The Mandalorian: Chapter 4 – music by Ludwig Goransson

The fourth chapter of The Mandalorian opens in a positively pastoral musical setting, with acoustic guitars setting a less menacing and less frenetic pace than the beginning of any episode of the show so far with the “Ponds Of Sorgan” track – so it can’t last, right? Of course not – within that same track, the agrarian village we’ve seen is attacked, and it’s kind of like the best cold open that a TV western could give you: before we even catch up with our hero(es), we are already acquainted with the situation that requires their intervention.

After Mando’s ship arrives, the peaceful sound returns (“Can I Feed Him?”) as he and the Child settle in with their new hosts. The action and tension return with “Training The Plebs”, and then chaos sets in with the inevitable “Camp Attack” and “Spirit Of The Woods”, the latter of which sees the raiders’ AT-ST come out of hiding and hesitate before plummeting into the trap set by Mando and Cara Dune.

A more relaxing pace returns in “Stay”, as the Mandalorian is tempted with the opportunity to stay on the planet, secluded and off the radar…until a burst of musical tension heralds the appearance of another bounty hunter trying to track down the Child; 4 out of 4it turns out this chance to find some peace was only a limited time offer.

A nice change of pace musically, Chapter Four is a reminder of the vast breadth of musical styles that Ludwig Goransson brought to bear on something that a less talented composer would’ve just tried to make sound like cut-rate John Williams; instead, as is always the case with this series, he carves out his own path and really sets the stage for the story in the process.

Order this CD

  1. The Ponds Of Sorgan (3:09)
  2. Off The Grid (1:47)
  3. Can I Feed Him? (3:34)
  4. Training The Plebs (3:10)
  5. Camp Attack (2:22)
  6. Spirit Of The Woods (5:10)
  7. Stay (2:21)
  8. Mando Says Goodbye (1:20)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: November 29, 2019
Total running time: 22:53

The Mandalorian: Chapter 3 – music by Ludwig Goransson

The third chapter of The Mandalorian really sets up the core conflict of the entire show: having retrieved “the asset”, Mando delivers it as promised…and then, feeling remorse because he too was once a child rescued from near-certain death, he ends his career as a bounty hunter by doubling back to rescue his quarry – in short, by caring.

Since the story deals with a decision that is, at its most basic, an emotional one, the music is surprisingly clinical for this episode, leaning heavily on electronic minimalism. That in itself is not entirely surprising; since this is a conflict playing out in the Star Wars universe, there are going to be blasters and explosions involved, and anything too musically involved would wind up getting severely dialed down in the final sound mix.

That said, the music does have its moments. The somewhat dissonant theme for the Mandalorians as a whole, the musical signature of the Mandalorian way of life, makes itself known as Mando’s new suit of armor is being forged, and to a lesser extent as the Armourer has to smooth over a disagreement among her fellow Mandalorians on the subject of accepting work from a leftover remnant of the Empire. But after a tender statement of the Child’s theme, the “Mandalorian Way” motif finally gets a bold, triumphant, major-key statement as the entire Mandalorian covert makes itself known, turning Mando’s hopeless attempt to reach his ship with the Child into an even fight. It’s a fight that’ll have serious consequences later in the season, but here it’s good news, and it’s got a hell of a scene to accompany, with Mandalorians dropping into a fierce firefight the likes of which had only previously been achieved in animation (or by nine-year-old kids playing with a 12-inch Boba Fett figure and wondering 4 out of 4what the jet pack accessory was all about – or, um, so I’ve heard). The more celebratory tone continues into the episode-closing “I Need One Of Those” cue.

I try not to recommend an entire soundtrack on the basis of a single track, but in The Mandalorian, it was such a rarity to hear something in major keys that this one really stands out. The series and its composer really succeeded in redefining the music vocabulary of Star Wars. In short, you need one of these.

Order this CD

  1. A New Day (5:30)
  2. Mandalore Way (3:21)
  3. Signet Forging (2:02)
  4. Second Thoughts (4:19)
  5. Whistling Bird (2:22)
  6. Mando Rescue (2:14)
  7. I Need On Of Those (1:34)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: November 22, 2019
Total running time: 21:22

The Mandalorian: Chapter 2 – music by Ludwig Goransson

If there was an episode of The Mandalorian in which Ludwig Goransson could shine brightly, Chapter 2 was definitely it – there’s a lengthy stretch of the episode where not a word of English is spoken, and the story is punctuated by grunts, groans, and Jawa-speak. It’s not until Mando returns to Kuill’s settlement to ask for help that anyone in this episode talks. Everything during that time is conveyed by body language, visual effects…and the music.

That’s part of what makes “Jawa Attack” such an unashamedly big piece of music. Aside from sound effects, the show’s main character grunting as he tries to muscle his way through his opposition, and the Jawas doing what Jawas always do in Star Wars mythology – namely, stripping ships and vehicles and leaving them on blocks – there’s nothing in the music’s way. Though not as action-packaged, “Trahsed Crest” is also a musical moment that gets to happen with minimal interruption. “To The Jawas” is an in-your-face travelogue that takes the Manadlorian from Kuill’s settlement to the Jawas’ sandcrawler, with echoes of “Jawas Attack” thrown in as a motif. The Jawa motif returns in full force at the beginning of “The Egg”, which then gradually becomes more moody and electronic as Mando (and the tiny child who is now, almost inexplicably, tagging along on one of Mando’s most dangerous encounters).

“The Mudhorn” is largely electronic, giving the beast a truly otherworldly yet primal rhythm, an element that is brought up short when the child brings the Mudhorn to a standstill with the Force, culminating in a much more full-bodied version of the theme for the child hear at the end of the show’s first episode. “Celebration” brings the Jawa motif back in a major key, as we discover that they sent the Mandalorian into a life-threatening situation to fetch them a snack. I mean, really, it’s like he got them a bag of real Cheetos instead of the store brand bag that doesn’t quite taste the same. Remind me never to go 4 out of 4grocery shopping for Jawas.

This episode may well be the strongest, musically, until the closing two episodes of the season, giving Goransson a chance to go nuts and really lay out the show’s musical manifesto with a minimum of spoken dialogue to get in the way. This was where we really found out that this show’s musical voice was an amazing character in its own right.

Order this CD

  1. Walking On Mud (1:38)
  2. Jawas Attack (3:46)
  3. Trashed Crest (2:18)
  4. To The Jawas (1:35)
  5. The Egg (2:54)
  6. The Mudhorn (3:00)
  7. Celebration (3:31)
  8. The Next Journey (2:35)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: November 15, 2019
Total running time: 21:17

The Mandalorian: Chapter 1 – music by Ludwig Goransson

Of all of the elements that have been pored over exhaustively where The Mandalorian is concerned, I’m not sure the music is getting its due. There was an entire episode of Disney Plus’ streaming documentary series Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian devoted to it, making it clear that showrunner Jon Favreau thought that the music was a big deal.

The most obvious antecedent to The Mandalorian’s music would seem, on the surface, to be the two movies subtitled “A Star Wars Story”, which used elements of John Williams’ music as a flavoring, and his style as a template. Composers Michael Giacchino (Rogue One) and John Powell (Solo) struck out in their own Williams-inspired directions. but it still basically sounded like Star Wars stylistically…but that’s not what Ludwig Goransson (who made a fantastic impact with his score to Marvel’s Black Panther) is doing here.

The Mandalorian takes a very bold step beyond the anthology movies’ stylistic parameters. Not only is the show’s music (at least in the first season) free of even so much as a single reference to Williams’ body of work, but it stylistically breaks free of the 19th century romantic musical lexicon that has defined Star Wars until now. Sure, there’s an orchestra (and, given how much money Disney threw at every aspect of The Mandalorian, a decent-sized one), but there are electronic elements unlike anything that has graced filmed Star Wars before. The strongest resemblance I can think of to any prior entry in the franchise’s musical canon would be the computer game Star Wars: Force Commander, which chopped up and sampled Williams’ music before throwing it into a kind of techno-metal stew.

The Mandalorian is unapologetic about leaning hard on otherworldly eletronic elements if the scene calls for it, sometimes in combination with purely acoustic instruments, but never in a way that seems out of place; it enhances some of the colder aspects of the story, such as Mando’s ruthless nature, and often coincides with story situations that are down to pure survival, such as trying to get a blurrg to stop munching on you (as blurrgs are wont to do), or IG-11’s unsubtle approach to the encampment where his bounty is being hidden away, and the resulting high-octane response.

There’s a second flavor at work here, mostly acoustic, that seems to sit more comfortably in a Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone-inspired western vein – just a reminder that The Mandalorian is really more of a modern western with sci-fi trappings than anything. These cues are really among the most fascinating, unafraid to use a momentary silence to build tension rather than slathering on the entire orchestra.

For the big, epic moments, however, Goransson doesn’t disappoint with a full orchestra at his disposal. These three flavors – let’s call them electronic, western, and orchestral for lack of a better set of labels – often occur withing the same cue. “Bounty Droid” starts electronic, but ends with a massive orchestral flourish as Mando commandeers the heavy artillery that, just moments ago, was aimed at him. “The Asset” – the scene which reveals the tiny being whose continued existence is the driver for so much of The Mandalorian’s storyline – starts out in a sparse western vein with electric guitar before culminating in an orchestral conclusion that’s just quite simply magic.

4 out of 4Nearly every aspect of the production The Mandalorian is amazing, and again, nothing less was expected considering that Disney was going to throw everything at the first live-action Star Wars series in an attempt to change course on the franchise after a series of movies that have stirred heated debate among fans (some of whom are, quite honestly, taking the whole thing too damned seriously). The music, either in the show or on its own, is well-judged, perfectly-pitched, epic stuff.

Order this CD

  1. Hey Mando! (2:13)
  2. Face To Face (5:13)
  3. Back For Beskar (2:25)
  4. HammerTime (2:17)
  5. Blurg Attack (1:25)
  6. You Are A Mandalorian (3:55)
  7. Bounty Droid (3:02)
  8. The Asset (1:35)
  9. The Mandalorian (3:18)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: November 12, 2019
Total running time: 25:23

The Martian – music by Harry Gregson-Williams

The MartianFor the sake of clarification and brevity, it’s important to get one thing out of the way: The Martian is the best Mars movie anyone’s ever made, and its soundtrack is the best Mars music that’s even been made.

The movie’s score (and this is an important distinction, as there are both score and “songtrack” albums from The Martian out there) is a triumph of tone. Harry Gregson-Williams knows when to deploy his full orchestral resources and when to pare things back to a sparer sound fitting Mark Watney’s plight. But here’s where The Martian differs from, say, the overriding bleakness of the later TV miniseries Mars: Gregson-Williams brings percolating synths into play, practically providing a soundtrack for the synapses firing in Watney’s head as he vows to “science the shit out of this” and then proceeds to do precisely that. At times playful, at times dense and technical-sounding, these sequences are the sound of hope and resourcefulness in a movie that many are praising for – somewhat unusually for Hollywood – getting a great deal of the science right.

That’s the difference, both musically and thematically, between The Martian and Mars.

The dramatic stakes are upper orchestrally where appropriate, whether it’s the Ares IV’s initial desperate blastoff to the safety of Mars orbit, or the crew’s even more desperate attempts to recover their crewmate against staggering odds. Where the synth sequences are lighter and energetic, these scenes are heavy on percussion and rumbling bass lines, because Serious Stuff is happening.

It’s easy to forget that there was a great score for this movie when it seems like the studio was so eager to fashion a tie-in album of existing ’70s songs from the movie’s plot device of Commander Lewis’ behind-the-times playlist, but the music for the travelogue of Watney abandoning the safety of his habitat and 4 out of 4setting out on a perilous trek to an already-landed ascent vehicle alone is worth the price of admission here. In terms of both music and movie, it’s scenes like that which keep The Martian as my favorite movie of a year that brought back the Star Wars franchise amid considerable hype. Heat up some potatoes and give this a listen.

Order this CD

  1. Mars (2:25)
  2. Emergency Launch (3:09)
  3. Making Water (2:38)
  4. Spotting Movement (1:49)
  5. Science the S*** Out of This (2:16)
  6. Messages from Hermes (3:31)
  7. Sprouting Potatoes (1:39)
  8. Watney’s Alive! (2:46)
  9. Pathfinder (2:33)
  10. Hexadecimals (2:33)
  11. Crossing Mars (3:36)
  12. Reap & Sow (2:21)
  13. Crops Are Dead (3:26)
  14. Work the Problem (1:58)
  15. See You In a Few (5:11)
  16. Build a Bomb (5:06)
  17. I Got Him! (4:45)

Released by: Columbia Records
Release date: September 30, 2015
Total running time: 51:42

Mars – music by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

MarsThe spare, atmospheric sound of National Geographic’s short-run series Mars fits the show’s tone like a glove – the awe and wonder of exploring another world is jettisoned in favor of claustrophobia and worse.

Nick Cave (yes, he of the Bad Seeds) and Warren Ellis can at least claim a coup with the throbbing, foreboding theme song for the show. I’m of the opinion that it’s almost a waste to have Cave score something without singing a few words, and this certainly satisfies that requirement. It may actually be the best thing on the whole album.

The rest of the selections from the Mars score aren’t musically lacking; everything’s nicely produced. But with the show’s dense sound design, almost constant narration or dialogue or documentary sound, and its pace, this is the kind of whole-note synth-pad scoring that has started to seem less in vogue in the 21st century. It can be a bit of a somnolent listen.

And yet you can’t fault the composers for that – they’re responding perfectly to the show’s perhaps-too-bleak tone, which was really my only complaint with the show as a whole. It was all beautifully photographed, the set design and the spacesuits and other hardware were very convincing, and the actors delivered the goods, interspering the fictional story with relevant present-day documentary segments. If you want the music to 3 out of 4reflect something other than the oppressive bleakness portrayed on screen, maybe…put something a little more noble and hopeful and wondrous on screen?

A good listen, but perhaps not all in one sitting. The Mars score is probably just a little too tied into the visuals of the series to be purely a listening experience.

Order this CD

  1. Mars Theme (1:42)
  2. Mars (4:00)
  3. Daedalus (3:00)
  4. Earth (2:11)
  5. Science (2:15)
  6. Voyage (4:52)
  7. Space X (2:42)
  8. Space Station (4:16)
  9. Symphony of the Dead (9:38)
  10. Planetarium (2:43)
  11. Aftermath (4:42)
  12. Towards Daedalus (3:00)
  13. Life on Mars (3:52)

Released by: Milan Records
Release date: December 30, 2016
Total running time: 49:08

Meteor – music by Laurence Rosenthal

MeteorI have a long personal history with this soundtrack – namely, up until Intrada re-re-re-issued it earlier in 2014, I had managed miss every opportunity to obtain it. When the soundtrack was originally issued on LP at the time this all-star TV disaster flick was shown in 1979, I was living in the wrong country (it only came out in Japan). When La-La Land Records gave the Meteor soundtrack its first domestic pressing in 2008, I didn’t have the funds free to partake of it until it was too late (it was a limited edition of 1200 copies). Thankfully, Intrada seems to have turned “reissuing stuff that La-La Land previously released in very limited quantities” into its own lucrative sideline, and so here I am, 35 years after Meteor premiered, holding the soundtrack.

The appeal here is that Meteor is, along with The Black Hole (also released on CD by Intrada), one of the most prominent appearances of the Blaster Beam prior to Star Trek: The Motion Picture all but appropriating the strange-sounding electric instrument for Star Trek purposes only. Laurence Rosenthal (of Clash Of The Titans and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles fame) uses the Beam sparingly as a sonic signature for the meteor as it approaches Earth (it’s really more of an asteroid, but there are probably valid reasons they didn’t call the movie Asteroid instead). The most interesting examples of the beam occur in “Meteor”, “Tatiana” and particularly “The Assault”, which has the Beam slurring notes around like crazy – it’s a fascinating and atypical sound for an instrument that, it must be said, has limited applications.

Rosenthal’s score for one of the last gasps of the Great American Disaster Movie is lush, far more of a big-screen sound than might be expected for television, except that this was “event television” featuring big-name stars like Natalie Wood, Henry Fonds, and a thankfully fully-dressed, post-Zardoz Sean Connery. This was a Big Deal for mere TV, and Rosenthal’s score reflects that. In fact, the liner notes point out that John Williams had originally been offered the job, but as he was so busy with his big screen music assignments, he personally steered the movie’s producers toward Rosenthal.

3 out of 4The only thing that even remotely has a whiff of cheese to it is the fleeting appearance of numerous “spacey” synth effects early on, which are easy to write off as novelty effects thanks to the flavor of the era. Other than that one element that dates the score, Meteor makes for a dandy soundtrack that sounds like it should’ve been on the big screen – and best of all, more than 1,200 copies are in existence now. (If you’re worried about missing out on a meatier Meteor, fear not – the track list is sequenced a bit differently from La-La Land’s release, but the material is the same between the two albums.)

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (4:26)
  2. Challenger Two (2:47)
  3. The Meteor (2:11)
  4. The Russians Arrive (0:57)
  5. Siberia (2:02)
  6. 30,000 M.P.H. (0:54)
  7. Dubov’s Rage (0:58)
  8. Prepare For Aligning Peter The Great (0:50)
  9. Realigning Peter The Great (3:51)
  10. Alpine Innocence (0:59)
  11. Tatiana (2:00)
  12. Countdown (2:34)
  13. Manhattan Splinter (2:27)
  14. Malfunction (2:57)
  15. The Assault (3:22)
  16. Meteor Band March and End Credits (7:03)

Released by: Intrada
Release date: 2014
Total running time: 40:59