Latest reviews of new albums:
The 13 Lords of the Shogun

A Japanese tv historical drama, The 13 Lords of the Shogun ran throughout 2022. With 48 episodes – each lasting 45 minutes – it’s quite the viewing commitment. I’ve absolutely no idea what it’s about or what it’s like – typical of the deep level of research I commit while writing this drivel – other than what Wikipedia informs me, which is that it’s about Hōjō Yoshitoki, who lived from 1163 to 1224 and was the second Hōjō shikken of the Kamakura shogunate and head of the Hōjō clan. So there we are.

I’m not sure the golden age of television is quite in force any more but there’s little doubt that we’re in a golden age of television music – in 2022 in particular there were many delights to be heard. This is another to add to that list – a superb piece of work by the Tokyo-based American composer Evan Call. His epic score hits that wonderful sweet spot that blends eastern sounds and ideas into a western symphonic idiom, and is one of the best things I’ve heard lately.

Evan Call

There have actually been five different albums released – with such a large production Call must have written an extraordinary amount of music – three volumes of music from groups of 16 episodes each, one volume of additional music, and one “best of” album – the latter is the only one I’ve heard. It opens with the brilliant main theme, featuring big orchestra and choir, and scratching all the itches you might want it to – a memorable tune, some big action, Japanese scales – it’s really good. I absolutely love “And So He Became Regent”, which could have been written by Basil Poledouris in his prime.

Not surprisingly, with so much music to select highlights from, there are numerous other themes and ideas presented through the album – far too many for me to mention each one individually. It’s not all great big stuff – though there is plenty that is – I like that there is a real narrative flow to it, which isn’t always the case with highlights albums (somebody’s thought very hard about how to sequence this one). In between a couple of big action cues comes “The Vicissitudes of Fortune”, a reflective and mournful piece which is really quite moving. “For You, Forever” is a beautiful love theme which blends a wordless female vocal into the piano and orchestra – really very nice.

Also on the softer side, at times there is what sounds to me almost like an Irish lilt to proceedings – I’m not sure how that fits into 13th century Japan but it certainly works on the album. Really though, it’s the big stuff that will form the basis of the music’s appeal – sometimes it’s based on that grandiose main theme but often it isn’t. There are numerous melodic “epic” pieces – not just straight action material, grand drama too – which are all tremendously satisfying.

I love virtually every track on the 76-minute album (the exception being the four very odd “travel journal” pieces at the end which don’t seem to belong with the rest of the music). It’s my first exposure to Evan Call but certainly won’t be my last. It’s the sort of large-scale scoring which combines emotion with drama that used to be a staple of Hollywood film music (indeed, used to be the point of Hollywood film music before everyone seemed to forget what film music was actually for); these days it’s more often heard in video game music, but as I said at the top, television’s been rapidly catching up. For people like me who fell in love with film music in the 1980s or first half of the 90s – fill your boots with this one. It’s really excellent.

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  1. Tom (Reply) on Saturday 25 February, 2023 at 17:49

    Love this score!!! As great as the ‘The Best’ album is, I do feel there some great cues missing that is on the 3 Volumes.
    But yeah, this is amazing stuff!!

  2. Jose (Reply) on Sunday 26 February, 2023 at 20:38

    Evan Call’s music is quite good! Check his scores for the anime series and movie “Violet Evergarden” if you want to hear some exquisite Hollywood-esque romantic music!!!!

  3. dr.doom (Reply) on Wednesday 1 March, 2023 at 07:53

    There is a new score by him on spotify.Land of Water,Land of Gold is an anime movie and as impressive as 13 Shoguns.Highly recommended!

  4. Gabo (Reply) on Monday 22 May, 2023 at 06:01

    I discovered Call in mid-2018 when the anime series Violet Evergarden was released, a completely formidable soundtrack, heir to the Bronze Age, with many reminiscences of Horner’s symphonic style but above all Barry’s of the great epic scores of late 80s. then in the Violet Evergarden movie the music reaches romantic epitomes that many in Hollywood seem to have forgotten.

    Although I also recommend his work for the movie Josee, the Tiger and the Fish, a smaller work but with many remarkable symphonic moments.