2019 starts in fine style with the soundtrack to M. Night Shyamalan’s latest cinematic opus Glass. Shyamalan has moved further away from his previous partnership with composer James Newton Howard who has scored almost all of his other films. This time composition detail fell to West Dylan Thordson (Joy, UFO) who already has the score for another Shyamalan movie to his name, this film’s predecessor Split. Stylistically this is far more Bear McCreary than John Williams, it’s all about the percussion and the strings rather than sweeping horn sections and uplifting themes.
At a brisk 49 minute running time, not a note or beat is wasted anywhere in this composition. Before delving into the tracks, it should be pointed out that this score is being looked at on its own merits, outside of the film. Without having seen Glass, comment cannot be made on how it works within the confines of the film but as an album to listen to on its own? It definitely merits purchase.
Opening with the rapid ticking strings of horror-movie-influenced track 1 – “Physicks” the drums and sharp, whining strings quickly make themselves know, the percussion adding layer on layer of tension before a deeper, more menacing sting ends the track.
Track 2 – “Brick Factory” and the skittering, wailing strings are in immediate attendance, fluttering and teasing more ominously this time. No rapid ticking or heartbeat here, no, this is ponderous and oppressive…to begin with. Suddenly the ticking returns, fighting with the strings for dominance before the sweet, measured strings of a piano wipe away everything else for a moment of respite as James Newton Howard’s theme from Unbreakable makes a return.
Track 3 – “Pink Room” is dominated by the slightly off-key tones of the piano, underpinned with a low drone of strings and occasional thumping exclamation of drums all suggesting something is not quite right, that our moment of calm is skewing into something less benign.
“Cycles” is the title of track 4. Gone are the drums, the ticking, the piano. The listener is carried away on a smoothly rising and falling sweep of strings, the ocean lapping at the beach, the wind swirling through the leaves, all is serene. At nearly five minutes it could have veered into self-indulgence but instead it serves as a nice break and a change in mood from the preceding tracks.
Track 5 – “Backfire” is a short, Blade Runner-esque track, with hints of an Eastern influence coming through amidst the droning and the chiming strings. Track 6 is “Remember” and it conjures up comparisons to the iconic soundtrack to Coppola’s Godfather before morphing into something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nils Frahm album as strange, random background noises blend with the music.
Track 7 – “Escape” and the tempo is rising, that incessant ticking mingling with piano and percussion, interspersed by more of those sharp, angry shrieks from the strings. As the track draws to a close almost everything fades away but the ticking. Track 8 – “David and Elijah” sees the return of the Unbreakable theme once again before the track is once again overtaken by those more ominous, horror-inspired themes which continue into the discordant track 9 “Pierce”. This track would easily fit into almost any horror movie you could name, from Halloween to Alien.
The sweeping strings from track 4 now reappear in track 10 – “Belief”, hopeful but not as relaxed as the previous track, now underpinned by a dull, thumping heartbeat before the tonal whiplash of track 11 – “Thru the Basement” which is a harsh, shrill mix of high pitched strings and rolling kettle drums as the horror side of this Jekyll and Hyde soundtrack takes control once more.
Track 12 – “Parking Lot” and the ticking is back, accompanied this time by one of the few appearances of the horns section on this soundtrack and what sounds an awful lot like someone playing the spoons in the background. It’s a singularly odd track even amidst this collection of already odd tracks, sort of like someone took the whole percussion section and tossed it down the stairs to see what would happen. This track is less Blade Runner and, in all honesty, brings up more comparisons to the seminal soundtrack to Akira.
Track 13 – “Unraveling” and those oddly Eastern themes are back before being lost in growling, snarling strings and drums that wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place in Elliot Goldenthal’s soundtrack to Alien 3. Track 14 – “Ordinary Man” is a lot like the title. Ordinary. Nothing bad, but nothing really good either. Of all the tracks on offer here, this is the only one that could be described as forgettable.
Winding down now, track 15 “Kevin & Casey” is a sombre, thoughtful melding of piano and strings, another moment of peace and calm before the rumbling drums return in track 16 “Checkmate” and the ticking that has been our constant companion throughout the soundtrack finally winds down and falls silent.
Our musical journey draws to a close with track 17, the nearly ten minute long “Origin Story” which manages to encapsulate all the themes touched on in previous tracks. Starting with the sweeping, hopeful strings before delving into something more intense and mysterious at the halfway mark, transitioning into something almost Hitchcock-like before rising to a crescendo…and then tailing off gradually, fading away into nothing.
Glass can, at times, be a difficult listen. Those who prefer their soundtracks to be tonally similar may find the constant shifts here to be frustrating, but given a chance, given more than one listen, there is a lot to like here. Definitely a strong contender for a top ten soundtracks of 2019 and one that is definitely worth hunting down in the streaming service of your choice (or on CD for the old-school).
Glass: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is now available from Back Lot Music.