TOP TEN: Uses of music in TV, film, and games…

We continue our fortnight of top tens looking back at 2020 and looking forward to 2021:

Thank the lord (or your streaming provider of choice) for this year’s plethora of home viewing gems. The multiple lockdowns of this year would have been even harder to bear had there not been a range of excellent television shows and films and things in between to keep us entertained…

Tom – I May Destroy You: The word ‘masterpiece’ is banded about so much these days, but I’ll allow it for Michaela Coel’s breathtaking ‘consent drama’. I struggle to think of the last time I saw something so powerfully original that also managed to be so accessible. I rarely watch anything more than once but I’ll be making an exception for this in 2021.

Sometimes things can let you down when they’ve been hyped so much, so I settled down to watch the first episode with some trepidation. As soon as the music kicked in though, I knew I could (sort of) relax. Tierra Whack, Little Simz, and Rosalia are just some of the perfect choices for the first episode alone, and when the music is this good you know you’re in good hands. I’d urge you to watch it if you haven’t already.

Sam – Final Fantasy VII REMAKE: I asked everyone else if I could include a game in this list, even though I’m pretty sure no one else plays games nearly as often as I do, but it was mainly so I could mention Final Fantasy VII REMAKE. As the name suggests this is a completely remade version of the 1997 original PlayStation classic and if one thing is still as good now as it was then it’s the music.

‘Aerith’s Theme’ is here, the music when entering the Shinra Building is here, but everything is orchestrated in a completely new way. Music from Final Fantasy has genuinely been some of my most listened to stuff while working from home in 2020, and the music in this incredible game was some of the best.

 

Fran – Jojo Rabbit: If you haven’t seen Jojo Rabbit yet then don’t watch the clip above or read the words below.

If you have, then you’ll know the moment I mean. It seems kind of weird to include Jojo Rabbit in this Top Ten for a few solitary minutes of the film, but there is something so incredibly moving about the way this movie ends with the story’s odd couple, finally free from their different types of World War II prisons, facing each other on the doorstep of a house one of them hasn’t left in months, dancing to a German language version of ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie.

I’ve seen it three times now and can’t get through it without crying.

Tom – Uncut Gems: Way back in January, I, like many others, subjected myself to the Safdie brothers’ stress-a-thon, Uncut Gems. As essential to the chaos as Adam Sandler’s ridiculous performance was the film’s soundtrack by Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never.

Lopatin’s latest OPN album was a wide-ranging work which demonstrated his ability to evoke the uncanny, but his Uncut Gems soundtrack was a masterclass in using sound to orchestrate mood. Bubbling synths cranked up the tension to frankly unpleasant levels as the stakes got higher and higher. An excellent soundtrack to an accomplished film, though you may need to calm down afterwards.

Matt – Animal Crossing: When the world needed escapism Animal Crossing came to the rescue. Perfectly timed to give us a way to hang out with friends and give a safe pseudo-outside while we were all locked away. All while being very very cute. 

Animal Crossing is low pace and low stakes. The music is integral to keeping this vibe. It’s absolutely charming. But also incredibly complicated, as it provides subtle cues to what is going on. The music slowly evolves throughout the day depending on time, weather and season. There is literally hours upon hours of potential soundtrack that could be played, depending on what is happening in-game. The result is an experience that feels much more lived-in, that does not get boring. 

On top of this, the music is central to the gameplay itself, as you can collect different tracks to play on the stereo in your home. These translate different genres through a filter of cute animal crossing noises. Plus the album covers ape on classic covers for that genre, adding a fun little Easter egg to decipher. 

Sam – The Mandolorian: Is there really anything else to care about in Star Wars spin off The Mandolorian other than Baby Yoda (a name I will contiue to use even though it’s neither a ‘baby’, nor Yoda)?

I’d say the music was a big highlight for me, some of the most interesting and atmospheric music in the franchise’s history. With a score composed by Ludwig Göransson of Black Panther and This Is America fame, it captures the same modern take of something that still seems ‘historic’ too.

Fran – Death Stranding: I was a massive gamer in my teens and had begun to get back into it over the last few years, but 2020 has seen that go from a slight flirtation (playing The Last of Us again and again) to something near obsession. Games have been the only media I have found totally immersive during our year of the plague, the only format that has truly allowed me some escape.

Few games did this as effectively as Death Stranding. With landscapes so gorgeous I almost wished I was walking them (although preferably without a corpse strapped to my back). One of the most involving things about this game, though, was its use of music. There you’d be, climbing another hill or comforting the foetus that is permanently strapped to your chest, and suddenly a gorgeous piano tune would kick in, accompanied by a stunning vocal that seemed perfectly set up for the scene.

There are a host of well known acts on this soundtrack (CHVRCHES, Bring Me The Horizon, Major Lazer) but it was Low Roar who stole the show for me – their music fit the game so well that I have so far been reluctant to give it a listen back in the real world. 

TOM – Small Axe: “I don’t really like reggae” – My famous last words as a credible music writer there, spoken this November as I settled down to watch Lovers Rock, the second film in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology. What followed was an hour of intoxicating, immersive filmmaking from one of the modern masters. The film depicts a house party attended by young West Indians, with reggae music and its subgenres forming its soundtrack.

There are two stunning moments that stand out: one has a room full of couples singing Janet Kay’s 1979 hit ‘Silly Games’ in acapella, and the other has a room full of young men losing their shit to ‘Kunta Kinte Dub’ by The Revolutionaries. Both moments show the immense power of the collective musical experience – one that we’ve all sorely missed for the most part of this year.

 

Matt – The Watchmen: I’m cheating a bit here. This was technically released at the end of 2019, but it seemed to take a while for folks to watch it (or maybe just me). And its relevance grew further in 2020 in the wake of the BLM protests in the summer as the story told in this TV series openly discussed race, police, and the far right.

The story is twisting, confusing and dramatic which is perfectly matched by the score put together by Nine Inch Nails bandmates Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Unsurprisingly it is dark, broody and laden with synths. It feels claustrophobic and unsettling much of the time, nailing the atmosphere of the show. But like Fran’s pick of Jojo Rabbit, they turned towards David Bowie for a stand out musical moment to cap the show off. As the dust clears we can hear a beautifully delicate version of ‘Life on Mars’. That moment cemented this as my favourite TV show of the year.

Fran – Bojack Horseman – I suppose it makes sense to end this top ten with another ending. Anyone who made it through the emotional rollercoaster that was six seasons of Bojack Horseman will know just how much they nailed this final season and episode. But no moment so perfectly sums up what was magical about this equine based treaty on mental health and addiction as the final scene; Bojack and Diane having another almost profound discussion on a rooftop before sitting there in silence, Bojack looking oblivious and Diane obviously awkward and uncomfortable, with Catherine Feeney singing ‘Mr Blue’ in the background.

I was so pleased the show ended this way after all the hints of something much more dramatic, and while I hadn’t heard ‘Mr Blue’ before that moment I cannot think of a more apt song to usher my favourite animated show of all time out the door. Perfection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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