TV

Soundtrack review: Chicago Fire season 1 (Atli Orvarsson – 2015)

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„Chicago fire” is a TV show about the lives and tribulations of firefighters and paramedics. It’s probably the kind of show I could easily get attached to since I’ve been known to binge watch similar shows about doctors, cops or lawyers. What sets this show apart from others though is that it gets regular score releases. Atli Orvarsson wrote the music and I’ve been familiar with is work on various Hans Zimmer projects. He’s part of the Zimmer camp. When I think firefighters and Hans Zimmer I immediately think Backdraft. Of course the connections here are very loose but still it gives me a start.

The “Chicago Fire suite” which I guess serves as the main theme is mostly Celtic in influence and gives me a very good feeling. It’s followed by “After the fire” which is vintage Remote Control Productions goodness because the female background voice and the light epic sound of it are very familiar to me. It immediately resonates with me and I can imagine a scene soaked with emotions. I can already see myself caring for the characters and suffering with them. The vocal insert returns in “Darden’s memory” and I am beginning to wonder just how much death is in this show. These themes sound elegiac and seem to focus on some forever gone past.

As I listen to this score it becomes clear to me that I will be more attached to the emotional cues. The action pieces are alright but when I hear a piece like “Giving thanks” I feel warm and fuzzy inside. I get the same feeling I do when I listen to Thomas Newman’s best dreamy cues…I recognize that soulful piano and it recognizes me. The way this cue develops I am expecting it to end in a couple of minutes but Atli Orvarsson keeps it going and adds layer after layer of emotion through instruments and I have time to form a fantasy and explore what the music opens up for me while this beautiful cue, in its turn, has time to find a permanent place to camp inside me.

The mood of “Chicago Fire season 1” is mostly reflective. I mentioned Thomas Newman because “Helluva fighter” or “Peter’s message” sends me to the hot summer afternoons of “Shawshank redemption”. This is the sound and the thing is, I could listen to cues like these for hours. They have an eerie ambient sound that I can never get enough of. The music of a TV show is a shadow for the on screen images but in this case after a few minutes the shadow slowly pulls away from the source image and flies away on its own. The first half of the score made me forget about the show it serves and made me embrace it as a wonderful standalone listening experience.

The second half of the score brings the action and it’s the usual electronic fast paced affair. I am probably more dismissive of this part because it woke me up from the sweet dream I was having while listening to the ambient cues. The action pieces sound real and I wanted to get back to the fantasy. The composer indulges my wish with “A hell of a ride” and “Hallie’s gone” and the music established its identity. It will be hard to me now to start watching the show because the music is separated for me and I’ve created my own paths for it. Dreamy, reflective and beautiful paths…

“Chicago Fire season 1” sounded  more like a movie score than the one for a TV show. TV show scores usually have shorter and more to the point cues and don’t always develop such a precise sound. Atli Orvarsson’s score expresses a narrative thread and I am expecting a conclusion, an epilogue. And yet once it’s over I know I will listen to the sequel. I hope the music for season 2 is just as brilliant as this one. I wasn’t expecting to listen to an ambient score but I am extremely happy that the composer went down this road.

Cue rating: 87 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 30 / 48

Album excellence: 62%

Highlights:

After The Fire

Giving Thanks

Darden’s Memory

Helluva Firefighter

Peter’s Message

A Hell Of A Ride

Hallie Is Gone

Fireman Salute

Cruz’ Sins

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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