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Broadchurch (Ólafur Arnalds)

January 8, 2015

Cover_broadchurch2BROADCHURCH

Ólafur Arnalds, 2015, Mercury Records
13 tracks, 52:44

One of Britain’s finest television shows is back with its second season. The whodunnit “Broadchurch” was a massive hit back in 2013; and Ólafur Arnalds’ score won a Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Award for best Television score. Also a BAFTA. Can this album follow suit?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Back in 2013, “Broadchurch” was an 8-part TV drama situated around the murder of an 8-year old boy in a sleepy sea-side town, written by Chris Chibnall who previously contributed to popular shows like “Dr Who”, “Torchwood”, and “Life on Mars”. Whilst the ‘who dunnit’ element of the show kept audiences guessing (and indeed: betting) for two months, the show was really about the impact the murder had on the various characters that occupy Broadchurch. Airing throughout March and April 2013 the show attracted around 9 million viewers and was lauded with critical and popular acclaim. It’s calculatingly slow pace being likened to popular shows such as “The Killing”. The killer was revealed early on in the last episode, to very few people’s surprise, but seeing as this was never the key component to the show the episode focused mainly on the aftermath to the reveal, which included powerhouse performances by its key cast members, most notably Olivia Colman and David Tennant.

Now, with much buzz, “Broadchurch” has returned to Britain’s ITV. Nothing was known about the new storyline until the first episode aired on January 5th 2015. I will avoid spoilers. The opening episode provided ample shock and confusion; and it had audiences and critics jumping up and down for joy.

What does it sound like?

I could quite simply refer you back to my review of the “Broadchurch” EP, in which I wrote:

The score plays as big a part as the actors or the locations in “Broadchurch”. Arnalds has a distinct sound centered around piano, strings, cello, some distorted electronics and some processed percussion. He manages to create a sound-world that evokes feelings of immense loss, desperation, longing and loneliness; but also love.

The irrefutable highlight is “Beth’s Theme”, for the mother of the murdered child. It starts with a solo piano playing something that isn’t really much more than four chords with last one lining up to the first, so it can just carry on endlessly. Very carefully a cello and strings are introduced (at 1:14), playing a theme of descending notes in counterpoint to the piano. The piece continues to grow in intensity, whilst still circling around the same set of chords (though they do shift a little). It reaches its climax around the 4-minute mark, after which the track returns (or rather: continues) with the solo piano, ever so gently played as if fingers are barely touching the keys. The instrumentation is so ‘little’, yet the emotional impact is enormous. This is Heartfelt; with a capital H.

The end title song “So Close” written by Arnalds and featuring the husky voice of Arnor Dan is another highlight. It continues in the same style as the score, though includes more synth and drum loops which are integrated exquisitely.

“Main Theme”, “Suspects”, and “Broken” are four fabulous tracks drenched in melancholy, anxiety and hope. “Suspects” is the only track on this EP that conveys any sense of urgency through the use of percussion. Incidentally, during the second half of that track (around 1:30), the see-sawing piano is introduced; percussion intensifies and strings play a theme of ascending notes that almost seems to be an opposite of “Beth’s Theme”. Many may struggle to find a theme in the “Main Theme”, which for the most part consists of eerie John Carpenter-like synth pads, undulating piano and violin (mimicking the piano at half pace). A short theme of three ascending notes appears around the 2:06 mark. The show contains plenty more excellent music that unfortunately did not make it on to this brief release.

The newly added tracks include the 7-minute “The Journey”. It starts off with brooding synth pads, mirroring those heard in the “Main Theme”. It’s an ominous sound, almost reminding me of John Carpenter’s “The Fog” in both its simplicity and effectiveness. Percussion is added before a simple (see-sawing) string motif takes centre stage. More percussion is added, as well as a synth arpeggio. It’s starting to sound rather like Kiasmos, the electronic band Arnalds has formed with Janus Rasmussen. A band, by the way, that is worth checking out if you like the idea of Arnalds melancholy tunes being combined with Acid-like beats and bass.

“What Did They Ask For” offers a brooding, sort-of deconstructed variation on the “Main Theme”, whilst the menacing “She’s Your Mother” uses elements from “So Close”, season 1’s end title song. “Excavating the Past” is a somewhat intangible cue, in that it’s quite tricky to follow its rhythm and melodic content. I’m not sure wether it’s got a fixed meter, or whether it’s meant to have this improvised quality to it. There isn’t a real tangible melody as such, but it does seem to offer fragments of Danny’s / Beth’s theme. That said, this cue isn’t about melodic development. It’s about atmosphere; and throughout its 5 minutes the tension just keeps on building (through arpeggios, pads, dense harmonies and percussion). Wait until you see the scene it accompanies!

It’s hard to pinpoint which scene “The Meeting” accompanies. It actually sounds like it’s an album edit, combining at least three separate cues. It’s all very tense, but then… “Broadchurch” is full of uncomfortable meetings. Around the 3.30 mark a very typical “Broadchurch” sound emerges. Low-register wavering drones combined with a high-pitched, husky snyth pad. It is quite interesting to see and hear that Arnalds has definitely given “Broadchurch” a unique and recognisable voice.

“I’m Not The Guilty One” is a mesmerising little cue. No melodies here, though occasionally I seem to pick up on two notes that resemble Danny’s and Beth’s theme. Really though, it’s an exercise in atmosphere. The sound is constantly moving, shifting between low and high tones, between smooth strings and processed sounds. It’s very immersive. It makes way for “So Far”, the end title song for season 2. Once again the husky vocals come courtesy of Arnor Dan, who has graced so many of Arnalds tracks over the years. (Be sure to check out Arnalds’ album “For Now I Am Winter” for a kindred listening experience.) Sombre piano chords are accompanied by the see-sawing viola motif heard earlier in “The Journey”. Gradually, synths and percussion build, providing ‘drive’ and a sense of epicness, but it never goes over the top.

Lastly, though presented early on the album, there is “Danny”, the beautiful counter-part to “Beth’s Theme”. It’s a magnificent theme; I said it in my previous review and I’ll keep saying it until the end of time. Where “Beth’s Theme” was performed on piano and cello, “Danny” sees the piano replaced with bleak synth chords, arguably making this version feel even more lost and hopeless. As the theme fades out, piano makes an appearance and Arnalds offers us the 2-note motif that bookmarks the advert breaks, and which has become synonymous with “Broadchurch”.

Is it any good?

Last time I wrote:

Less is more. That is the key lessons one can learn from this score. With so many scores overindulging in self-importance, it is refreshing to hear something that dares stay down to earth. In all its simplicity and minimalism (at the risk of using both terms incorrectly) this is the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful, haunting and poignant music I have heard in a very, very long time. For all its melancholy, it is ‘pretty’ enough to revisit time and time again. Fans of Arnalds will already know this. Anyone else… I suspect they will soon become familiar with his work.

I have since explored many a work by Arnalds and he’s become one of my favorite composers. His second “Broadchurch” album harbours everything I love about the composer and about the “Broadchurch”-sound specifically. It’s a perfect continuation. Several cues show an aggression not heard before, providing this album with a welcome edge. It is, in and by itself, a magnificent album.

Where it disappoints, though, is in the fact that it reprises 5 cues that have already been released on the 6-track EP, which Synchrotones reviewed back in 2013. That’s 20 minutes we already have and don’t need again. There is still some interesting music from season 1 that’s unreleased and that I would’ve preferred to see on this album (particularly some of the percussive material). I would also have been happier if these five re-used cues were variations, rather than the exact same version. Of course, this is only an issue if you already have the EP. This new album does render the EP obsolete – which makes no business-sense to me. There could easily have been two different albums, complimenting each other, both making money for Arnalds and the record company.

If this is your first introduction to “Broadchurch”, it is wonderful album. If you are already familiar, then you’ll know it’s a wonderful album. Either way, and the programming issue aside, the score is a triumph.

Rating [4/5]

Tracklisting

01. Main Theme (3.05) *
02. Danny (4.23)
03. The Journey (7.05)
04. So Close (feat. Arnor Dan) (3.51) *
05. Suspects (2.46) *
06. What Did They Ask You? (2.40)
07. She’s Your Mother (1.58)
08. Excavating the Past (5.36)
09. The Meeting (5.11)
10. Broken (4.19) *
11. I’m Not The Guilty One (2.03)
12. So Far (feat. Arnor Dan) (4.32)
13. Beth’s Theme (5.15) *

* Reprised from the 6-track EP.

Related

Broadchurch (EP)
Ólafur Arnalds , 2013, Mercury Classics
6 tracks, 20:52

Cover_Broadchurch_Arnalds1. Main Theme (3.01)
2. So Close (feat. Arnor Dan) (3.52)
3. Suspects (2.47)
4. Arcade (1.33)
5. Broken (4.24)
6. Beth’s Theme (5.15)

 

Availability

Initially digitally (from 5th January 2015), but CD and vinyl will follow soon.

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