Set the Tape’s Favourite Film Scores of 2018

We here at Set the Tape spend a lot of time listening to film scores.  We listen to them recreationally as we would ostensible ‘proper’ music, we listen to them as background music for our many power-through sessions of creating enjoyable content for you lovely lot, we listen to them in the films they appear within because (surprisingly) we watch a lot of films, and we also listen to them critically as our extremely robust selection of reviews from this past year can attest.  And, y’know, we spend so long during Listmas across the web praising the best performances or the best movies in a particular tiny subgenre or expending energy on the worst films of the year, but what about the scores?  The musical backbone of many an excellent movie, whose appearance during pivotal stretches of the narrative can make or break the entire enterprise?  And how about their listenability outside of their intended context, how do they work as standalone pieces of music?

Well, as evidenced by our large body of critical work, we’ve got quite a few experts in the form on this here website, so let’s talk to them about this!  We put the call out to our staff for them to submit effusive praises about their personal favourite film scores of 2018 and the results can be found below.  Each of them are here for different reasons, but they’re all evidence that it has been an exemplary year for at least one part of the medium’s whole “audio-visual” deal. – Callum Petch

Hereditary (Colin Stetson)

Colin Stetson’s soundtrack to Hereditary is an utter masterpiece and my favourite score of the year. Starting off with the growing menace of ‘Funeral,’ this is a score that grabs you by the throat and never lets go, setting the hair on the back of your neck to prickling with a low, ominous drone that only grows ever more oppressive, layering on horns, muffled voices and scratching, creaking strings before fading away to silence. The recurring motif of a dull, thudding heartbeat helps to tie the album together as we move from ominous strings to something faster-paced and desperate in ‘Party, Crash’ a pivotal turning point in the film’s story before the return to that cloying atmosphere of dread that permeates almost every track. The musical journey into a family’s heart of darkness culminates in the triumphant and exultant ‘Reborn,’ with its wailing, discordant strings and horns that can’t help but lift your spirits, providing a glorious counterpoint to the disturbing events on screen. Of all the soundtracks I’ve listened to this year, this was the one that remained on constant repeat longer than any other, longer even than the similarly excellent soundtrack to Annihilation, and one I highly recommend to any fan of movie scores. – Shaun Rodger

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Lorne Balfe)

The Mission: Impossible films have always been defined, in many respects, by their scores. Brian De Palma’s original had a tricksy update of Lalo Schifrin from Danny Elfman, who ditched his usual whimsy for playful subterfuge. You can practically hear Hans Zimmer’s leather jacket creaking behind the wanky guitar rock stylings of M:I 2, before Michael Giacchino riffs off Schifrin in his own inimitable orchestral style for M:I 3 and Ghost Protocol. Given Joe Kraemer delivered one of the scores of 2015 with Rogue Nation’s grand, lyrical improvement (believe it or not) on what Giacchino laid down, you would have expected him back for Chris McQuarrie’s follow up, but Lorne Balfe’s Zimmer-esque, percussive, booming and rumbling undulation across Fallout just fits to an absolute tee. It may, admittedly, sound a lot like The Dark Knight, but imitation and flattery and all that.  Plus, Balfe just manages to amp everything up to the next level of scale in tracks like the heart stopping ‘Free Fall,’ building ‘The Exchange,’ and the rip-roaring, climactic intensity of ‘And the Warrior Whispers Back,’ which combines the Zimmer stylings with Schifrin’s original riffs effortlessly. It’s so unlike any other M:I score, and it certainly wouldn’t be to the tastes of those who like their music much more sweeping and orchestral over electronic, but man does Fallout pack an even greater punch thanks to Balfe’s work. The score that should put this composer on the map, once and for all. – Tony Black

Solo: A Star Wars Story (John Powell)

The prospect of a Star Wars score penned by someone other than John Williams seemed impossible just a decade ago, but the scores to the one-off Star Wars Stories have so far proven to be great fun. For Solo, Williams provided composer John Powell with a strong central theme on which to build his score. Beyond that, though, the score is recognisably a Powell work of the highest order. In bringing his trademark percussion-heavy action writing to the Star Wars universe, he loses none of the series’ trademark colourful orchestral sound. The result is a score filled with some of the best film music moments in years. ‘Lando’s Closet’ is the most lush romantic cue to come out of a blockbuster in years, while ‘Reminiscence Therapy’ will serve as the template for fan-service for years to come. Throw in arguably the single best performance of the main title theme in the series in ‘L3 & Millennium Falcon’ and you know the score’s a winner. While the film it’s attached to sadly underperformed at the box office, don’t be surprised to see this score near the top of many best-of-the-decade lists. – Luke Bunting

Red Sparrow (James Newton Howard)

While James Newton Howard’s 2010 Russian spy-action flick Salt was fast paced and filled with his usual electronics, this year’s Red Sparrow, a story of another cold-as-ice female Russian agent this time played by Jennifer Lawrence, is more grounded and showcases a more classical approach. The score begins with an 11-minute overture which introduces Lawrence’s Anya theme right away. Track 4 ‘Take Off Your Dress’ has elements which would fit into one of Howard’s M. Night Shyamalan thrillers – simple, sinewy, tense and eerie. Overall, Howards’ Red Sparrow score is much like its heroine – mysterious and seductive. – Jason Sheppard

Ocean’s 8 (Daniel Pemberton)

2018 has seen many excellent film scores, from Justin Hurwitz’s sweeping work on First Man, to Alexandre Desplat’s balance between typical Wes Anderson whimsy and classic Japanese samurai dramas with Isle of Dogs, to Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury sucker-punching audience comforts worldwide with their incredibly unsettling recurring themes that crop up deep into Annihilation.  But the one this year that I kept coming back to over and over again was Daniel Pemberton’s playful, jazzy and at-times clattering score to Ocean’s 8.  Stepping into the shoes of previous composer David Holmes must have been a daunting task, as Holmes’ work with previous director Steven Soderbergh consistently yielded some of the 00s coolest scores, so Pemberton wisely doesn’t even try to.  Where Holmes provided an oft-laidback masculine cool that insinuated a cheeky mirth in its protagonists’ actions, Pemberton instead goes loud and raucous, employing tumbling percussion on ‘NYC Larceny’ an elastic bassline on ‘Nine-Ball’ and sprightly flourishes on ‘The Gala Plan’ that communicate the unbridled fun these women are having on the job.  It’s still jazzy, but where Holmes took inspiration from cool stately nightclubs that only sometimes exploded into joy, Pemberton’s instead feels made for a big-ol’ swinging knees up that’s fun, energetic, and honestly rather badass when all the recurring melodies and leitmotifs combine in the climactic ‘The Actual Heist.’ – Callum Petch

Halloween (John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter & Daniel Davies)

Decades of sequels and reboots proved that it was possible to make a Halloween film (or 10) without John Carpenter at the helm, but this year’s splendid slasher sequel proved without a doubt that you can’t make a Halloween film without Carpenter on orchestral duties. The veteran director and composer, along with his sons, had no interest in rehashing old tunes and being done with it – a move many fans would have been happy with. Instead he chose to turn in one of his best scores as the trio rewrote the iconic Halloween theme, while somehow keeping its classic feel, and provided a musical accompaniment worthy of the Halloween name. While great tracks like ‘The Shape Hunts Allyson’ and ‘Michael Kills’ get the blood pumping and the tension up, it’s only part of the winning formula. You need a mask, a big knife (or a hammer, or a good old foot stomp) along with John Carpenter’s composition to bring Michael Myers to life. Without this score, Halloween 2018 doesn’t have the same impact. Without this music, Myers simply can’t be the terrifying monster he is.  Without his electronic orchestral mashup backing him up, The Shape just isn’t The Shape. – Andrew Brooker

Ready Player One (Alan Silvestri)

When it was announced in 2017 that John Williams would be unavailable to score Steven Spielberg’s eye-popping, visually arresting futuristic ode to the 80s, Ready Player One, fans were worried that the end result would lose an important component of what makes Spielberg’s movies so thrilling – the music. Turns out there was no need to fear as the director turned to an old friend; Back to The Future and Roger Rabbit composer Alan Silvestri who, in places, harkens back to the flute, strings and brass fanfares that which accompanied Marty McFly to the past and back (we even hear the Delorean theme return). It may not be Williams, but for anybody whose imaginations went wild when hearing the words “Steven Spielberg Presents” during the 80s, Silvestri’s energetic, comedic, playful, action-filled Ready Player One score brings that feeling back. – Jason Sheppard

Got any film scores you adored that we’ve missed out on?  Jump into the comments and let us know!  Be sure to keep checking Set the Tape every week for more new Listmas articles much like this!

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