Latest reviews of new albums:
The Affair
  • Composed by Marcelo Zarvos
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2015 / 57m

The Affair is an excellent tv series which follows the impact of a relationship between a novelist (Dominic West) and a waitress (Ruth Wilson) which develops while he is away for the summer with his family seeking inspiration for his new novel.  Its unique selling point is that it tells the same tale from multiple perspectives (just the two in the first season, but their respective ex-spouses come into it in the second) bringing unreliable narration into play.  The show’s most notable musical feature is its opening title song “Container” by Fiona Apple, but presumably for annoying contractual reasons it doesn’t appear on the soundtrack album, which is devoted exclusively to the score by Brazilian composer Marcelo Zarvos (he has scored every episode so far) and covers both of the first two seasons.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve watched every episode of the show and until this album was announced I hadn’t even realised it had any original score, so subtly is it interweaved into the narrative, and listening to the album certainly confirms that it is extremely low-key.

However, it does make for a very relaxing, chilled-out hour of listening.  There’s a lot of piano, a lot of chimes, subtle electronics, a handful of (possibly sampled) strings and percussion.  The ensemble inevitably invites comparison with Thomas Newman and there are echoes of some of his most introspective music, but Zarvos is no stranger to this sort of thing either and the music does cast a certain spell.  It has a haunted quality, above all a profound sadness, melodies coming and going like whispers, often gently going up and down like the lapping tide.  It’s actually ingeniously done and very appropriate for the show, but it’s fair to say it’s not the cheeriest hour of music and would I imagine make a nicer companion to writing or studying than it does a piece to sit and listen to for its own sake.  It is rather monochromatic and the hour it lasts does rather seem to go on forever, so however effective it may be in context at subtly emphasising feelings it doesn’t really do much as an album, at least not for me, which is no slight against Zarvos since his primary purpose was achieved.

Rating: ** | |

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  1. J (Reply) on Monday 4 January, 2016 at 01:25

    While the “TV Golden Age” has lessened the divide between film and TV in terms of both quality and prestige, there’s still a huge gap when it comes to music. That’s not to say that there isn’t some good scores being written for TV, but for the most part it’s a bunch of somewhat phoned-in music being done by people juggling 3-5 concurrent shows, resulting in two major styles of TV scoring: ‘pad-faff’ and ‘piano-faff’.

    Giacchino raised the bar with Lost (and for six solid seasons, which is incredible) but I don’t know that anyone has really met that standard since he moved on to the movie world. Djawadi’s Game of Thrones score is downright awful (minus the main title). Similarly, Bear McCreary is doing great main titles, but then standard-level scoring within the shows. Max Richter’s main theme for the Leftovers is fantastic, though it was from an earlier album of his and the original music written for the series is a lot less captivating. Granted it’s tough to keep to a high standard when there’s 10 or 13 hours of material rather than 2, but I just can’t help but feel like “television music” is still a very tangible thing.

    In any case, it’s cool to see you review some TV stuff, and it would be nice to hear your take on more television scores.

  2. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Monday 4 January, 2016 at 11:51

    I think Bear McCreary is currently setting the bar for TV music – yeah, his three-hour albums usually don’t sustain their length, but the standard is consistently pretty high. Murray Gold’s work for Doctor Who is frequently fantastic, albeit moreso during the Russell T. Davies era than the current Steven Moffat tenure. Texas Rising from this year is wonderful (for a miniseries though…I still can’t figure out of those are movies or shows). Other than that and Lost, yeah, I struggle to think of too many TV scores of the past decade that rise above “functional” for me – even last year’s much-praised Leftovers, Fargo, The Good Wife, Penny Dreadful etc. came and went for me without much sticking. Guys like Blake Neely (although his Flash score is all right), Sean Callery and, yeah, Marcelo Zarvos seem to have made careers out of providing hours and hours of utterly nondescript music for television.

    Of the three big mediums I think TV comes in a very distant third behind film and video games at the moment.

  3. Visakh (Reply) on Tuesday 5 January, 2016 at 07:21

    It’s sad that the golden age of TV hasn’t brought us a golden age in TV OST also. But, still there are some ‘pretty’ good ones. To name a few…..Les Revenants by Mogwai, Abel Korzeniowski’s Penny Dreadful, Broadchurch (Olafur Arnalds), Man in the High Castle by Henry Jackman and Dominic Lewis (I couldn’t find the full album yet)…