Best Original Soundtracks of 2019
Before I begin this next entry into my Best of 2019, I have to say, I really regret that I do cannot put more soundtracks on this list. Unfortunately I have not yet received the CD for the Uncut Gems soundtrack in the mail (it’s four weeks late!), and with many artists now releasing soundtracks only on vinyl (e.g. Clark for Daniel Isn’t Real and Trent Reznor for the 471 soundtracks he released this year), the expense and inconvenience of buying a physical copy has become prohibitive. For these conspicuous absentees I half-apologize, but I really mean this as a slight exhortation to release things on CD for people like me who are interested in having a high-quality, easily portable physical copy of the music we buy. With that said, let us move on to today’s soundtracks.
2. RADWIMPS – 天気の子
In light of the global success of the incredible soundtrack to the equally incredible film 君の名は (better known to English-speaking audiences as Your Name), RADWIMPS have returned to score the director 新海誠 (Shinkai Makoto)’s follow-up film 天気の子 (horribly and embarrassingly translated to Weathering With You) as well. The film disappointed many Japanese audiences because of its slower pace (relative to the adrenaline rush that is the first 20-minutes of 君の名は), and certainly this difference in atmospheric tone is reflected in its soundtrack. Thus, for the lyrical songs, we have fewer Post-Hardcore J-Pop rockers and more mid-tempo Pop-Punk snoozers—okay that’s a joke, but I imagine that someone with a less favorable opinion of and less musical context and interest in RADWIMPS than myself might easily hold such an opinion. I like the methodical storytelling of 天気の子, and I obviously don’t mind the greater attendant focus on ambience and electronic experimentation on this soundtrack. But I will say the songwriting is less crisp, the lyrics are less affecting, the instrumentals are less evocative, and overall it’s just a worse collection of songs. One might observe that even one of my “Choice Tracks” below “K & A 初訪問” derives most of its cheerful playfulness from a melody written to deliberately reference one of the early tracks on the 君の名は soundtrack (“糸守高校”), and while that’s fun and good, I feel as though placing such a song so early in the movie answers the implicit call to write a new and better original soundtrack with a shrug of abstention. This is kind of microcosmic of the problem I have with the soundtrack as a whole: it plays it so safe to try to repeat past success and takes so few experimental risks that even in (and perhaps also because of) its minor differences it fails to escape the shadow of 君の名は, and the same concomitantly holds true of the film.
Choice Tracks: “K & A 初訪問,” “御宅訪問,” “祝祭 (Movie edit),” “気象神社,” “首都危機,” “グランドエスケープ (Movie edit),” “大丈夫 (Movie edit)”
You can read more about the soundtrack and how to purchase it on RADWIMPS’ website.
1. Clark – Kiri Variations
As with Clark’s previous soundtrack and ballet work, wherein he uses the subject of the piece for which he is composing only as a thematic guide in his process, so with Kiri Variations, which feels much more like an exciting new Clark album than a complement to anything else. And indeed some of the songs that string this work together did not even appear in the television show Kiri, and many are edited for the sake of musical continuity and thematic unity. This is not an unusual practice these days, but for me it is certainly still a satisfying one. As for the music itself, it feels as though Clark is taking the increased acoustic elements he first introduced back on Iradelphic in a more minimal, visceral, and occasionally violent direction. That is not to say that this work is void of synthesizers and beats; oh no, the moments they enter may be the most frightening and lurid. So to me this soundtrack proves that Clark has matured into an artist who can handle varied instrumentation with a level hand to produce a richer, more expressive sound when necessary, and that’s about all I could want from his or anyone’s soundtrack work.
Choice Tracks: “Forebode Pluck,” “Bench,” “Forebode Knocker,” “Primary Pluck,” “Flask / Abyss,” “Cannibal Homecoming,” “Banished Hymnal,”
By Isak McCune