Home > Reviews > Under-the-Radar Round Up 2023, Part 1

Under-the-Radar Round Up 2023, Part 1

I’m pleased 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, the first of 2023, covers five scores for projects from all around the world that especially impressed me during the opening months of the year. The scores include a trio from France – two children’s adventures and a broad comedy – plus another children’s adventure from Finland, and a serious historical epic from Japan.


LA GUERRE DES LULUS – Mathieu Lamboley

La Guerre des Lulus is a drama-adventure film for children, directed by Yann Samuel, and written by Samuel with Régis Hautière. The film is set in August 1914 during the opening months of World War I and follows the adventures of four teenage orphan boys from northern France named Lucien, Lucas, Luigi, and Ludwig, who collectively call themselves the ‘Lulus’. The German army is gaining ground and advancing towards their home town, and the orphanage where they live is being evacuated, but the Lulus are inadvertently left behind. Desperately seeking safety, the Lulus decide to head for the neutral country of Switzerland, and set off on an epic adventure across the French countryside.

The score is one of two outstanding scores from Mathieu Lamboley in the early months of 2023 (the other being Juste Ciel), which further cements him as one of the best and most exciting voices in French film music. La Guerre des Lulus is a superb combination of warm, engaging orchestral scoring that represents the friendship between the boys, and more light-hearted and whimsical moments of light comedy, but which builds to a rousing finale through some unexpectedly old action writing in the final few cues.

Cues like the opening “L’Internat,” “Orphelins,” and the beautiful pair “Valse Amoureuse” and “Du Bout des Lèvres,” are appealing and evocative depictions of both the fraternal bonds at the heart of the story, and the beautiful locales of the French countryside, while cues like “On Est En Guerre,” the quite stark “Le Déserteur,” “Mort Pour La Patrie,” and the profound and moving “Freund” are more serious and dramatic pieces that acknowledge the horrors of war that remain just outside the boys purview, but which are nevertheless ever-present in the background. Lamboley’s orchestrations regularly make beautiful use of solo cellos, pianos, soft vocals, and a warm orchestral wash that is just lovely. “Insouciance” and “Luce et Lucien” are especially pretty pieces that increases the choral elements to angelic levels and are at times reminiscent of Alexandre Desplat or Philippe Rombi at their elegant best.

On the other hand, cues like “Saute-Moutons,” the twinkly and magical “On Va Où,” “L’Anniversaire,” and the conclusive “Les Lulus” are joyful, playful dances with a spirited sense of joie de vivre, hints of period jazz, and hints of French folk music, and often make use of jaunty la-la-la vocals that capture the fun and effervescence of the boys’ lives, before the war spoils everything. Speaking of war, “Les Tranchées” offers a brief introduction to the score’s more intense action material – bold rhythmic ideas, incessant percussion, dark orchestral tones – but “En Cavale” and “Fuyez!” are the score’s two action highlights, with the latter at times becoming quite powerfully swashbuckling, full of flashing string phrases, punchy brass, and a powerful percussive component.

Unfortunately the score for La Guerre des Lulus is not available to purchase on CD, but is available to stream and as a digital download via most of the usual online outlets from 440Hz Music. It gets a high recommendation from me; Mathieu Lamboley’s deft handling of the child-like innocence of the protagonists, and how he balances that with what is clearly a quite harrowing war story, is impressive, and will appeal to anyone who would appreciate a tonal, thematic, orchestral exploration of those themes.

Track Listing: 1. L’Internat (3:29), 2. Saute-Moutons (1:25), 3. On Est En Guerre! (2:29), 4. Le Déserteur (2:33), 5. Orphelins (2:48), 6. Insouciance (1:29), 7. On Va Où? (4:35), 8. Valse Amoureuse (1:44), 9. Du Bout des Lèvres (2:15), 10. L’Anniversaire (0:59), 11. Luce et Lucien (2:42), 12. Mort Pour La Patrie (3:48), 13. Les Tranchées (1:58), 14. Mes Enfants (1:54), 15. Freund (3:33), 16. En Cavale (1:41), 17. Fuyez! (2:39), 18. On A Tous Une Maman (2:25), 19. Les Lulus (2:15). 440Hz Music, 46 minutes 41 seconds.



The Legend & Butterfly is a Japanese period drama film directed by Keishi Otomo, written by Ryôta Kosawa, and starring Takuya Kimura, Haruka Ayase, and Manabu Hamada. The film tells the life story of Nobunaga Oda, a 16th century samurai and warlord who was instrumental in uniting the various warring clans into a unified Japan after decades of civil war, and was also noted for his military prowess, his development of trade and government, and inspiring a significant artistic movement known as the Azuchi–Momoyama period. Specifically, the film concentrates on the last few years of his life, culminating in the assassination attempt known as the ‘Honnoji incident,’ which resulted in the ritual suicide of both Nobunaga and his son, and the end of his reign as shogun.

The score for The Legend & Butterfly is by the always dependable and always excellent Naoki Sato, who is one of the most versatile composers in Japanese film music, excellent in multiple genres. On The Legend & Butterfly, Sato is deep in his ‘serious, powerful, emotional drama’ mode, and he responded to this epic story of honor and sacrifice with an orchestral score of great depth and intensity. It’s written for a full orchestra, with primary emphasis on strings, but with special sequences where choirs are especially prominent. Every now and again the score emerges into a large-scale action sequence, while at other times is shrinks down and presents music of tenderness and intimacy.

Some highlight cues for me include the increasingly dramatic opening chords of “Marriage,” the lyrical and passionate “Resonance,” the sweeping and bombastic “Wonder,” and several gorgeous, searingly emotional string-led elegies in cues such as “Unknown,” “Resolution,” “Birth of Love,” “Reborn,” and especially the haunting “Butterfly,” which has an almost religioso sound including tolling bells. The action music in cues like “Tempt,” “End of Mercy,” and “Rebellion” often uses shrill, impressionistic woodwinds alongside powerful percussion and gruff, chanted vocals, all to excellent effect.

The title track, “Legend and Butterfly,” is probably the pick of the bunch of the action material, as it allows the brass quotient to rise significantly and present a rich, lush, heroic anthem that is strong and memorable. Then, in the finale, “The Gate of Heaven” is as majestic and soaring as one might expect; Sato blends magnificent string passages with heraldic brass and angelic choral writing in a way that pushes the legend of Nobunaga Oda into almost beatific levels, but really there’s so much to recommend throughout the entire score.

The score for The Legend & Butterfly is available to purchase as an import CD from Japan via YesAsia, Ark Square, CD Japan, and various other online retailers, and is also available to stream and download. It’s excellent, highly recommended.

Track Listing: 1. Marriage (1:38), 2. Impermanence (1:42), 3. Unknown (1:48), 4. Resolution (3:26), 5. Resonance (2:19), 6. Wonder (2:42), 7. Tempt (3:07), 8. Three Legged Frog (2:28), 9. No Heart (2:11), 10. King of the 6th Heaven (1:42), 11. Awakening (0:42), 12. End of Mercy (3:31), 13. Birth of Love (1:56), 14. Conflict (1:44), 15. Butterfly (4:44), 16. The Abyss of Death (1:41), 17. Reborn (2:09), 18. Legend and Butterfly (3:01), 19. Other Side of the Throne (1:39), 20. Signs (0:39), 21. Rebellion (5:29), 22. The Gate of Heaven (5;17), 23. Last Confession/Heaven (4:57). Rambling Records RBCP-3469, 60 minutes 43 seconds.


JUSTE CIEL – Mathieu Lamboley

Juste Ciel is a French comedy film directed by Laurent Tirard. The film stars Valérie Bonneton, Camille Chamoux, and Claire Nadeau as three of a group of nuns trying to figure out ways to renovate the dilapidated hospice they run. When the nuns learn about an amateur cycling race that comes with a big cash prize, they decide to enter and win… the only hitch is that none of them can ride a bicycle!

The score is one of two outstanding scores from Mathieu Lamboley in the early months of 2023 (the other being La Guerre des Lulus) which further cements him as one of the best and most exciting voices in French film music. More than anything, Juste Ciel reminds me of those terrific lounge and spaghetti western scores that Ennio Morricone and his contemporaries wrote for European films in the 1960s and 70s. It’s an eclectic mix of styles and influences, but somehow Lamboley brings together a number of seemingly disparate elements and makes an engaging album experience full of wonderful standalone vignettes.

There are numerous highlights. “Las Hermanas,” “El Regalo,” “El Mercadillo,” and “El Doble” are wonderful pieces that combine of ecclesiastical church vocals with an infectious flamenco beat, all flashing acoustic guitars, resounding trumpets, and hand-clap rhythms, that eventually emerges in a light rock/pop instrumental that is wonderfully, crowd-pleasingly catchy. “Il Était Une Fois… Les Clarisses” and the conclusive “Adios Amigas“ are built around a classic low-key spaghetti western theme, lonely but engaging, with a light pop beat and Edda dell’Orso-esque vocals.

Elsewhere, “You Rock My Nonne” and “Une Course d’Enfer” are groovy country-rock pieces built around a frenetic banjo and, in the latter, a fiddle. “Le Casse du Ciel” is an Isaac Hayes/Curtis Mayfield-style piece of urban funk. “Que Pecado” introduces a Gothic church organ into the mix to really increase the religioso overtones. “Disco Glam” does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s so authentic it could be the theme from a 1970s soap opera. “No Te Vayas” is just gorgeous, a haunting and melancholy piece for an acoustic guitar and soft strings that finally melts back in the ‘flamenco’ idea.

Perhaps the one thing that lets Juste Ciel down is the lack of a single unifying idea that ties the score together thematically – the flamenco idea is the most frequent re-occurring texture, but it’s not really a main theme per ser – but, honestly, the individual elements are so much fun, have so much life and energy and creativity, that it actually doesn’t matter a whole lot. Lamboley is clearly having so much fun exploring every genre under the sun, and it’s so much fun going there with him.

The score for Juste Ciel is not available to purchase on CD, but is available to stream and as a digital download via most of the usual online outlets. It offers a different side to Lamboley’s musical personality than has been shown in recent years, but which is nevertheless very impressive, especially for anyone with an affinity for those wonderful 1960s European light pop scores, or the spaghetti westerns from the same period.

Track Listing: 1. Las Hermanas (4:47), 2. Il Était Une Fois… Les Clarisses (1:52), 3. You Rock My Nonne (1:53), 4. Le Casse du Ciel (2:00), 5. Alleluia! (1:42), 6. El Regalo (2:32), 7. Qué Pecado! (1:45), 8. El Mercadillo (1:13), 9. Disco Glam (1:11), 10. El Doble (2:24), 11. Vamos a Comer… (1:31), 12. Une Course d’Enfer (1:56), 13. No Te Vayas (1:30), 14. Adios Amigas (2:55). 440Hz Music, 29 minutes 11 seconds.



Rangers of the Lost Ring (or Pertsa & Kilu: Faaraon Sormus in its original language) is a Finnish adventure film for children, directed by Taavi Vartia, starring Pauli Kesälä, Leon Ruokola, and Alina Tomnikov. It’s a sequel to the 2021 film Finders of the Lost Yacht, and continues the adventures of the titular pair Pertsa and Kilu, who this time embark on an epic journey from Finland, to Greece, and finally to Egypt, following a treasure map to a fabled lost ring that once belonged to the Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

The score for Rangers of the Lost Ring is again by the brilliant Panu Aaltio, who scored the original Pertsa & Kilu film in 2021, and is on an excellent run of outstanding scores dating back more than two years, and which also includes titles such as Tunturin Tarina [Tale of the Sleeping Giants], Peruna [The Potato Venture], 5000 Blankets, and Supermarsu 2 [Super Furball Saves the Future]. This score continues his hot streak, making him six for six.

In the album’s press notes, Aaltio said “I’m always looking for new angles to take on in film scores, so when director Taavi Vartia suggested I use an electric guitar on Rangers of the Lost Ring, I had a ton of fun going on a journey from modern rock through 80s action movies, to even the Bond movies of the 60s. And then with the Budapest Art Orchestra beautifully performing many of our soaring adventure moments, I really got to play with many wonderful timbres in this score.”

As such, Aaltio’s score is a fun variation on the sound of the first Pertsa & Kilu score, with some influences from 80s rock and pop, but which also regularly emerges into sweeping, exciting orchestral action adventure music. One thing listeners will immediately notice is that the main Pertsa & Kilu theme is everywhere in this score, and Aaltio has a ton of fun offering numerous different settings and arrangements of it. “Pirate Treasure” is traditionally orchestrally heroic, straightforwardly bold, although the second half of the cue does also have some moments of more exotic and lyrical swashbuckling grandeur featuring classical guitars and a Korngold-esque sweep.

Elsewhere, “The Finders” brings in the rock elements for the first time – some of it reminds me of the guitar interlude from Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” of all things – and these stylistics come back later in “Grand Adventure” and “We Are Close”. The version in “Newspaper Ad” is upbeat and busy. The version in “Unknown Language” has an exotic mysticism. The versions in “Airplane” and “Landing Gear” are big, bold, brassy, and unashamedly heroic, and has some John Williams touches in the strings. The version in the final cue, “Mystery Never Ends,” runs the gamut from tenderly emotional to boldly exciting and dynamic, and ends with a massive outburst of choral glory that is immensely satisfying.

In addition to the main theme there is also a prominent secondary theme for the film’s primary antagonist, an imposing 5-note motif. Its first prominent appearance comes during the second half of “I Choose Revenge” – the first half of the cue has some very peculiar processed electronic ideas that are just fascinating, and for some reason put me in mind of some of the things A.R. Rahman does on his more experimental Bollywood scores, but they quickly move aside in favor of large-scale orchestral power. Interestingly, “Growing Up Alone” offers a more sympathetic variation on the villain’s theme, while the version in “Grand Adventure” appears via a roaring electric guitar.

Interspersed between all these thematic statements are some bold and sweeping action pieces, moments of more understated suspense, knockabout comedy, and some tender emotion. I especially like the moody woodwind writing in “Alone in the World,” and the John Barry-esque shifting strings underneath it, as well as the beautifully mystical writing for woodwinds and chorus in “The Legend of the Ring” and the gloriously sweeping and majestic “Mystery Island.” The final few cues – from “She’s On Our Tail” through “Bunny Phobia” to “Bittersweet Reunion” – offer a terrific amalgamation of everything the score has to offer, including big performances of both main themes, heroic orchestral action antics, explosions of classic rock that are a ton of raucous fun, a reprise of the swashbuckling pirate theme from early in the score, and even some poignant pathos for piano and guitar that is just lovely.

One thing I did notice is that, once in a while, Aaltio appears to have augmented or doubled his live ensemble with samples and synths. Although this was clearly done for budgetary reasons, the cues where the samples are prominent stick out like a sore thumb, and some may find this a little frustrating. I was able to ignore it for the most part, but it’s clearly an issue.

That one concern aside, Rangers of the Lost Ring remains yet another outstanding effort from Panu Aaltio. With it’s bold and memorable main theme, it’s fun 80s throwback orchestrations, hard rock flavors, and bombastic action, it’s an easy score to recommend. The score for Rangers of the Lost Ring is available to purchase, stream, and download from MovieScore Media here (https://moviescoremedia.com/newsite/catalogue/rangers-of-the-lost-ring-panu-aaltio/), and will be available as a CD On Demand soon.

Track Listing: 1. Pirate Treasure (3:15), 2. The Finders (3:00), 3. Newspaper Ad (2:18), 4. Alone in the World (1:18), 5. Unknown Language (1:53), 6. I Choose Revenge (3:20), 7. Airplane (1:49), 8. Growing Up Alone (1:21), 9. Landing Gear (2:37), 10. The Legend of the Ring (2:24), 11. Grand Adventure (1:54), 12. Mystery Island (2:29), 13. The Last Summer of Our Childhood (1:07), 14. We Are Close (1:51), 15. She’s On Our Tail (1:41), 16. Bunny Phobia (2:24), 17. Explanations and Goodbyes (3:01), 18. Bittersweet Reunion (1:55), 19. Mystery Never Ends (6:26). Moviescore Media MMS23004, 46 minutes 03 seconds.



Zodi et Téhu, Frères du Désert – known in English as Princes of the Desert – is a French action adventure film directed by Eric Barbier. The film stars Yassir Drief as Zodi, a 12-year old African nomad boy, who discovers an orphaned baby camel in the desert; ne adopts the camel, which he names Téhu, they two become inseparable friends. When it becomes apparent that Téhu is very fast runner, he immediately becomes the target of poachers; to protect his friend, Zodi takes Téhu and decides to run away across the Sahara, heading for Abu Dhabi, with the ultimate goal of entering Téhu in the world’s largest camel race.

The score for Zodi et Téhu is by the Anglo-French-Lebanese pop star Mika (real name Michael Penniman Jr.), and if in 2007 you told that the singer of the hit bubblegum pop song ‘Grace Kelly’ would 15 years later write an excellent orchestral adventure score I would scarcely believe you – and yet here we are, with him having done just that. Zodi et Téhu is an outstanding score that blends lyrical passages for orchestra with some fascinating world music influences – including innovative vocal stylings – and occasionally erupts into unexpectedly rousing action-adventure music.

There’s a wonderful, mystical quality to the vocal work in the opening cue “The Beginning” – which I assume is performed by Mika himself but can’t be sure – btu then when the music shifts and becomes a dark, thrusting action piece in its second half you know that this is going to be a score that defies expectations. A lot of the action music makes excellent use of ethnic woodwinds, tribal percussion, and also some more modern electric guitar riffs, and comes across as fresh and exciting. It’s an enticing blend of western rock and the Middle East – just as Mika himself is. Later in the score, cues like “Facing the Storm” and “Final Race” showcase Mika’s surprisingly robust and compelling action writing with intensity and a real panache in the orchestration that sometimes reminds me of James Newton Howard.

Several other cues impress with their beauty and lyricism. “Early in the Morning” has some lovely writing for harp backed by lush strings. “Téhu’s Theme” introduces the playful and slightly mischievous recurring theme for the orphaned baby camel at the heart of the story, and the theme recurs frequently thereafter, at times giving a real emotional depth to the film’s central friendship. The deep, soulful vocal effect running through the theme conjures up the steady, rhythmic plod of the animal, trekking across an inhospitable desert with determination.

Elsewhere, “The Butterfly and the Miracle” has some wonderfully expressive writing for darting, fluttering woodwinds. “Two Hearts Beat Together” has what can only be described as ‘beatboxing’ over creative, vigorous orchestral lines. “Issouf Saves Zodi” has a gorgeous, deeply emotional cello element. “Danger on the Road” is a festival if tense, nervous writing for chattering woodwinds and pizzicato strings. “The Boy and the Camel in the Night” is beautiful, expressive, and intimate.

The album also two original songs from the film, “Feels Like Fire” and “No Time to Leave”, both performed by Mika. “Feels Like Fire” is really quite excellent, with sympathetic vocals and a pretty melody; an instrumental version of “Feels Like Fire” appears in the score track “Farewell Téhu” as well. Unfortunately, the score for Zodi et Téhu is not available to purchase on CD, but is available to stream and as a digital download via most of the usual online outlets. If you want to experience one of 2023’s most excellent scores, from perhaps the unlikeliest source in quite some time, this gets a solid recommendation.

Track Listing: 1. The Beginning (3:41), 2. Early in the Morning (4:19), 3. Téhu’s Theme (3:23), 4. The Butterfly and the Miracle (2:49), 5. Two Hearts Beat Together (2:01), 6. A New Friend, a New Home (0:53), 7. Two Friends with a Plan (3:39), 8. Facing the Storm (3:54), 9. Calm After the Storm (0:56), 10. Issouf Saves Zodi (2:25), 11. Salt Sea (2:24), 12. Danger on the Road (2:36), 13. Téhu’s Return Home to the Village (1:38), 14. The Boy and the Camel in the Night (4:57), 15. Feels Like Fire – Orchestral Version (performed by Mika) (3:49), 16. Farewell Téhu (2:22), 17. Final Race (3:12), 18. Feels Like Fire (performed by Mika feat. Nomfundo Moh) (3:14), 19. No Time to Leave (performed by Mika) (2:30). Virgin Records, 54 minutes 42 seconds.

  1. March 8, 2023 at 9:04 am

    Thank you!

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