In order to really get fully into character for this review, I watched 'Broadchurch' for the first time. For those of you who haven't, it's basically a detective yarn set out in sticks somewhere in rural Dorset, during which ex Doctor Who David Tennant seems to be permanently afflicted by a squint and you can't get the image of his co-star Olivia Colman's bawdy romp as a less professional cop from 'Hot Fuzz' out of your mind.
The show's creator Chris Chibnall probably doesn't quite see it that way, but one of the positive features was the engagement of Icelander Olafur Arnalds as composer for the score, a facet which is consistently one of the most affecting parts of the show. Previously a drummer in a hardcore band, Arnalds' career turned on a mix up over some demo work he created for German metallers Heaven Shall Burn, who, rather than take up the option on the songs, ended up commissioning him to create some orchestral bookends for one of their albums instead.
After throwing away the sticks, success has followed, via a string of EPs and three albums of neo-classical orchestral ambience, the latest being 2013's 'For Now I Am Winter'. Such was the impact that listening to this had on Chibnall that he sought out its creator to add some atmospheric texture to 'Broadchurch', a programme which he conceived with some broad cinematic flecks amongst the whodunnit interplay.
Tellingly, Arnalds makes few concessions to the listening audience; only on 'So Close' - which ran during the closing titles - are there words, provided by Arnor Dan of Icelandic band Agent Fresco and his measured pitch is lost for the most part in ghostly echoes. Everything else sounds like it's shrouded in fog, or riddled with the sense of loss and mourning which the town's community feels after the death of one its own, the first series' main premise. A couple of the pieces are named after central characters - the unfortunate victim Danny, his guilt-ridden, answer seeking mother Beth - but neither are cheaply evocative, the former a melancholy drone with tearful violins and wintry, skeletal programming.
It's hard to thematically match what appears only tangentially with people, places or events, a quandary which the composer wisely avoids. Instead, he focusses on taking the programme's canvas of loss, suspicion and betrayal and skilfully manipulating them via a series of downbeat moods that fuse the classical and electronica worlds via the most delicate applications of both. It's a masterstroke, letting the space and light of tracks like 'I'm Not The Guilty One' and 'Suspects' become instruments of the imagination for the listener to draw on. Only on 'The Journey' is this formula even mildly distorted, but its more direct pacing never breaks the foreground's moribund gloom.
The way to measure success in the soundtrack world is clear: is the music capable of standing alone without the host? Here, then, is a riddle we don't need David Tennant for - the answer is yes, and there's no mystery about how good this record is.
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