By Charlie Brigden
Charlie Brooker’s surrealist Netflix show Black Mirror has come back with a vengeance this year not only with the show but also a list of fine composers, including the great Clint Mansell who has provided music for the unique romance San Junipero.
There’s always a clear line of intelligence in Mansell’s work, and San Junipero is no exception, bringing in his own brand of emotional hedonism. Completely performed on synthesiser, the score has the sense of a long gone summer romance, with a blurry texture that gives an air of haziness to a journey into the unknown. And amongst these moments are some truly great melodies – ‘Night Drive’ is an essential track of 2016 – that show Mansell’s propensity for creating cool surface music that has further layers of integrity to it.
At some points it seems we’re eavesdropping, a fly on the wall during intimacy where everything is stripped back to just a simple piano groove, such as ‘In Sickness, In Health’. There’s nothing flashy here but there doesn’t need to be, it’s just tender and hypnotic – sound like a familiar feeling? In a way, it feels like a companion to The Fountain, with a heady wave of emotion that is just begging to be freed from its restraints, to truly let go.
And when it breaks free, it’s spectacular. The longest track on the album, ‘Waves Crashing On Distant Shores Of Time’, is perhaps the spiritual analogue to ‘Death Is The Road To Awe’ from The Fountain, a beautiful piece that feels like it transcends the more traditional trappings of the score previous. The penultimate ‘Endless Summer’ brings reflection with more simple keyboard tones that bleed into the driving ‘San Junipero (Saturday Night In The City Of The Dead)’ that brings a fitting end to the album while reprising the opening cue.
One thing San Junipero displays is Clint Mansell’s absolute command of the medium, be it synthwave or dreamwave or whatever label you want to put on it, showing his flexibility as a composer by being adept at these kind of scores as well as his more orchestral based work. The score is fantastic and flows beautifully as an album, and together with the earlier High-Rise illustrates his sheer versatility and why he is so highly-rated today. In a seemingly everflowing ocean of retro-electro soundtracks, San Junipero stands out as an island.
San Junipero is available digitally from Lakeshore Records – a physical release is due next year from Invada Records