4 out of 5
Label: WaterTower Music
Produced by: Ramin Djawadi
While I’m not a fan of the big name composers – John Williams, Hans Zimmer – I accept that they’re certainly capable of massively memorable themes. However, when I’ve followed those themes to their full scores, I find I’m generally unimpressed when things aren’t functioning on a massive scale. Either they work in the briefest of cues, which aren’t much fun to listen to as an album, or their incidental moments are just very generic. Ramin, from the Zimmer school, picked up his teacher’s gift for themes: he’s worked on a million and two shows and movies, and so, sometimes, one theme is certainly more memorable than another, but by and large, he achieves something pretty noteworthy at the forefront of each project. Where he passes his peers and influences, though, is how he functions in the background, or when he takes a more minimal approach: stripped of bombast, Djawadi still can offer some incredibly emotional and catchy tunes, which often become my preferred mood music over the headlining theme.
Westworld’s haunting opening track is instantly recognizable as a Ramin offering, and, true to a composer’s general m.o., elements of it wend throughout the rest of his Season 1 score. But despite the show’s large scale and big budget setting, the producers – and Ramin – went with a soundtrack that focused on strings and keys, with a Western bent to reflect the ‘park’ in which we spent most of our viewing time, and a hazier electronic vibe when the virtual Westworld stuff is left in favor of the “real” world. There’s also an abundance of covers, fantastically reworked by Djawadi (and a NiN track by the Vitamin String Quartet); aligning with the series’ flip-flopping questions and answers regarding what’s fake and what’s real, the recognizable tunes, transformed via Djawadi’s own sensibilities, are familiar and new at the same time.
The result is something entrancing and often gorgeous: piano plunkings, disturbed strings floating in for character themes, all swirling around that memorable opener’s elements. While the electronic-tinged tracks are less immediately notable, they end up forming a needed sound counterpoint that balances things out so that Djawadi can return to the strings and keys when needed, and milk them for more and more impact.
But… something is slightly off.
I didn’t end up liking the show too much, mainly because its force-fed “there’s meaning in this artifice” was, in itself, artifice; the show was always trying to get out of its own ass, and just getting stuck up there more fully as a result. The score, thankfully, doesn’t make you sit through hour long episodes with slogs of dialogue and no payoff, but some of the structural sensibilities inevitably carry over: Ramin’s reliance on Radiohead songs is that artifice on top of artifice concept: the interesting unsettling nature of the covers is somewhat toppled when it turns into someone’s cool playlist instead of a choice selection of varied tunes; and, though I mentioned that the “real” tracks offer a good comparison point, that is their main function – just as the non-park parts of the show tended to sort of drag, there are interesting sounds in this part of the score, but not nearly as rewarding as the rest.
However, it definitely holistically works together for something that I’ve continued, and continued, and continued to visit; it’s one of Ramin’s most rewarding scores, which is an especially impressive feat from a man that can drop these two-disc sets for multiple series at a time.