Music

Alias Grace (Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna) – Soundtrack Review

Alias Grace is the latest Netflix Original, a six-part TV mini-series based on the Booker Prize nominated historical fiction novel by Margaret Atwood. It’s another lavish production for the streaming site, with an impressive cast including Sarah Gadon, Zachary Levi, Edward Holcroft, Anna Paquin and David Cronenberg. A period drama with a darker undertone, it certainly looks to be an atmospheric production.

The soundtrack to Alias Grace has been released by Lakeshore Records, featuring selections of the original music composed by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna and is available to download now.

Moody and atmospheric is the tone of the soundtrack and the Danna’s perfectly capture the menace and intrigue of the narrative. There are some delightful snippets in the album, eerie moments, sweeping scores, full of passion and menace and capturing the period feel of the drama. Where it falls down is in the length of the tracks. At 28, there are lot of pieces packed in, but many barely last more than a minute, meaning that while the album as a whole is interesting listening experience, the individual tracks aren’t given room to breathe. This truly is just a collection of snippets of the score, which bring it down somewhat.

So onto the tracks themselves. ‘Grace in the Mirror’ is a morose opening track, with an air of tragedy and is followed by ‘Kingston Penitentiary, 1859’, which is a bit more dramatic; sinister and emotive with repeated string movements and a slow, eerie orchestral accompaniment, building to something both eerie and bold. These two certainly set the scene.

‘Doctor Jordan’ is a slower, simpler piece, that builds into something quite uplifting  but ends on another more sinister edge, while ‘McDermott is Hung’ is a dramatic period piece full of flamboyant string movements with a touch of melancholy. ‘Quilts’ makes use of wind instruments to create something rather more offbeat in style, the accompanying orchestral sweeps creating an eerie piece; it is largely short and simple but very atmospheric.

‘A Terrible Shock’ starts off very sinister indeed and is full of danger and menace and sadness. Yet again it is a very atmospheric track but too short to truly make an impact, while ‘Below Deck’ is a beautiful but melancholy piece, full of tragedy and remorse.

‘Funeral at Sea’ is another emotive, tender track, full of sadness but with a beautiful, sweeping orchestral movement and ‘Ferry Crossing’ is eerie and sinister, the string movement building to something more hopeful as it builds and then pulling it back with a sense of tragedy. But even at 1.45 minutes, there still feels like more to come. ‘Mary Whitney’ is a more playful piece, violins and flutes rising and falling in a whimsical nature, making good use of period instruments too to set the tone of the piece that is rather magical in tone.

‘Torn Open’ is quite possibly the best track at this point. It starts off a much slower, grim piece, the simple piano movement creating something more sinister, particularly when the percussion beat kicks in. The wind instruments add another sinister edge too; this piece is full of atmosphere, beautiful in a dark way and also the longest at over two minutes. But even then it still feels as if it ends too soon.

‘Home for Christmas’ is immediately bigger, and has that period feel, twinkling beats adding that Christmas magic, even though the track retains the melancholy feel of the rest of the album. This is followed by the slow, grim and ominous ‘A Visit to the Doctor’ and ‘My Methods Take Time’, which is another slow, sad piece but doesn’t last long enough to make an impression.

‘Mary’s Burial’ is both melancholy and beautiful, the simple piano solo and rising violin pieces are incredibly emotive, even if yet again, it feels as if it is just getting started. ‘Nancy Montgomery’ is more sinister in tone, the underplayed orchestral string movements creating a sense of unease and mystery but full of atmosphere. Sadly it is also too short to make a lasting impact.

‘Daisy Crown’ is another soft, emotive piece, with some uplifting moments mixed into the eerie wind instrument piece running throughout the score. It ends on an ominous note and a devilish violin movement. At two and a half minutes, this feels more complete than most of the tracks on the album.

‘A Women’s Work’ is very similar to ‘Mary Whitney’, while ‘God Alone Can Tidy It Up’ is much more sombre and morose in nature, but doesn’t even reach a minute in length, making it atmospheric at the time but largely forgettable when it is over. ‘A Common Peddler’ is another track with an ominous opening, before building to a frenzied string movement and playful wind instruments.

The most memorable track on the album is ‘Grace’s Dream’, which feels straight out of a horror movie. The Dannas conjure up a sense of danger and unease in a score that is wonderfully atmospheric and forbidding, the percussion drum roll and stretched string piece leads into something rather creepy.

This is followed by the the forbidding beat of ‘Plotting Murder’, which is a slow, unsettling and very atmospheric, while ‘Firefly’ is another of the album’s more melancholy tracks, sweet moments intertwined with a sense of forbidding, though again it is largely forgettable when over. ‘Flight’ is a lighter, beautiful orchestral piece that launches into a dramatic version of the earlier themes while ‘Simon’s Fantasy’ has a more ethereal, dreamlike quality to it, with some darker undertones too.

The album’s final three tracks continue the themes of above; ‘Under Hypnosis’ is a melancholy piece, a sweeping score filled with sadness and a sense of danger and unease and an offbeat ending. ‘Grace’s Letter’ is another incredibly sad and atmospheric piece; this track is given more time to breath and is a beautiful piece to listen to. Finally ‘Embroidery of the Tree of Paradis’ ends the soundtrack with some absolutely beautiful moments full of emotion that build to a more uplifting finale and a slightly sinister organ finish. It is another standout track that remains with you after it has finished.

The review probably read like a lot of repeated words; melancholy, atmospheric, sinister and beautiful and the score to Alias Grace is all these things. As one soundtrack it is superb; the album falls down in its layout. The tracks are so short that they feel fleeting; had we been given ten or twelve longer tracks perhaps, I would rate the album higher. But there is no denying that Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna have captured the essence of Alias Grace perfectly in their score.

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