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Soundtrack review: Altered Carbon (Jeff Russo – 2018)

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Soundtrack review: Altered Carbon (Jeff Russo – 2018)

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“Altered Carbon” is an American science fiction television series created by Laeta Kalogridis and based on the 2002 novel of the same title by English author Richard K. Morgan. The series takes place over 350 years in the future, in the year 2384. In the future, a person’s memories have been decanted into “cortical stacks”, storage devices of alien design which have been reverse engineered, duplicated en masse, and surgically inserted into the vertebrae at the back of the neck. Physical bodies are now called “sleeves”, disposable vessels that can accept any “stack.” Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a political operative with mercenary skills, wakes up 250 years after his “sleeve” is “terminated,” and he is given the choice to either spend the rest of time in prison for his crimes, or to help solve the murder of one of the wealthiest men in the settled worlds (James Purefoy). Takeshi was the sole surviving soldier of those defeated in an uprising against the new world order 250 years prior. Jeff Russo wrote the score.

This show is right up my alley with its “Blade runner” vibe among others and Joel Kinnaman was born to play the main part. Jeff Russo is always the right match music wise since he basically writes for half the shows on TV right now and got his weird vibe on with his music for “Legion”. As it’s often the case with such an intense and high profile show, a single score release will not be able to please all the fans who expected to hear a specific piece of music from a specific scene, especially when a release has so few cues, so I spared myself the dilemma and just listened to the score before seeing the show.

The main titles fit the Sci-fi mystery genre with an electronic sound and a soft female voice wailing. It reminds me a bit of Jeff Russo’s “Star Trek: Discovery” main title with the string motif and the modern sound and even if the two shows are very different, the music sounds similar. “Consciousness” welcomes us into the musical world of “Altered Carbon” and the female voice continues to be an integral part of weaving a mysterious texture. For me a show like these wouldn’t work as well with heavy, dense music so I am ok with the composer going for a thinner, slow burning sound which combines electronic and orchestral. I like minimalistic, reflective music but this particular cue is harmless and I don’t connect easily with it. I wish it would tell me more because the music feels hesitant and shy.

The standalone listening experience gets frustrating for me as the score progresses; the music is too quiet, too much in the background to be enjoyed like this and I can tell it was made to be an integral part of watching the show, it fits in the atmosphere and visual story much better than it works as separate music. I can’t hold the music, it falls like sand through my fingers and this generic, minimalistic emotion isn’t enough to give me a rewarding listening experience. I will hear it in context and I am sure it will make more sense.

Cue rating: 76 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 0 / 26

Album excellence: 0%

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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