Home > Reviews > Under-the-Radar Round Up 2022, Part 4B

Under-the-Radar Round Up 2022, Part 4B

January 13, 2023 Leave a comment Go to comments

Life has returned to world cinema in 2022 following the easing of the COVID-19 global pandemic, and at the end of the fourth quarter of the year I’m absolutely delighted to present the latest instalment in my on-going series of articles looking at the best under-the-radar scores from around the world. This article covers five scores for projects from Spanish-speaking countries, and includes a sci-fi drama series, a Mexican existential comedy-drama, two murder-mystery thriller movies, and a TV series about the life of explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

 

ALMA – Fernando Velázquez

Alma is a Spanish-language sci-fi drama series directed by Sergio Gutiérrez Sánchez, starring Mireia Oriol in the title role. The story is about a schoolgirl named Alma, who after surviving a bus accident in which almost all her classmates die, wakes up in a hospital with no memory of the incident, or of her past. Her parents seem like strangers and her home is a place filled with secrets and mystery. She gets the growing suspicion that everyone around her is lying, trying to turn her into someone else. Trapped in a world that doesn’t feel her own, she must unravel the events that led to the accident before her true identity vanishes forever.

The score for Alma is by the excellent composer Fernando Velázquez, who previously worked with director Sánchez on the film Marrowbone in 2017. It is a typically lush score performed by the Principado de Asturias Symphony Orchestra. The album notes from Quartet Records’s soundtrack release describe the score as “an intense, dramatic and highly vigorous score with thick orchestral colors, beautifully orchestrated for large orchestra and chorus, and featuring a haunting main theme,” and this is about as perfect a summary as one can imagine.

That main theme, as heard in the “Intro,” is a knockout, bold and dramatic and full of swirling string intensity, and some of its later incarnations include a choir, including the heavenly “Aurora,” and the dramatic “Hexaspéculo”. Cues like “Deva Recuerdos,” “Estamos Juntos En Esto” the gorgrous “Sólo Le Pedí Una Cosa,” the romantic pair “La Isla De Deva” and “El Viaje De Los Recuerdos,” and the first half of “El Viaje De Los Sombras” are quieter and more intimate, with a sorrowful and melancholy sound coming from the lovely string and piano writing; there are some moments for solo violin that are heartbreakingly tender, with “Siempre Estaré A Tu Lado” and “Despedidas” being staggeringly beautiful in this regard.

At the other end of the scale, “Sombras,” the second half of “El Viaje De Los Sombras,” and “Nadie Te Va A Ayudar” are vivid and intense action sequences, full of angry flashing strings augmented with brutal brass. “Ya No Sé Quién Soy” has a haunting, ghostly choral quality that is intriguing. It all comes together in terrific fashion in the conclusive pair “Te Estábamos Esperando” and “Créditos Finales” – Velázquez often writes outstanding end credits pieces, and Alma is no different.

Anyone who enjoys large scale, lush, orchestral melodrama scores with a heavy emphasis on strings and piano, a healthy dose of mystery, and an occasional intense action cue, will find Alma very to their liking, and yet again is shows that so much of the world’s best film music is still coming from Spain. The album is available a CD import from Quartet Records, and as a digital download from most good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Intro (1:02), 2. Deva Recuerdos (3:01), 3. Estamos Juntos En Esto (1:42), 4. Sólo Le Pedí Una Cosa (3:29), 5. Luna Roja (3:06), 6. Sombras (1:47), 7. Aurora (2:57), 8. La Isla De Deva (3:27), 9. Lara (2:45), 10. No Quiero Irme (3:09), 11. Hexaspéculo (5:23), 12. El Valle De Las Sombras (4:45), 13. Umbrales (0:57), 14. El Viaje De Los Recuerdos (7:04), 15. Ya No Sé Quién Soy (6:31), 16. Te Quiero (5:54), 17. Nadie Te Va A Ayudar (1:49), 18. Siempre Estaré A Tu Lado (4:26), 19. Despedidas (5:35), 20. Te Estábamos Esperando (2:41), 21. Créditos Finales (5:02). Quartet Records QR-502, 76 minutes 48 seconds.

 

BARDO – Bryce Dessner and Alejandro González Iñárritu

Bardo, which sometimes features the subtitle ‘False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths’ or ‘Falsa Crónica de Unas Cuantas Verdades,’ is a Mexican black comedy-drama directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, in what is his first film since the Oscar-winning The Revenant in 2015. The film stars Daniel Giménez Cacho and Griselda Siciliani, and follows a renowned Mexican journalist and documentary filmmaker who returns home and works through an existential crisis as he grapples with his identity, familial relationships and the folly of his memories.

The score for Bardo is jointly credited to composer/musician Bryce Dessner from the rock band The National – he co-scored The Revenant with Ryuichi Sakamoto, and recently wrote music for films like The Kitchen, The Two Popes, Cyrano, and C’mon C’mon – and to Iñárritu himself. Dessner says “early in the process of Bardo, before shooting began, Alejandro and I began talking about what the music for the film could sound like. We started exchanging ideas, including field recordings and melodies Alejandro would whistle to himself; these fragments of melodic ideas, along with the sketches I had begun making, would start to take seed and grow into the vast musical landscape that envelopes the film. Eventually we met in Los Angeles to work directly as we finished the details of each composition.”

The score is unexpectedly excellent, and offers a vastly different sound from anything I have heard from Dessner in the past; it moves between simple brass pieces, to much more very layered and complex orchestral and electronic cues, often featuring memorable and lyrical thematic ideas. It was recorded In Mexico with the National Symphony Orchestra, with featured performances from several different Oaxacan brass bands.

My personal favorites are the pieces that appear to be intentionally channeling the sound of classic Ennio Morricone – cues like “Mateo’s Freedom,” “Father Ghost,” “Dreaming a Dream,” “Silverio Last Train,” and the outstanding “Bardo Finale” are emotional, solemn, unexpectedly beautiful string laments that remind me very much of scores like Once Upon a Time in America, Days of Heaven, and others of that type. Equally effective is the shimmering and dream-like “Liminal,” which is steeped in Bernard Herrmann’s Scene d’Amour from Vertigo. I honestly didn’t know that Dessner and/or Iñárritu had this music in them, and the fact that is sounds this good is extremely surprising. It’s pastiche and homage, obviously, but it’s done with taste and skill.

Elsewhere, cues like “Back to the Womb” and “Absurd Metals” are more comedic brass band pieces, jaunty tracks for solo trumpet or solo tuba that feel almost Fellini-esque in their circus like depiction of the comic absurdity of Silverio’s life, and which occasionally explode into mariachi-style marches. “Lost Silbido” is a duet for pizzicato strings and harp that picks up an odd, slithery, polka-style tune as it develops, and this tune later becomes a funeral dirge in “Silbido Tlayacapan”. Perhaps the most upbeat piece is the catchy “Juanga,” which takes elements of Mexican folk music, complete with hand-clap percussion, and blends it with with minimalist orchestral textures that occasionally remind me of Philip Glass or Michael Nyman.

This is really surprising score, featuring some genuinely excellent Morricone homages, and several clever riffs on Oaxacan brass bands and mariachi folk music that is very entertaining indeed. The score for Bardo is available from Milan Records on an album that combines 40 minutes of Dessner and Iñárritu’s score with a great deal of source music and songs from the film, including several pieces by Orquesta Pavel Urkiza & Luis Bofill.

Track Listing: 1. Back to the Womb (1:34), 2. Boulevard of Broken Dreams (performed by Esquivel) (3:01), 3. Mateo’s Freedom (4:30), 4. Absurd Metals (1:54), 5. El Día De Mi Suerte (performed by Orquesta Pavel Urkiza & Luis Bofill) (5:33), 6. Liminal (3:44), 7. Father Ghost (2:33), 8. Let’s Dance (performed by David Bowie) (7:39), 9. Dreaming a Dream (2:11), 10. Migration Dreams (1:50), 11. Aguanile (performed by Orquesta Pavel Urkiza & Luis Bofill) (3:15), 12. Lost Silbido (2:03), 13. Mi Niña – A Capella (performed by José José) (3:46), 14. Silbido Tlayacapan (1:58), 15. Silverio Last Train (1:49), 16. La Pava Congona (performed by Andres Landero Y Su Conjunto) (3:10), 17. In the Cage (performed by Genesis) (0:43), 18. Aquarium (0:33), 19. Salsa y Bembé (performed by Joe Cuba) (2:54), 20. Bardo Finale (3:09), 21. Juanga (3:08), 22. Que Lío (performed by Willie Colón) (4:36), 23. Mirror Lamento (1:24), 24 Los Aretes De La Luna (performed by Vicentico Valdés) (2:23), 25. Silbido Arpa Jarocha/Silbido a Cappella (6:44). Milan Records, 76 minutes 02 seconds.

 

BOUNDLESS – Federico Jusid

Boundless, or Sin Límites, is an epic Spanish-language TV series directed by Hollywood filmmaker Simon West, which tells the story of Juan Sebastián Elcano and Ferdinand Magellan’s epic voyage around the world 500 years ago. It stars Rodrigo Santoro and Álvaro Morte in the title roles, and premiered on Amazon Prime Video earlier this year to mostly positive reviews.

The score for Boundless is by the outstanding Argentine composer Federico Jusid, who has been writing magnificent music for Spanish-language historical TV series for years now, and has enjoyed massive success with titles like Hispania: La Leyenda, Isabel, Carlos Rey Emperador, La Corona Partida, Tiempos de Guerra, La Catedral del Mar, and Hernán, among many others. Boundless is another score to add to that list of tremendous orchestral epics; it’s a vibrant, powerful, energetic work that blends a rich traditional orchestra with some fascinating modern colors and textures to excellent effect.

The main theme, “Boundless,” reminds me very much of Bear McCreary’s theme for the historical TV series Black Sails, in that is has a slightly grungy sound that somehow merges Renaissance style string writing and hints of folk music with larger orchestral forces, and some unusual electronica to give it a surprising twist. I think it’s great, and it features in several cues thereafter.

“Requiem” is a huge Gothic explosion of sound, big orchestra, big choir, and some elements of Renaissance harpsichord writing to ground it in its time period. “Cebu Lands” uses wondrous-sounding exotic woodwinds to paint an elegant picture of an untouched verdant paradise. “Magellan’s Dream” is sweeping and majestic, an optimistic and open evocation of an explorer’s spirt, while “Mutiny” is a more ominous piece for churning, turbulent strings. On the other hand, “Failure” and “Amistad” are a moving pieces of orchestral drama, while “Fistfight at the Tavern” is a sprightly piece of ebullient guitar flamenco combined with exotic ethnic textures, superbly entertaining.

The action music is unexpectedly dark and modern, but very exciting; a mass of brooding cello ostinatos, metallic percussion textures, and menacing brass phrases, often overlaid with various orchestral flourishes, choral passages, and references to the main theme that combine to keep them interesting. Cues like “Battleships,” “The Storm,” the aggressively unusual “Harbor Pickpockets,” and parts of “The Spice Islands” will definitely appeal to fans of contemporary action scoring, and are very much in the same sonic works as some of Simon West’s earlier films.

Everything builds to a superb, stirring finale in the conclusive trio “Wind in the Sails,” “Home at Last,” and “The Chronicler,” which reprise the main theme to outstanding, sumptuous effect. Unfortunately, the score for Boundless has not been commercially released; this review is of the promo album that Jusid released for awards consideration purposes. Hopefully, however, this will inspire a record producer to release the score at some point in the future – as always, Federico Jusid’s music is just too good to be overlooked.

Track Listing: 1. Boundless (2:03), 2. Requiem (4:21), 3. Battleships! (2:36), 4. Cebu Lands (1:58), 5. The Storm (2:30), 6. Magellan’s Dream (3:13), 7. Mal Fario (1:48), 8. Mutiny (3:13), 9. Executions (2:01), 10. Harbor Pickpockets (1:03), 11. Elcano (1:41), 12. Failure (2:01), 13. The Spice Islands (1:36), 14. Fistfight at the Tavern (1:13), 15. Farewell (1:41), 16. Amistad (2:07), 17. Lapulapu (1:24), 18. Beatriz Barbosa (1:36), 19. Wind in the Sails (1:29), 20. Home at Last (3:33), 21. The Chronicler (0:56). Promo, 43 minutes 55 seconds.

 

LA PIEL DEL TAMBOR – Roque Baños

La Piel del Tambor is a Spanish thriller film directed by Sergio Dow, adapted from the novel by Arturo Pérez Reverte, starring Richard Armitage, Amaia Salamanca, Fionnula Flanagan, Franco Nero, and Paul Guilfoyle. The film is set in the Vatican in the mid-1990s and follows a detective priest named Quart who is assigned by his monsignor to investigate a hacking infiltration into the Vatican’s computer systems, which resulted in the discovery of a cryptic but disturbing message regarding the history of an ancient church in Spain.

The score for La Piel del Tambor is by the brilliant Roque Baños, and it’s a stylish and sophisticated work marked by elegant themes and extended sequences of intricate action and suspense. The mysterious main theme, introduced in the opening “A Man from Rome,” is a lush and darkly seductive piece for swooning strings and piano, and reminds me very much of the thriller scores Christopher Young was writing in the 1990s – Jennifer 8, Copycat, and so on. It’s really excellent, and comes back later prominently in cues like the more insistent “The Mission,” and “The Codes”. There’s also secondary theme that appears in the beautifully melancholic “Lourdes’s Fate” the subtly intimate “Macarena,” and then again in “Prohibited Love” and during the conclusive “Sister Gris Confession” that is just gorgeous, especially in its use of guitars.

A lot of the underscore proper is moody and ominous, but it’s so well done; Baños doesn’t ever resort to simple drones or boring string sustains, but brings in the entire orchestra and uses them in interesting ways to make his musical points. Some cues focus on low woodwinds, others have sinister passages for brass, others use harp glissandi to chilling effect. It’s really interesting, intelligent writing. A handful of action cues then raise the stakes – “Pencho’s Sicarios,” parts of “Finding the Past” and “The Hidden” and then conclusive cues like “Someone in Your Room,” “The Institute Commitment” and especially “Saving Father Perro” are full of vigorous energy, dense orchestral passages, and references to the main theme.

It all ends with a superb song, “Sus Lágrimas y el Mar,” which is based on Baños’s ‘Macarena’ theme and is performed with powerful intensity by vocalist Pastora Soler. It features flashing flamenco guitars, a bold and passionate rhythm, and soaring vocals, and is one of my favorite movie songs of the year.

La Piel del Tambor is a great score, one of the best of its type this year. We’re lucky to still have Roque Baños at all – remember, he almost died of COVID back in 2020 – and scores like this are an excellent and welcome reminder of what a great composer he is, and hopefully will continue to be for years to come. Unfortunately there is no physical CD of the score for La Piel del Tambor, but it is available to stream and as a digital download from most good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. A Man From Rome (2:52), 2. Padre Urbizu’s Death (3:51), 3. Pencho’s Sicarios (2:22), 4. The Mission (3:09), 5. Lourdes’s Fate (2:14), 6. Macarena (3:24), 7. Quart Discovering (3:28), 8. Finding the Past (3:26), 9. Prohibited Love (2:46), 10. The Church Is Haunted (2:34), 11. The Dark Cardinal (3:01), 12. Investigation (2:15), 13. The Hidden (3:57), 14. Ferro’s Past (2:20), 15. Someone in Your Room (3:09), 16. The Institute Commitment (5:44), 17. Saving Father Ferro (1:30), 18. The Truth About Spada (1:40), 19. The Codes (2:42), 20. Sister Gris Confession (3:46), 21. Sus Lágrimas y el Mar (performed by Pastora Soler) (5:54). Meliam Musica, 66 minutes 14 seconds.

 

LOS RENGLONES TORCIDOS DE DIOS – Fernando Velázquez

Los Renglones Torcidos de Dios is a Spanish drama-thriller film directed by and Oriol Paulo, adapted from a popular novel by Torcuato Luca de Tena. It stars Bárbara Lennie as detective Alicia Gould, who while investigating the murder of a client’s father, decides to go undercover in the asylum where he died, so that can find the evidence she needs for her case; in order to do so, she pretends to suffer from paranoid delusions to get herself committed. However, once she is locked away in the brutal psychiatric facility, Alice finds that getting herself declared mentally incompetent is much easier than proving the opposite, and before long she is genuinely questioning her sanity.

Los Renglones Torcidos de Dios is the fourth collaboration between composer Fernando Velázquez and director Paulo, after Contratiempo, Después de la Tormenta, and the TV series The Innocent. Velázquez provides an intense, exciting and highly vigorous score with thick orchestral colors—lyrical, dark and rhythmic, including a haunting main theme that has clear echoes of Bernard Herrmann.

The opening cue introduces the recurring theme for “Alice Gould,” a dark and elegant motif suffused with a sense of mystery, and featuring some excellent combination writing for strings and piano. Alice’s Theme runs through a lot of the score underscoring her investigations and her efforts to reveal the truth, while also accompanying her increasingly frustrated efforts to prove her sanity to her disbelieving doctors. “Alice Se Desmorona” and “Ha Desaparecido Una Paciente” offer especially excellent examples of Velázquez twisting and torturing the theme into several different guises, on one hand creating a mood thick with dread, and on the other hand creating an exciting sense of adventure and intrigue.

Elsewhere, Cues like “Usted Sabe Dónde Está Ahora” and “Les Engañé, Casi Toda Mi Declaración Es Falsa” are wonderfully aloof, full of low churning strings and brooding melodrama, while cues like “La Primera Noche,” “Ignacio,” and “Analicemos Lo Que Sabemos” are bristly and more insistent, full of excellent, frantic, agitated string writing, as well as some unusual wring for angry bassoons.

However, for me the two standout cues are the 15-minute “Y Si Te Dijera Que Existe Una Explicación,” and the 9-minute finale “La Próxima Vez Que Se Abra La Verja Será Para Dejarte Salir A Ti”. Velázquez has been making a habit of writing these extended cues recently, and it shows just what a wonderful dramatic composer he is; these pieces take the listener on an extended emotional journey through a variety of styles, often working his orchestra into a frenzy of power and intensity, and offering yet more variations on the main theme for Alice, before ending with a sense of relief and elegant emotional catharsis.

This is yet another excellent score from Fernando Velázquez who again shows why he remains one of the most high profile, in-demand, and successful composers in Spanish cinema. The album is available a CD import from Quartet Records, and as a digital download from most good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Alice Gould (2:11), 2. Usted Sabe Dónde Está Ahora? (1:28), 3. La Primera Noche (0:53), 4. Samuel Alvar (1:33), 5. El Doctor Areliano (2:10), 6. Una Tontería Y Dormís En La Jaula (1:36), 7. Ignacio (1:39), 8. Les Engañé, Casi Toda Mi Declaración Es Falsa (7:25), 9. Analicemos Lo Que Sabemos (2:29), 10. Una Terrible Sospecha (4:38), 11. Alice Se Desmorona (5:10), 12. Y Si Te Dijera Que Existe Una Explicación? (15:29), 13. Ha Desaparecido Una Paciente (3:11), 14. Solo Hay Una Teoría Que Explique Todo Lo Que Ha Pasado (4:22), 15. La Próxima Vez Que Se Abra La Verja Será Para Dejarte Salir A Ti (9:02). Quartet Records, 63 minutes 24 seconds.

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