The past decade has seen the world of TV soundtracks receive a much-needed overhaul.
The rise of platforms such as HBO has sparked a surge in creativity, raising the bar to stratospheric levels.
One area that has benefited is the use of specially curated - sometimes specially recorded - soundtracks, adding a fresh layer to television production.
2019 witnessed a number of projects on both sides of the Atlantic pushing back the boundaries still further, resulting in scores that work as artistic achievements in their own right.
Clash rounds up a few of the best from the past 12 months.
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Right from the opening scenes Killing Eve has never failed to be utterly stylish in its bloodthirsty quest. Tracing British intelligence officer Eve Polastri’s quest to take down hired gun Villanelle, the complexities of the pair’s relationship takes them across Europe, from the Home Counties to rural Russian prisons.
David Holmes steers the soundtrack, with both volumes released on blood-splattered vinyl last month. It’s an incredible listen in its own right, too – the Northern Irish composer is no stranger to soundtrack duties, and he gathers a phenomenal cast, helmed by the group Unloved, to help him build something genuinely special.
The score for Killing Eve stands out in its own right, its multi-lingual ethos matching each character’s many faces, while fusing psych-pop, languid electronics, and Baroque flourishes to create a distilled, immediately identifiable palette.
It’s not all original music, though: David Holmes also hones his crate-digging skills, including on-point deep cuts from Brigitte Bardot, The Poppy Family, synth boffin Jane Weaver, and many more.
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Watchmen is one of the most valuable but divisive creative works of the past four decades. A lauded, vastly influential comic book, Hollywood’s attempt to bring it to the silver screen earned the ire of both fans and creators, with Watchmen writer Alan Moore refusing even to watch it.
News of HBO’s Damon Lindelof led series was greeted with apprehension, then, it turned out to be a sublimely weighted remix of the comic book’s conceptual paranoia.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were brought on board to work on the score, with the move following previous collaborations on the music for The Social Network and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Working closely with the show’s creators, the initial sleazy, underground physicality of the music broadens as the series continues, its dramatic nuances underpinned by the interplay of Reznor and Ross.
That’s not all, though – music supervisor Liza Richardson builds licensed music around this, and her picks seem to set off chain reactions within the narrative. A bold, dramatic, and vivid soundtrack, Watchmen works on every level.
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The Umbrella Academy
In this bloated age of superhero fatigue, it takes something special to grab what little attention we still have remaining. Luckily for us, Netflix's adaptation of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá's very dysfunctional family did just that - and in no small part thanks to a stellar soundtrack.
It's not often you'll find the likes of Toploader sat alongside The Doors and Big Thief, but then again, not many shows on TV reveled in their own madcap energy quite like this one. For every high octane classic like Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now' or Simone's masterful 'Sinnerman,' the audience was treated to oddities such as They Might Be Giants 'Istanbul' - arguably the most perfect marriage of song and action featured on screens last year.
A driven cover of The Bangles 'Hazy Shade of Winter' featuring Way and My Chemical Romance's Ray Toro hinted at the band's welcome reformation months later. Erratic, sentimental, and occasionally shocking - just like the show itself. (Sam Walker-Smart)
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Neil Forsyth scripted Scottish drama Guilt flew under the radar for many, but its four-part dissection of two brothers attempting to get away with murder made for one of 2019’s blackest comedy-dramas.
While the script, casting, and performances were close to immaculate, what caught our eye was the enviable soundtrack. The younger, wayward brother runs a record shop in Edinburgh, while an inherited record collection is littered with gems.
As a result, Guilt has a fantastic soundtrack, moving from Krautrock godheads Can through to jazz innovator Stan Tracey via Steely Dan, The Fall, and Erol Alkan.
It’s a real trip.
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Has the score of a modern British drama series gained more attention than Peaky Blinders? We doubt it, and Season Five seemed to underline that, with yet more superb picks and some exclusive recordings peppered through this multi-narrative tale of Midlands gangsters running loose in the build up to the Second World War.
The opening episode resounds with Black Sabbath and Anna Calvi, while the series found room for everything from Radiohead’s ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ to Joy Division’s uniquely beautiful ‘Atmosphere’. Just check out the finale: Richard Hawley’s perfect take on ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’ moving into Anna Calvi’s inimitable work, as the drama plays out onscreen.
Wonderfully judged, and with the full story set to span seven seasons there’s even more to come.
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End Of The F*cking World 2
2019 was a year full of a great television shows, all of which included incredible soundtracks to amplify the feel that the shows are conveying. The End of The F**king World 2, is no exception, the first season of the show was very well received by the public, so there was no doubt a second series would be developed.
The End of The F**king World 2’s soundtrack has been scored and sung by Graham Coxon, who perfectly captures the feeling of obscurity and isolation that is conveyed in the show, with the use of old wild west samples, electric guitars and the bass. It really conveys the themes portrayed in an exceptional manner.
The soundtrack does a wonderful job at complimenting the shows cinematography, especially in scenes that are intense or that leave the audience in awe. Without doubt one of the best soundtracks in 2019. (Ramy Abou-Setta)
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HBO and Sky UK linked to craft the intense five-part Chernobyl series, a perfectly pitched narrative of the all-too-real nuclear disaster that befell the Ukrainian city in 1986. Applying a human touch to the disaster, Chernobyl cast a fresh eye on those tragic events, with its nightmarish atmosphere augmented by a score composed by Icelandic musician Hildur Guðnadóttir.
A hugely experienced figure – she’s toured with Animal Collective and Sunn O))) amongst others – Hildur was able to sculpt something memorable but unobtrusive, perfectly augmenting the vivid imagery onscreen. The commitment to realism extends even to the score, with the Icelandic composer using found samples from genuine nuclear reactors to give it an eerie industrial edge.
Embalmed in beautiful pathos, Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score feels perfectly entwined with the unfolding horror of Chernobyl.
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