Sunday, July 27, 2014

More Music from Westeros

It's been a month or two now since the recent season of Game of Thrones concluded, which means it's time for the release of the soundtrack. As three times prior, composer Ramin Djawadi has compiled about an hour of highlights from these last 10 episodes and served them up on an album. And just as the show tinkers with its conventions from year to year, the music has changed with it.

Listening to the album tracks in isolation, I was quickly struck by something I hadn't noticed when the music was paired with the visuals. Djawadi's sound palette has drifted a bit back to what it was when he was scoring the TV series Prison Break. That series had a signature way of building suspense, a blend of rhythmic strings in the low register with the orchestral version of a four-on-the-floor rock beat. (Albeit, sometimes not strictly in a 4/4 time signature.) That technique reigns here in tracks like "Oathkeeper" and "He Is Lost."

This season (or at least, the music from the season curated here) also relies on Djawadi's established leitmotifs a bit more than past seasons. Phrases from the famous main title pop up at least twice as often here as they have before. Also used often, as a theme for the Lannisters, is the melody he created for "The Rains of Castamere"; it pops up most prominently in the tracks "Two Swords" and "You Are No Son of Mine."

Fittingly, "The Rains of Castamere" itself appears also on the soundtrack, in an entirely different arrangement than the one that previously graced the Season 2 soundtrack album. Personally, I'm not a fan of the bizarre falsetto that performer Sigur Ros uses here, though the strange "leaky squeeze toy" sound effects that haunt the background are effective in unsettling the listener.

Percussion is a big part of the soundtrack, as in past seasons. There are a few interesting tweaks on expectation, though. In a track entitled "Watchers on the Wall," Djawadi uses rhythms with an oddly tribal quality, where one might expect a militaristic attitude to represent the Night's Watch. Conversely, "Meereen" strikes a martial posture where one might expect a more tribal element to represent the society's different culture.

The best music on the album is used to represent the wildlings. In a pair of tracks, "Thenns" and "Let's Kill Some Crows," Djawadi knocks you over with deep bass horns, thundering war drums, and pulsing low strings. The theme stands with some of the composer's best music for the series.

But overall, the collection loses steam in the middle. The "spine" of the album is filled with too many low energy tracks. And unfortunately, they aren't just restrained in the way that a more dramatic scene often requires -- they're simply amorphous, atmospheric music. Because of this, this probably isn't the album for you if you aren't already collecting music from the show. Pick up one of the previous seasons' soundtracks if you're looking for the main title and other highlights. This season 4 collection, I'd give a B- overall.

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