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Soundtrack review: Mudbound (Tamar-Kali – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Mudbound (Tamar-Kali – 2017)

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Set against the backdrop of the Mississippi Delta during the Jim Crow era after World War II, “Mudbound” is both a timeless and timely film following two families – one black, one white – bound together by the hardships of farm life. Starring Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks and Garrett Hedlund. “Mudbound” is written for the screen by Virgil Williams and Rees and directed by Rees. Based on the international bestseller by Hillary Jordan. Tamar-Kali wrote the score and this is my first contact with her music.

As expected the opening cue “Intro / Mudbound theme” features some black gospel like choirs that ease me as a listener into the Mississippi setting of the movie. The deep cello motif that accompanies it almost makes me think of a funeral procession. Personally I like an opening theme that’s longer and dives right into the story without only serving as an intro and I get that here as the second half of the cue goes dark and mysterious with some sparse strings that make me think of the music of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. I think I can hear a breath as well in this cue or is it the effort of the soloist blowing in some sort of instrument? As much as that opening choir matched the setting, there is a small discrepancy when the composer uses a chamber orchestra as even if the music is very good and emotional, it doesn’t fit the nature and outdoor setting of the story but maybe it’s just an impression of mine.

I mentioned Cave and Ellis before and I am doing it again because Tamar-Kali’s way of doing music reminds me of that brilliant duo; she experiments with short motifs, sometimes sparse, other times neurotic and almost all the time string based. That claustrophobic feeling of a chamber orchestra is gone and I find myself enjoying cues that make me think of spacious surroundings and neurotic behaviour from the characters; the cello and violin are two instruments that give the composer quite the freedom of expressing feelings and it only takes a slightly different use of the bow on those strings to change the mood of the score. It’s a combination of melodic string motifs and incomplete, undecided ones that somehow make me understand the volatility of the story.

I am all for scores that sound different while in the same time providing and enjoyable standalone listening experience; I like composers who experiment with sound and find new ways of playing old instruments. “Mudbound” works very well as a varied and jumpy string recital and if you enjoy the sound of violins and cellos there is plenty of both in this score. There are clear emotional moments when the cello goes deeper and action pieces when the music is less melodic. A first impression to be remembered from Tamar-Kali as a film music composer and I will be keeping my ears opened for her next compositions.

Cue rating: 86 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 12 / 36

Album excellence: 33%

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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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