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Synchrotones’ Favourites of 2021 (Part 2/2)

January 29, 2022

It’s time to reveal Synchrotones’ favourite scores and composers of 2021. You may know by now that I hesitate placing them in ‘top x’ lists. Whilst there is a strong correlation between what I like best and what I think is best, ultimately there is a difference. Especially during my ongoing hiatus, and also during this never-ending pandemic, it feels more important than ever to focus on what makes us happy… and not always analysing the cr*p out of everything. So, here’s a toast to all the composers, musicians, record labels and all the music that made me feel a little better last year.

COMPOSERS OF THE YEAR:

ANNE-KATHRIN DERN: I cannot get her Claus Family music out of my head and I’ve returned to it many times. Her score for Help, I Shrunk My Friends is perhaps less memorable, but still displays excellent writing. Furthermore, Dern has a YouTube channel where she regularly shares stories and techniques or answers fans’ questions; and these videos are always highly informative and come highly recommended.

AMIE DOHERTY: Her score for Spirit Untamed is a blast from start to finish. It is as beautiful as it is exciting. It’s whimsical, it’s funny, it’s got some great tunes; and Doherty shows off her song-writing skills too.

Runners up include: CHAD CANNON (for his stunning work on Qinghai: Our National Park and Ghost of Tsushima: Iki Island & Legends); DANIEL PEMBERTON (due to Welcome to Earth, Being the Ricardos and The Rescue); JAMES NEWTON HOWARD (Jungle Cruise and Raya & The Last Dragon); and DANIEL HART (The Green Knight and The Last Letter From Your Lover); and GORDY HAAB (for delivering a stunning score for My Country, My Parents).

SYNCHROTONES’ FAVOURITE SCORES OF 2021:

  • My Country My Parents (Gordy Haab): East-meets-West in this lavish orchestral score.  
  • The Curse of Turandot (Simon Franglen): East-meets-West again in a score that combines orchestra and electronics with a grand main theme.
  • The Matrix: Resurrections (Tom Tykwer & Johnny Klimek): Exciting, energetic score that stays true to Don Davis’ source material, whilst ‘updating’ it for the 2020s.
  • Spirit Untamed (Amie Doherty): Based on the same source material as Stallion of the Cimmaron, this new Spirit is equal parts spin off/reboot/sequel. Musically, it’s a clean slate from Doherty who delivers a fun-filled, energetic, and stylistically diverse score (and a catchy song too).  
  • Coppelia (Maurizio Malagnini): Malagnini brings Coppelia to live with his usual whimsical, warm, and playful style of music. There’s something so innocent and sweet about all Malagnini’s work, and Coppelia is no exception, that it’s hard not to fall in love with his music. Aside from Coppelia, there’s also Call the Midwife (season 11) to enjoy.
  • Devyatayev: Escape from Hell (Yuri Poteyenko): If you’re not already familiar with Russian composer Poteyenko, you’re in for a treat when you get to discover him. Devyatayev is not his strongest score, but it still boasts tense action music and stunning melancholic passages for strings.
  • Wish Dragon (Philip Klein): Charming and playful score, colourfully orchestrated; with a slight Thomas Newman-y feel to it.
  • The Claus Family 2 (Anne-Kathrin Dern): solid follow-up to 2020s score by Dern, retaining its strong main theme and adding a new secondary theme for recorder. That recorder, as well as a few other compositional techniques, carry a hint of Williams’ Harry Potter; and it’s juxtaposed quite nicely against the ‘Loss’ theme from the first score. There’s a quirky new brass motif; and overall, I think the sequel sounds a little more upbeat than its predecessor. Wonderful, charming score.
  • Ghost of Tsushima: Iki Islands & Legends (Chad Cannon, Bill Hemstapat, Ilan Eshkeri): Whilst incorporating Ehskeri’s original themes and staying close to his orchestrations, Cannon and Hemstapat have created an impressive sequel to Ghost of Tsushima.  
  • Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings (Joel P West): Beautiful East-meets-West score with a recognisable ‘hook’. Melodically if feels more Western, with the Eastern influences coming from the percussion and erhu.

THE MANY RUNNERS UP:

  • The Arctic: Our Last Great Wildnerness (Alex Heffes): Wonderful nature documentary score.
  • Coming 2 America (Jermaine Stegall): playful and quirky score with infectious African rhythms, instrumentation, and vocals, combined with some surprising orchestral elements. 
  • The Courier (Abel Korzeniowski): Expertly crafted thriller score, predominantly for strings (especially cello) and piano. Through Korzeniowski it has a European sound rather than a typical Hollywood sound, which is welcome.
  • Domina (Samuel Sim): Brooding score for Roman Empire-based drama. Dulcimer, percussion and vocal give it an oldie-worldly feel, but for the most part it’s an understated drama score.
  • Don’t Look Up (Nicholas Brittell): Wonderful score from Brittell with his jazzy mallet-heavy instrumentations.
  • Jungle Cruise (James Newton Howard): large-scale adventure score from JNH in top form. Not quite amongst his very best, but he sure pulls out all the stops and delivers a barn-storming score with a catchy main theme.
  • Finding Alice (Edmund Butt): Comedy-drama tv-series where Butt uses strings and piano to address the drama, and staccato woodwinds for the comedy. The comedic stuff doesn’t quite come to life for me, but the melancholy material is wonderful.
  • Ghostbusters Afterlife (Rob Simonsen): I’ve often thought of Simonsen as ‘the king’ of cool, electronica-based scores, but here he delivers a lively orchestral score with hints of jazz and big nods to Elmer Bernstein’s original Ghostbusters.
  • The Green Knight (Daniel Hart): Quite an odd score with a ‘medieval’ sound from the use of plucked strings, flute, and light percussion. Further emphasis on strings and vocals. Plenty of unusual sounds, harmonies and melodic phrases. Intriguing, but not an easy listen.
  • Gunpowder Milkshake (Frederik Wiedmann): Quirky score for orchestra, synths, electric guitars, vocals and all the rest of it. Nods to Morricone, classic sci-fi, Mexicana and other pop culture elements. Intriguing and entertaining score, cleverly done. Ultimately memorable for its style rather than melodies.
  • Help, I Shrunk My Friends (Anne-Kathrin Dern): Great little comedy score.
  • House of Gucci (Harry Gregson-Williams): The soundtrack only contains one suite from HGW’s score, and it offers cool electronica that seems to blend in nicely with the selection of electro-pop songs.
  • The King’s Man (Matthew Margeson & Dominic Lewis): faithful and exciting sequel to its two predecessors.
  • The Last Duel (Harry Gregson-Williams): Nice to hear HGW do something other than hybrid action scores. Here he combines medieval instrumentation with liturgical vocals to create a mostly solemn and introspective score. There are a few ‘modern’ moments, but a lot of the time it feels like stepping back in time. Not an easy score, but it sure is an intriguing experience.  
  • Last Letter from your Lover (Daniel Hart): Beautiful little score for orchestra, with some folksy touches via guitar, bass and light percussion.
  • Lost in Space 3 (Christopher Lennertz): Lennertz delivers a third season of excellent music.
  • A Perfect Planet (Ilan Eshkeri): solemn score for orchestra, choir and some electronics, with a strong reliance on strings. Spends a lot of time in the higher registers, which gives it an ethereal feel, but can feel a little overbearing. A stoic theme for strings and choir recurs throughout the score.
  • Qinghai: Our National Park (Chad Cannon): Cannon seems a bit of specialist in the East-meets-West style, and he delivers another beautiful work here. It’s a lively and charming score for a modest orchestra, with some beautiful writing; and it all sounds perhaps more ‘Western’ than one might expect. 
  • Schmigadoon! (Christopher Willis): Charming, nostalgia-inducing score for old-fashioned sounding orchestra. Only very short cues, but cleverly written and orchestrated to make it sound like it really belongs in that golden age of Hollywood musicals.  
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks (Chris Westlake): Hugely entertaining score, with a fair few Silvestri-isms, whether deliberate or accidental. 
  • Solos (Martin Phipps, Patrick Jonsson): Atmospheric and hypnotic score with fascinating sound design.
  • The Starling (Benjamin Wallfisch): Wallfisch back in romantic mode; delicious!
  • To What Remains (Joseph Trapanese): Beautifully melancholic score that I continue to return to regularly.

A FEW MORE PLEASANT LISTENS:

Cinderella (Mychael Danna) * Foundation (Bear McCreary) * Free Guy (Theodore Shapiro) * Gagarine (Evgueni & Sasha Galparine) * Invasion (S1) (Max Richter) * Last Night in Soho (Steven Price) * The Nevers (Mark Isham) * No Time to Die (Hans Zimmer) * Raya and the Last Dragon (James Newton Howard) * Ron’s Gone Wrong (Henry Jackman) * Stillwater (Mychael Danna) * To Olivia (Debbie Wiseman) * Welcome to Earth (Daniel Pemberton) * What If… (Laura Karpman)

SYNCHROTONES’ FAVOURITE ARCHIVAL (RE-)RELEASES OF 2021:

ALWAYS (John Williams) (La-La Land) * BABE: THE DELUXE EDITION (Nigel Westlake) (Varese Sarabande) * THE EIGER SANCTION (John Williams) (Intrada) * DANTE’S PEAK: THE DELUXE EDITION (John Frizzell) (Varese Sarabande) * GHOSTBUSTERS II (Randy Edelman) (Sony) * GLORY (James Horner) (La-La Land) * THE HITCHER (Mark Isham) (Silva) * LEGEND (Jerry Goldsmith) (Music Box) * LIONHEART: THE DELUXE EDITION (Jerry Goldsmith) (Varese Sarabande) * LOVE ACTUALLY (Craig Armstrong) (La-La Land) * THE MATRIX: THE COMPLETE SCORE (Don Davis) (Varese Sarabande) * STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (James Horner) (La-La Land) * STRIPES (Elmer Bernstein) (La-La Land) * X-MEN (Michael Kamen) (La-La Land)

You can also have a read of Synchrotones’ Favourites of 2021 (Part 1).

Once more… thank you to all the composers, musicians and labels for bringing us some lovely music throughout 2021. I wish you all a creative, fruitful and successful 2022!


Article by Pete Simons (c) 2022 Synchrotones

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