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Soundtrack review: Togo (Mark Isham – 2019)

Drama Film scores

Soundtrack review: Togo (Mark Isham – 2019)


Soundtrack review: Togo (Mark Isham – 2019)

“Togo” is a 2019 American drama film that debuted on Disney+. The film centers on “two key figures in the 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the Great Race of Mercy, in which dog-sled teams relayed to transport diphtheria antitoxin serum through harsh conditions over nearly 700 miles to save the Alaskan town of Nome from an epidemic. Mark Isham wrote the score.

Mark Isham has been around for over 30 years and he’s one of those composers who forged his own sound. For the past three years though he’s known a sort of resurrection for me where each score he writes is solid, enjoyable, memorable. He went out of his comfort zone more often and “Togo” is no different. This is a movie about hardship and heroism and the composer took that and just flew with it. His smooth jazzy tones turned into sharp orchestral ones and I just loved discovering and exploring this score. The trembling strings and the cello form a mosaic of nostalgic Americana in a style close to what Nick Cave and Warren Ellis usually write for their movies where the vast, empty planes are just as important as the characters in the movie. I listen to this score and realise that I wouldn’t have guessed Mark Isham as a composer if I didn’t see the credits. He is able to reinvent himself and take his music in places that nobody will forget.

“Togo” is essentially a road movie through impossibly hard terrain and the music captures those feelings of loneliness while in the same time keeping that warm human core; the orchestral motifs go from sparse to sweeping, always with strings, always with few instruments, always with heart and soul. I have always been a fan of the solo cello and solo violin, I’ve always been a fan of this kind of meaningful minimalism so I am all in for the journey this score takes me on. Even without seeing the movie, the subtleties and nuances in Mark Isham’s movie tell me when there’s danger, when I should be worried, when I should care more or when I should be happy. The switch between dramatic with horror accents and purely playful is fascinating; I get a cue like “Wrong way” that makes me want to bite my desk and then I get “Resourceful pup” which brings an instant smile on my face. The music is still string based but the way its performed explores a variety of emotions. I am more drawn to the quieter and more minimalistic pieces but this score is so much more than that. I am impressed at how Mark Isham manages to never let the music get too heavy; the bow caresses the strings, softer or harder, but most of the times, it’s still a caress.

“Togo” is one of Mark Isham’s most adventurous and spectacular scores. This once quiet composer celebrates life and hope in a way he’s rarely done before. A glorious cue like “To lead” epitomises the most spectacular moments of this composition and I just can’t get enough of it. “Perilous sound” is at the other end of the spectrum with its insane, almost suffocating rhythm and might just be my favourite piece from this album. Isham also experiments with what I can only imagine are actual wooden instruments or tools from that area in some cues. Do not miss this rare score in today’s film music, an orchestral gem that fills my heart up even when it’s sad.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

To Nome
Luck Dries Up
So You Will Go
Wrong Way
Hard Decisions
To lead
Perilous Sound
The Pine Stings Her Eyes
Last legs
Forgive Me
Harnessed to Your Heart

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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  1. Marco Ludema 17th January 2020

    Good to see you back again. Do you have more reviews to come?

    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 17th January 2020

      i certainly hope so 🙂

    2. Marco Ludema 17th January 2020

      If you haven’t tried them yet, I highly recommend Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home. Those scores are absolute top tier for MCU scores.

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