Soundtrack review: The X-Files – volume 1 (Mark Snow – 2013)
Writing about the music of The X-files, or rather, writing about The X-files is like writing about a family member. This show has been a part of my life for the better part of my teenage years and beyond and the news that it will go on in 2016 was one of the best entertainment news I have ever heard. Can’t wait to hear that iconic main title once again before new adventures start.
When the first episode aired we were all much younger. Mulder was young, Scully was young, I was young and the music of Mark Snow was young. The development and evolution of the music for this legendary TV show has been wonderful to witness for 9 years. The score was an integral part of the viewing experience, almost as important as the actors. The suspense, the emotion, the questions, all the ingredients of what made “The X-Files” work were present in the music and I’ve been feeding of carefully collected bootlegs for years before the wonderful folks at LLL Records decided to release a 4CD edition of the score. The “Volume 1” at the end of the title was even better news. We got Volume 2 after a couple of years, 4 more CDs and I know Volume 3 is in the works.
Writing about the music of “The X-Files” is a wonderful experience to me. Just as I feel butterflies in my stomach when I re watch the pilot episode and see these two characters meet for the first time, revisiting this distinctive sound and hearing it grow, develop and mature is one of the best film music experiences I could have. The beginning is simple and almost metallic in sound. Creepy cues like “Slimed” (who can forget Eugene Tooms slithering through the tightest of spaces) dance with pieces that make me feel like a small child ready to fall asleep, like “Hidden away”. The music can be mysterious and revealing in the same time (“FBI secret vaults”, the end of the Pilot where we see Cigarette Smoking Man hiding away a piece of alien evidence in an endless storage facility). I am almost hypnotized when i hear this score and a few cues in it feels like I never left.
I love the wonderful and effective simplicity of the synth parts. I love the innocent emotion of a cue like “Sweeper” and I immediately see Roland’s face from that episode. I have a lot of “X-Files” memories but still I don’t remember every single episode. Yet Mark Snow’s music slithers through my attic of memories and sheds light over areas I though forgotten. I remember scenes when I hear the music and this can only mean that even 20 years ago I welcomed this dark and melodic sound inside me. There is a recurrent tender piano motif that I have never heard anywhere else. We first meet it in “Ramblin’ Roland” and that I always associate with the end of an X-Files episode; it has a dose of melancholy in it and it always has an open ending, leaving us with an unanswered question and sure that the story isn’t over. I can close my eyes while that motif is playing and almost see the fade out screen and Chris Carter’s name.
Yes, I know the music of “The X-files”. I know it so well that even with so many hours on this release I can still frown because I can’t find the end theme from the second episode, “The truth”, the moment when Mulder has his first clear face to face with “Deep throat”. I hope it will be on the third volume. Or maybe it’s already on the second?
Trying to get some sort of order in my words while reviewing this release is hard. So many thoughts, sensations, memories and desires clash in my head and come out like puzzle pieces. The joy of hearing the music meets the wave of memories from watching the episodes and the result could be interpreted as rambling. This is a fan boy’s review and it should be treated accordingly.
There are few scores as reflective as this one. The music is never loud for too long. There are action moments and they are done in that wonderful (for me) “Terminator” sound. Mark Snow didn’t go orchestral on this. He kept it minimal, personal and he built a dark, misty forest in which I love to get lost. Danger lurks everywhere and you never know what creature might jump and scare me. There might be voices or echoes from time to time. I need to be strong because this is a 5 hour long journey and there is the only way out is through. On top of this I have many memories in this forest, hanging from every branch like strange, ripe fruits I remember eating a long time ago. Some will fall and I will feel them and taste them, others will dangle and stay there and I will turn my head as I walk by, still wanting to taste everything. This is where the music of “The X-Files” takes me to.
I stop and spend more time when the sounds of my favorite episodes come. “One breath”, the first truly emotional outing of the series, gets a hefty 12 minutes section and I can almost taste the salty water and mist that made that episode special. The music of this episode gets even more intimate and the outside world dissolves into one breath, a scribbled word on the deck of a boat sailing alone in the mist. “Guardian angel” is one of my favorite cues from this release and one of the scenes I remember most vividly. It was the first Scully centric episode and I loved it.
Then there’s the “Anasazi” suite from the second season finale when we all feared Mulder might be dead; a soft, tense and claustrophobic cue, one you will remember. There are the everyday monster of the week cues that usually feature the piano / keyboard and suggest a normal beginning for a story that will soon develop into something else. All of these cues are stripped of unnecessary instrumentations and sound effects for a lean listening experience. The music isn’t intrusive and there will be times during the longer cues (like the 12 minutes long “Derailled”) when you will be able to go on with your thinking or activities.
I couldn’t wait to remember “The field where I died” still once of my favorite episodes. “Dim memories” brought back that warmth inside me and made me want to watch the episode again. The cues from “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking man” reminded me of that complex and evil character. My heart trembled at the creepy and jolly “Watergate heart” from one of the saddest and most memorable episodes, “Paper hearts”. I instantly recalled those paper hearts falling to the ground. Minutes went by and the second CD was over, but this was just the warm up because my favorite episodes were just around the corner on CDs 3 and 4.
My heart skipped a beat as I was mentally advancing in the show’s timeline and getting close to episodes like “Emily” and “Christmas Carol”. I stopped and replayed “Little box of sand”, a magnificently emotional, magical but heartbreaking piece of music. I was relieving my past, the periods when I watched each episode, the feelings the show used to give me or countless hours spent binge watching it with my sister or alone.
If you aren’t familiar with most of the episodes, the music of “The X-Files” will rarely be about the moments. It will be more about the unique overall cloak of shadow and mystery that Mark Snow’s music brings over you. You know that sound. If you’ve seen the show, you know what to expect and you will welcome this gift. I especially like the longer cues because they really get me back in that special mood. There are a lot of suites of 8 or 9 minutes and I am so glad that I get to hear them like this, and not ripped from some DVD.
But as great as this release is, for me it’s all about 8 incredible and life altering minutes. They are put together one after the other in this release… they start with “Scully’s serenade” from “Within”, the most elegiac and mournful cue in The X-Files universe. I can see her looking in the mirror, heartbroken after the disappearance of her partner, trying to cope with the situation. Such a powerful theme, so deep, so harrowing and so meaningful. Then it gets even more intense. “This is not happening” is my favorite episode of the show and the most emotional. It remained engraved on my heart and that wound is still bleeding whenever I watch the episode. Mark Snow rose to the challenge and made sure that our collective hearts will be broken again each time we hear the sublime and unrepeatable “Starspeak” and “Hidden truths / big happening”. I won’t spoil what’s going on there for those who haven’t seen the show but those who have will probably listen to those two cues before even playing the opening credits. The first cue is a recreation of “Scully’s serenade” without the haunting female voice while the second on is just… unreal. I know the power of the scenes make them even more precious to me, but this is what it’s all about. Those are still two of my favorite cues ever. The magical music doubled by the emotional impact have rarely been matched in TV history. I think only Michael Giacchino with his Lost scores managed to give me the same feelings on a few occasions.
“The X-Files volume 1” is a 5 hours long release. This is no easy to get through if you are not a fan of the show. Even if you enjoy the music, it could get to be a bit much. But if you are a fan of the show and if you have that emotional connection you will not feel that time pass. Anyway you are used to spending hours at a time with this universe because one can never just watch a single episode. So you’ll be fine. For me it’s been one of the most rewarding journeys since I listen to film and TV music. And to think that there is more, way more out there… To be continued…
Cue rating: 89 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 114/ 311
Album excellence: 37%
The X-Files – Main Title (Season One)
1X79 Pilot – Scully to DC/Scully Meets Mulder
1X79 Pilot – Scully & F.B.I. Goon
1X79 Pilot – F.B.I. Secret Vaults
1X02 Squeeze – Hidden Away
1X02 Squeeze – Slimed
1X22 Roland – Sweeper
1X22 Roland – Ramblin’ Roland
1X23 The Erlenmeyer Flask – Green Goo Chase
1X23 The Erlenmeyer Flask – The Wells Brain
2X01 Little Green Man – Dead Man’s Thoughts
2X01 Little Green Man – Fish Food
2X08 One Breath – The Return
2X08 One Breath – Uniforms
2X08 One Breath – Trust Your Pistol
2X08 One Breath – Reanimation
2X08 One Breath – Guardian Angel
2X25 Anasazi – The Mourn
The X-Files – End Credit (Extended #1)
The X Files Main Title (Short)
3X20 Jose Chung’s From Outer Space – Harold & Chrissy
3X20 Jose Chung’s From Outer Space – Closure
4X05 The Field Where I Died – Dim Memories
4X07 Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man – A Place In History
4X07 Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man – Respect
4X08 Paper Hearts – Watergate Heart
The X-Files – End Credit (Extended Remix)
5X05 Christmas Carol – Mother Genes
5X07 Emily – Little Box of Sand
5X20 The End – Closure
6X05 Dreamland II – A Brief History of Fox
6X08 How the Ghosts Stole Christmas – Bricks
6X08 How the Ghosts Stole Christmas – A Gift
The X-Files – End Credit (Extended #2)
The X-Files – Main Title (7th Season)
7X04 The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati – The Martyr
7X05 Millennium – The Smell of Zombies
7X05 Millennium – The End of the Crusade
7X18 Hollywood A.D. – The Kiss
8X01 Within – Scully’s Serenade
8X02 Without – Hide & Seek
8X14 This Is Not Happening – Starspeak
8X14 This Is Not Happening – Hidden Truths/Big Happening
9X16 Release – The Tip
9X20 The Truth Part 2 – The Truth Is Inside
The X-Files – Main Title (Remix)