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Soundtrack review: Manhattan (various artists – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Manhattan (various artists – 2016)


“Manhattan”, sometimes styled MANH(A)TTAN, is a fictional American television drama series based on the project of the same name that produced the first nuclear weapons. While some historical figures are referenced in Manhattan, most characters are fictional, and the show is not intended to maintain historical accuracy. Set against the backdrop of the greatest clandestine race against time in the history of science with the mission to build the world’s first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Flawed scientists and their families attempt to co-exist in a world where secrets and lies infiltrate every aspect of their lives. There’s an unusual composer situation as the first season was scored by one pair (Jonsi and Alex) and the second one by another, better known pair (Jeff Russo and Zoe Keating).

I am attracted to the electronic atmospheric sound I first hear in “Arrival at Los Alamos”. It’s the kind of sound I instantly connect with because it’s reflective and quiet and it helps me think and focus. I am into experimental music so I like the turn this album takes in “Don’t have time for this s***”. We get some flying saucer whispers and some other strange sounds which make for an interesting opening of the score. I get the strange sensation that the composer wants to make us feel as if we were in the lab where they were actually building the atom bomb. The music sets an uncomfortable atmosphere which tells me to be quiet and not move too much.

Once that is settled the music is starting to defrost starting with “There’s something I need to tell you”. Even if I haven’t found any true highlights or memorable cues yet I am enjoying the music. It’s clearly one of those scores that will shine in context. The music of the first season is all about the strange atmosphere and it works. It intrigues me and makes me want to watch the show.

The music of the second season starts a bit more alert but keeps the general sound of the show. The music doesn’t sound as contained as before. I think I preferred the experimental sound of the first season because it kept me guessing. The second part of the album is regular electronic thriller material which I’m sure serves the TV show quite well in context. As a standalone listen though it lacked something for me. I will pay attention to the music when I will watch the show.

Overall “Manhattan” isn’t the type of score I will return to. I need to hear it in context to appreciate it better.

Cue rating: 77 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 2 / 48

Album excellence: 5%


Lost time is never found again


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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