theme” is the most prominent performance of it; Part One takes a thrusting cello idea, and overlays it with a version of the theme re-arranged for a string quartet, while Part Two offers a similar arrangement at its most dramatic. Additional cues offer some interesting and fun variations, such as in “Aphrodite” where the Mission Theme is carried by an oboe accompanied by urgent, rhythmic low woodwinds and a plucked harp.

Meanwhile, the “Arconia Elevator Theme” is a variation on the quirky piano tinkles, light, jazzy, and perfectly attuned to the numerous amusing encounters Charles, Oliver, and Mabel have while riding up and down between floors in their building. The subsequent “Frozen Cat” is a fun variation on the Elevator Theme re-orchestrated for dramatic strings. The two-part “Romantic Theme” is again an offshoot from the main theme, this time representing Charles’s hesitant romance with Amy Ryan’s sexy clarinet player neighbor Jan; Part One features a series of pretty string and woodwind textures, while Part Two is a delicate waltz.

Other cues of note include the elegant and classical piano theme in “Vantage,” the spiky salsa-inspired investigation theme in “All Is Not Okay” which is full of Latin guitars and tropical percussion, and the dramatic and insistent variation on the Mission Theme in “Oliver’s Monologue” which is written for turbulent woodwinds underpinned with a prominent solo cello. The turning point of the score comes in “Who Was Tim Kono,” for which Khosla provides slow, thoughtful writing for strings, light chimes, and metallic percussion, which gradually builds to a revelatory crescendo through several variations on the Mission Theme.

Fans of 1960s Lalo Schifrin and John Barry scores will find the two “Interrogation Fantasy” cues to be very much to their liking; both of them feature lightly brushed snares, jazz orchestrations, and prominent marimbas and keyboards, while the second part includes some especially sultry, slinky strings. Much of the score’s final third is devoted to variations on the Mission Theme as the investigation comes to a head and the identity of the killer is revealed. In “Mabel and Tim” the main melody is carried by a marimba and piano duet, then by dancing woodwinds with added vocals, all while a classical string quartet chugs along determinedly. “Pilot Ending” blends a solo piano with mischievous sounding string figures, while “Jan” begins slowly, with a touch of melancholy, and some appropriate writing for bassoon, but eventually turns into an urgent, restless arrangement of the Mission Theme with an insistent string and piano core. Eventually, the “Finale” brings back most of the score’s main ideas and slowly builds over the course of five minutes through some dramatic piano and string writing to a dark climactic revelation.

One of the most important things that makes Only Murders in the Building a success is Siddhartha Khosla’s dedication to his thematic core; virtually every part of the score emanates from, and is based on, the music from the main title, and the numerous variations and adaptations of the theme in various deconstructed guises allows the entire show to maintain a distinct musical identity.

On the negative side, some may find the high-pitched plinky-plonky sound of the pianos a little distracting – I certainly did before I settled into it all – and some may find the similarities to Thorburn’s ‘Serial’ theme equally agitating, regardless of how conceptually clever the homage is. But, honestly, these are minor quibbles for a score which otherwise impresses with its striking sound and interesting thematic development. As I mentioned earlier, this is the first time that Siddhartha Khosla has really impressed me with anything he has done outside of the confines of the guitar picking for This Is Us, and now that he has proved he has range and versatility here, I’m eager to hear more.

Buy the Only Murders in the Building soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (0:51)
  • Mission Theme Pt. 1 (1:11)
  • Arconia Elevator Theme (0:37)
  • Frozen Cat (0:46)
  • Aphrodite (1:43)
  • Vantage (1:44)
  • All Is Not Okay (0:39)
  • Oliver’s Monologue (1:57)
  • Who Was Tim Kono (3:21)
  • Podcast Theme (Punk Version) (1:24)
  • Romantic Theme Pt. 1 (1:03)
  • Romantic Theme Pt. 2 (1:31)
  • Interrogation Fantasy Pt. 1 (0:56)
  • Interrogation Fantasy Pt. 2 (0:45)
  • Detective (1:22)
  • Mabel and Tim (1:55)
  • Pilot Ending (1:43)
  • Jan (1:30)
  • Charles (1:16)
  • Mission Theme Pt. 2 (1:02)
  • Finale (5:19)

Running Time: 32 minutes 45 seconds

Hollywood Records (2021)

Music composed by Siddhartha Khosla. Conducted by Mark Graham. Orchestrations by Mark Graham. Recorded and mixed by XXXX. Edited by Micha Liberman. Album produced by Siddhartha Khosla and Luke Shrestha.

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