Home > Reviews > Under-the-Radar Round Up 2022, Part 2B

Under-the-Radar Round Up 2022, Part 2B

Life has returned to world cinema in 2022 following the easing of the COVID-19 global pandemic, and at the end of the second quarter of the year I’m absolutely delighted to present the latest installment in my on-going series of articles looking at the best under-the-radar scores from around the world. This article covers five more scores for projects from all over the globe, and includes a French drama, two Japanese animated action films, a German adventure set in the world of horse training, and a ballet-themed drama from Spain!

 

ATTACK ON TITAN [SEASON 4B] – Hiroyuki Sawano and Kohta Yamamoto

Attack on Titan is a multi-year animated TV series from Japan, based on a massively popular manga comic by Hajime Isayama. It follows a protagonist named Jaeger, and the online plot summary reads: “Attack on Titan is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the remains of humanity live behind walls protecting them from giant humanoids called Titans. When a Titan breaches the wall of Jaeger’s hometown and kills his mother he vows vengeance, and joins the elite Survey Corps, a group of soldiers who fight against Titans.” The show premiered on the NHK network back in 2013 and has now run for essentially six seasons, although some of them are split seasons that run in different years; this latest season is the middle third of Season 4, and comprises 10 episodes that began airing back in January.

The music for the first three seasons of Attack on Titan is written by the terrific Japanese composer Hiroyuki Sawano, who was then joined at the beginning of Season 4 by co-composer Kohta Yamamoto. Describing the music as ‘epic’ would be a massive understatement – this is absolutely enormous music in every sense of the word, blending huge orchestral forces and a flamboyant and full-voiced choir with pulsating contemporary electronica and bombastic, prominent themes. So much of the score just overflows with energy; “Footsteps of Doom” sounds like the unholy alliance between Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings and a Metallica concert.

Cues like “Ashes on The Fire -PTV,” “Traitor,” and the conclusive “ətˈæk 0N tάɪtn” are just thrilling, huge pieces of orchestral action music infused with a healthy amount of rock guitars and drums. “The Global Allied Fleet” presents the music underpinned by a relentless militaristic snare drum tattoo, filled with trepidation and anticipation.

Elsewhere, “Man-Child” is more abstract, with Vangelis-style electronic textures and pulsating percussion patterns giving the piece a darker and more threatening attitude. “All of the Freedoms” occasionally feels like ecclesiastical plainsong, brought in to the future with innovative synth passages. “Night of The End” unexpectedly uses bagpipes and a solo female vocal to add a wistful, lamenting quality that is really excellent, and it grows to a majestic, emotional finale. “Thaw” has a gentle, soothing sound for a piano and a solo cellos that makes for a wonderful contrast to all the intensity elsewhere.

The album also includes two performances of an original song, “Into the Night (Acoustic Version),” the acoustic version of which sounds like a surprisingly intimate piece of symphonic jazz for guitars, pianos, and a lovely solo cello melody, before the vocals come in.

Unfortunately, I’m not familiar enough with the music from earlier years of Attack on Titan to know whether any of the themes and motifs carry through across multiple seasons, but my guess would be that it does, and if so then that will be another impressive element for fans of the music to appreciate. One other thing I like about the score is how the music is given time to breathe and develop; most cues are around 4-5 minutes in length, which allows Sawano and Yamamoto to properly build their themes and present them in ways that don’t feel rushed or forced. It’s good stuff.

As I said, I don’t know much about the music from Attack on Titan, but if the quality of the previous season scores is as good as this one, then this is something I will definitely have to explore further. In the meantime, this score is available as an import CD from CD Japan, YesAsia, and the usual other specialist sites.

Track Listing: 1. Footsteps of Doom (5:07), 2. Into the Night (Acoustic Version) (2:12), 3. Ashes on The Fire -PTV- (5:07), 4. Man-Child (3:48), 5. All of The Freedoms (4:39), 6. Traitor (4:48), 7. Night of The End (4:02), 8. From You, 2,000 Years Ago (6:56), 9. The Global Allied Fleet (3:55), 10. Michi (4:45), 11. Thaw (4:18), 12. Into the Night (4:10), 13. EL○ (4:42), 14. YouSee-Power (4:18), 15. ətˈæk 0N tάɪtn (4:58). Pony Canyon, 67 minutes 32 seconds.

 

DRAGON BALL SUPER: SUPER HERO – Naoki Sato

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is a Japanese anime action adventure directed by Tetsurô Kodama, based on the popular Dragon Ball series created by Akira Toriyama. For hose who don’t know, the series follows the adventures of protagonist Son Goku from his childhood through adulthood as he trains in martial arts. With the help of his companion Bulma, he explores the world in search of the seven orbs known as the Dragon Balls, which summon a wish-granting dragon when gathered. It is the 21st Dragon Ball feature film overall, and the first to be produced mainly using 3D animation. In terms of plot, the film follows Gohan, the son of Goku, who does battle with an evil faction called the Red Ribbon Army, who have created ‘super hero’ androids…. and, you know what, it’s not important.

What IS important is the score, which is by the brilliant Naoki Sato. Over the years Sato has established himself as my favorite working Japanese composer, and Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero just reinforces that. It’s a terrific score – energetic, bombastic, creative, fun. It’s filled with themes and melodic ideas, some of which probably come from one or more of the dozens of other previous Dragon Ball movies and TV shows, but I’m not familiar enough with any of them to know that, so I’m not even going to try to talk about that – instead, I’m just going to pull out some of the terrific highlights.

It’s got modern electronica blended with epic orchestral and choral sounds (“Abang Title,” “Hero No Deban,” “Shenlong,” “Gokuu vs Gamma,” the massive “Orange No Hikari”), groovy dance music disco beats (“Dr. Hedo”), moments with a lighter and more playful attitude featuring twinkling pianos and mischievous percussion (“Pikkoro To Pan”), and even some creepy and agitated horror dissonance (“Saiaku Kidou”).

Elsewhere, there are huge action sequences featuring rich symphonic music built around a soaring march-like theme (“Jinzou Ningen Gamma,” “Kakusei” “Aku No Soshiki,” the wonderful “Gamma 2 Gou No Ketsui”), stylish tension and suspense music (“Red Ribbon Gun”), wailing rock guitars (“Climax”), and some quite beautiful and tender orchestral writing (“Asu He”). The final cue, “Super Hero,” reprises the rousing main theme one final time, and really raises the energy levels.

The whole thing is wonderfully creative, varied in tone and texture, and yet again underlines just how much terrific music is being written by composers like Naoki Sato for what, on the surface, can appear to Western audiences be very silly cartoons – appearances can very much be deceiving. The score is available as an import CD from CD Japan, YesAsia, and the usual other specialist sites.

Track Listing: 1. Abang Title (2:18), 2. Dr. Hedo (1:41), 3. Hero No Deban (0:48), 4. Pikkoro To Pan (1:55), 5. Jinzou Ningen Gamma (1:29), 6. Red Ribbon Gun (5:04), 7. Bills Sei No Niwa (1:32), 8. Bills To Chirai (0:48), 9. Shenron (2:06), 10. Chuukoku (0:40), 11. Gokuu vs Gamma (1:40), 12. Kakusei (2:11), 13. Aku No Soshiki ? (3:23), 14. Orange No Hikari (1:03), 15. Magenta No Bousou (0:46), 16. Saiaku Kidou (2:19), 17. Gamma 2 Gou No Ketsui (2:25), 18. Kaikou Sen (1:38), 19. Kakugo (1:16), 20. Shitou (2:22), 21. Climax (2:56), 22. Asu He (4:50), 23. Super Hero (4:11). Nippon Columbia, 49 minutes 31 seconds.

 

IMMENHOF: DAS GROSSE VERSPRECHEN – Hannes de Maeyer

Immenhof: Das Grosse Versprechen is a German language adventure drama film written and directed by Sharon von Wietersheim, and is a sequel to her film Immenhof: Das Abenteuer Eines Sommers from 2019. It continues the story from the first film and sees its protagonist Charly (Laura Berlin) moving away from the Immenhof horse farm to study at an art academy. Her friends Lou (Leia Holtwick) and Emmie (Ella Päffgen) take over care of their beloved horses, but when the racehorse Cagliostro is poisoned, Lou decides to that he needs to save the horses from whoever is hurting them.

The score for Immenhof: Das Grosse Versprechen is by Belgian composer Hannes de Maeyer, who also scored the first Immenhof film, as well as things like Torpedo U-235 in 2019, and The Racer in 2020, and it’s really lovely. The score has that lush, wholesome sound often associated with films about friendships between humans and animals, with sparkling passages of energetic orchestral music, playful moments of light comedy, and some darker moments to represent the mystery and drama at the center of the story.

The score is predominantly orchestral throughout, with a focus on strings and piano, although some cues have a fulsome and energetic percussive element to them too, which at times reminds me of something John Powell might write. There is sparkling, prancing delicacy in pieces like “Josy & Krümmel,” “Food & Cameras” and “Viktor Calling Lou” that is charming, if perhaps a little on the childish side, and some may find the light mickey-mousing to be a touch on the irritating side. However, these are counterbalanced with darker, more serious orchestral tones in cues like “Poisoned,” “Kila,” and “Following Kila” which I find to be much more satisfying; “Following Kila” especially has a determined, anguishes quality that features some superb interplay between tremolo strings and darting woodwind textures that I love.

However, my far my favorite parts of the score are the ones in which De Maeyer unleashes his recurring main theme and uses it to convey the joy and freedom of galloping on a horse, and the immutable relationship between man and beast. Cues like the opening “Welcome Back to Immenhof,” plus later cues like “Cal’s Place,” “The Herd” and “Back to Mallinckroth,” are warmly thematic and appealing, and in these moments the score just shines. There are also a couple of light action cues, such as the jazzy Lalo Schifrin-esque “Doctors to the Rescue,” and the more intense pair “Intruder” and “Lou Prepares to Leave,” that are a ton of fun, as well as a scintillating “Irish Theme” that sounds exactly as you would expect, a gorgeously nostalgic guitar solo in “Campfire,” and an angelic chorus in “Cagliostro Lives”.

Anyone who is familiar with the scores that German composer Annette Focks wrote for the similarly-themed Ostwind movies will find Hannes De Maeyer’s music here to be of a similar high quality. There is a great deal of passion, emotional depth, and compositional sensitivity in the score, and for me that makes it an easy recommendation. The score is available as a digital download from Alhambra Records, via most of the usual online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Welcome Back to Immenhof (2:01), 2. Josy & Krümmel (0:51), 3. Poisoned (5:11), 4. Mrs. Alvers (1:27), 5. Ford Knox (0:45), 6. Doctors to the Rescue (0:57), 7. Food & Cameras (2:57), 8. Irish Theme (0:50), 9. Cal’s Place (0:54), 10. Viktor Helps Lou (1:53), 11. Is That Barnabas? (0:52), 12. Intruder (2:02), 13. Van Gogh (0:38), 14. Lou Prepares to Leave (2:52), 15. Leon Is Back (1:03), 16. Getting to Work (0:28), 17. Kila (1:04), 18. Cal’s Story (1:30), 19. Viktor Calling Lou (1:30), 20. The Herd (1:00), 21. Investigating the Poisoning (2:05), 22. Emmy the Cowboy (0:21), 23. Cagliostro Is Gone (1:14), 24. Campfire (1:22), 25. Following Kila (2:31), 26. Cagliostro Lives (1:26), 27. Thank God You Were Able to Save Him (1:03), 28. Solution (1:16), 29. Distraction (1:44), 30. Operation Shampoo (2:29), 31. He Doesn’t Have to Race Anymore (0:42), 32. Back to Mallinckroth (1:39), 33. Bella Ciao (performed by Luis Garate Blanes) (2:31), 34. Score-Suite (7:28). Alhambra Records, 58 minutes 36 seconds.

 

LA PLACE D’UNE AUTRE – Frédéric Vercheval

La Place d’Une Autre is a French drama film, written and directed by Aurélia Georges. It stars Lyna Khoudri as Nélie, a young woman who grew up in poverty and became a nurse front on the front lines of World War I in 1914. When another young woman, Rose, is killed in an attack on their camp, she makes the rash decision to adopt her identity, and when the war is over accepts a job working in the household of the wealthy Madame de Lengwil. However, the repercussions of Nélie’s lie, and her use of her ‘secret name,’ soon spiral out of control beyond her expectations.

The score for La Place d’Une Autre is by a relative newcomer to the international film music scene, Belgian jazz composer Frédéric Vercheval, but the score is less jazzy and more traditionally orchestral, with a classy, old-fashioned, serious sound. Much of the score is written for layers of strings, smooth violins and cellos against plucked pizzicato violas, with accents from woodwinds and piano. The melodies are rich, but have a slight undercurrent of tragedy to them, especially the World War I cues like “Les Destins” and the character theme for “Nélie”.

Once the center of attention moves from the battlefield to the opulent mansion of Madame de Lengwil the music becomes a little lusher and more refined too, often adopting waltz rhythms and influences from classical music, but also often has an air of subtle mystery and moody intrigue, which Vercheval achieves by writing cues filled with shifting woodwind textures, wrapping around delicate passages for strings and harp. “Nélie Se Change En Rose” and “L’Aube” are quite intense, and “Le Seau d’Eau” is an exploration of tension and release and nervous expectation, but some of the middle album cues do start to drift off into abstraction and dissonant rumbling, which may cause some listeners to lose focus. The conclusive “Les Mains” offers a poignant final statement of the score’s main theme for Nélie, underpinned with a tone of heartfelt tragedy that is very accomplished.

Personally though, I really enjoyed the score’s subtle soundscape, and the air of intrigue and faded romance that Frédéric Vercheval brought to the project as a whole, especially as it deals with Nélie and her desperate but ultimately ill-fated attempts to escape from her tragic life. The score is available as a digital download from DK Records, via most of the usual online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Les Destins (2:57), 2. Nélie (1:25), 3. Nélie Quitte La Maison Lengwil (0:55), 4. Confidences (1:13), 5. La Forêt (1:24), 6. Nélie Se Change En Rose (2:25), 7. Nélie Vers Nancy (1:33), 8. La Bibliothèque (1:07), 9. Exploration de la Maison (1:01), 10. Le Repas (1:27), 11. Nélie et Eléonore (1:01), 12. Julien (1:27), 13. La Robe (1:04), 14. La Lettre se Perd (2:49), 15. Une Proposition Honnête (1:15), 16. L’Arrestation (0:35), 17. Le Seau d’Eau (4:52), 18. L’Aube (2:03), 19. Les Mains (3:49). Records DK, 34 minutes 10 seconds.

 

LAS NIÑAS DE CRISTAL – Iván Palomares

Las Niñas de Cristal, also known as Dancing on Glass, is a Spanish-language drama/thriller movie for Netflix, written and directed by Jota Linares. The film is set in the high pressure world of classical ballet. Maria Pedraza stars as Irene, who is selected to take the lead in the company’s upcoming production of Giselle after the original prima ballerina commits suicide. Suddenly Irene finds herself the target of all the jealousy and cruelty of her classmates – but also finds friendship and solace with a new dancer named Aurora (Paula Losada), a lonely young woman dominated by her mother. As the pressure of performance begins to take its toll Irene and Aurora’s relationship becomes closer and closer, verging on the obsessive.

The score for Las Niñas de Cristal is by the outstanding young Spanish composer Iván Palomares, whose excellent prior works over the last few years include En Las Estrellas, Ron Hopper’s Misfortune, and the TV series Le Cocinera de Castamar. As one would expect given Palomares’s track record, it’s excellent; it’s a combination of the beautiful and the eerily unsettling, which meets both the world of classical ballet and psychological drama head-on.

Palomares achieves this sense of trepidation with his orchestrations, which combine a classical symphony with solo performances by a crystal euphone and a musical saw, as well as vocals performed by soprano Marta Cañas García. The high pitched, whining sounds of the saw and the euphone give the score a unique tone that feels like it should be in a horror movie, and cleverly highlights the psychological torment and slowly unravelling sanity Irene experiences.

There are several absolutely gorgeous themes weaving through the score, most of which also have a subtle undercurrent of uncertainty, keeping the listener slightly on edge and nervous despite the superficial beauty of the pieces – it’s a clever balancing act. Cues like “Las Niñas de Cristal,” “El Ultimo Baile de Maria,” “Aurora y Jon,” and “Irene y Aurora” are especially effective in bridging the gap between emotionally attractive, and ghostly and disquieting. There are gorgeous piano solos in “Un Lugar Secreto” and “Adagio de Aurora”. “El Pantano de Cristal” is blissful, peaceful, and dream-like, whereas moments of more traditional horror come through dissonant cues like “Garaje Lumiere” and “Qué Pasó con Maria”. The 6-minute “Creditos Finales” is just sublime. Once in a while the score reminds me of the subtle music Alexandre Desplat wrote for French dramas and thrillers early in his career, and if you know me you know that’s a great compliment.

The final element of the score comes from the ballet itself, Adolphe Adam’s 1841 masterpiece Giselle, 20 minutes of which Palomares adapted and re-recorded with the Orquesta de Extremadura (OEX) in Badajoz to blend with his new score. It is, of course, a masterpiece, but it’s clever how Palomares was able to take this legendary music and delicately change it just enough so that some elements of his music bleeds through the periphery, subtly altering the mood of the piece to fit the story.

It’s outstanding stuff, very effective, and technically proficient. Unfortunately, the score for Las Niñas de Cristal has not been commercially released – Palomares produced this promo album for awards consideration purposes – so, as always, this is a plea for a record label to take up the mantle and release it properly. In the meantime, some of it is available to stream from his Soundcloud page here: https://soundcloud.com/ivanp-1.

Track Listing: 1. Las Niñas de Cristal (2:11), 2. El Ultimo Baile de Maria (1:56), 3. Un Lugar Secreto (1:21), 4. Adagio de Aurora (2:06), 5. Garaje Lumiere (2:52), 6. Aurora y Jon (1:27), 7. El Pantano de Cristal (5:38), 8. La Traicion de Jon (1:35), 9. Quien Es Irene (1:01), 10. Irene Ante el Espejo de Norma (3:21), 11. Irene y Aurora (2:19), 12. Transfiguración (1:16), 13. Ruth y el Recuerdo de Maria (1:43), 14. Figuras de Cristal (1:42), 15. Qué Pasó con Maria (4:37), 16. El Abrazo (1:31), 17. Obertura de Giselle (from ‘Giselle’ by Adolphe Adam) (2:27), 18. Les Vendangeurs (from ‘Giselle’ by Adolphe Adam) (1:30), 19. Entrada del Principe (from ‘Giselle’ by Adolphe Adam) (1:44), 20. Entrada de Giselle (from ‘Giselle’ by Adolphe Adam) (3:51), 21. Fin del Acto I (from ‘Giselle’ by Adolphe Adam) (3:31), 22. No Volverás a Bailar (2:22), 23. El Pacto (2:12), 24. Las Willis (from ‘Giselle’ by Adolphe Adam) (2:28), 25. Grand Pas de Deux (from ‘Giselle’ by Adolphe Adam) (2:27), 26. Scene Finale y Sublimacion de Cristal (from ‘Giselle’ by Adolphe Adam) (3:55), 27. Huida (1:14), 28. Creditos Finales (6:00), 28. El Mundo de Cristal (1:54). Promo, 72 minutes 21 seconds.

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