Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Music Is Food For the Soul: Discussing and Dissecting the Soundtracks of 'Arrow' and 'The Flash'


I had the privilege this past week of getting a chance to download and listen to the third season soundtrack for Arrow and the first season soundtrack for The Flash before they were officially available for download online later today. I've always been compelled by music, honestly. I spent the better part of my youth partaking in choirs and jazz ensembles both inside of school and out. I think that it’s extremely powerful and cool that music has the ability to transform an entire scene –– that a composer can arrange and construct the sound of instruments and voices in such a way that evokes emotional responses.

I love the music in Doctor Who. Where storytelling sometimes fails, the musical composition never does. "Rose’s Theme" is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard. And it’s amazing that Murray Gold was able to embody every facet of Rose's personality and her relationship with the Doctor into one piece. Good music makes good storytelling great. Whether it's a gentle, lulling piano melody or a loud brass orchestra, or a single flute solo, music –– when it is great –– adds more depth to a show or to a movie.

And honestly, I have always admired Blake Neely's compositions on Arrow (and now on The Flash). He manages to take the elements of each show (the optimism, the darkness, the struggles, the falling in love, the hope) and translate them into notes on a page and trills and runs. I was so excited to get a chance to listen to both Arrow and The Flash’s soundtracks in advance, and decided to write about why you should purchase your own copies.

Limited edition artwork from the album. Photo credit: La-La Land Records, DC Comics, and Warner Brothers.

ARROW’S MYSTICISM, EDGINESS, AND LOVE


I think my favorite track on Arrow’s album is a tie between “The Climb” and “Sara Silenced” (though I also am so in love with the track “Convince Him,” too, for reasons that may or may not be related to Oliver/Felicity). I could literally do a track-by-track review but I think that would just be too much. Instead, I’m going to pull some of the highlights out from the album.

I am absolutely in awe of “Sara Silenced” because it's a perfect encapsulation of Sara Lance as a character –– both her and then her persona of The Canary. You hear those Middle Eastern elements in the musicality that remind you of her time with the League and time spent in Nanda Parbat. There are so many elements about Sara’s character that make her so strong and dark and tragic. But in “Sara Silenced,” we not only hear those big crescendos, but the quiet and mournful violin harmonies. There’s a gentle piano melody too throughout that is absolutely beautiful. The entire song is so reflective of her as a character and as a woman –– the score is so layered and is so lovely. It’s a fitting musical composition for such a dynamic character.

“The Climb,” of course, features the Olicity theme about mid-way through (which is just so lovely and moving –– it’s quiet and intense, just like the pairing is, filled with hope and just the right amount of angst). But what was also great is that it’s a score that doesn’t just get to explore the sweetness of the episode, but the grand, sweeping dramatic moments, too. And “The Climb,” as an episode of Arrow was all about balancing the intimate with the grand. Blake Neely did a fabulous job in creating music that did similarly.

So now let me briefly talk about why “Convince Him” was so great. First of all, obviously because it’s the score that helped Oliver and Felicity consummate their relationship. But also, it’s this extremely ethereal-feeling track. I listened to it a few times before I realized what it reminded me of –– the haunting female voice was reminiscent of “Doomsday” (Doctor Who). And I absolutely loved it for that reason. This is perhaps one of the most important and memorable scores for the Oliver/Felicity relationship and I think it was truly reflective of them as a pairing. The composition is ethereal, but grounded in something very real and very moving.

(And, of course, I’m always a huge sucker for any riff on Arrow’s opening theme or theme music, so “Team Arrow Takedown” is delightful.)

“Like Father, Like Daughter” has some AMAZING percussion in it, so you should listen to the track for that reason alone. “A Father Mourns” is so beautiful and powerful (I swear, Neely’s lingering piano solos are going to be my undoing). “I’m Cupid, Stupid” –– a bonus track on the Arrow album –– is just like Cupid herself: crazy and fun and a bit dangerous. “Thea Learns His Secret,” which is the second half of the “Oliver Returns” track is absolutely tear-inducing, because the music builds and you think maybe it’s building toward something bad, but it never does (much like the scene where Thea is told of Oliver’s secret by him). I dare you to listen to “Another Fallen Queen” and NOT be emotionally moved. I also love that this particular track is a riff on Oliver’s theme at different points, containing a lot of similar elements but never directly paralleling it, much like Thea herself.

I also really loved that Blake Neely included the music from “The Brave and the Bold” on this album as a separate disc. “Light Inside You” remains my favorite, I think, from that episode and with good reason –– it’s stunning and powerful, full of edginess and The Flash’s theme and hope.

Honestly – as I said – there are far too many amazing tracks on the Arrow season three album, so definitely go listen to them for yourselves and support Blake Neely’s amazing work.

Limited edition artwork from the album. Photo credit: La-La Land Records, DC Comics, and Warner Brothers.


THE FLASH’S HOPE, ENERGY, AND BEAUTY


Now that we’ve talked about Arrow’s soundtrack, it’s time to discuss The Flash’s! Out of the tracks on this particular album, I think that I was most enraptured by a few different ones. First of all, there’s a bonus track called “I Love You, Iris” which is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. Like, I really don’t have words for how beautiful it is. All I know is that it rivals Oliver/Felicity’s theme in “things that will make you cry.”

“Things You Can’t Outrun” has a very Arrow-esque feel to it, even though it’s a track from The Flash –– there’s a precarious balance between violins and brass (at least I think it’s brass) and percussion though that makes it absolutely and completely The Flash. “What Barry Saw” is just plain sad. Like, tug-at-your-tear-ducts-until-you-sob sad. This is definitely one of those hauntingly beautiful ones you’ll be replaying from the album.

I’m a huge fan of “The Fastest Man Alive/Always Late” because I love that the franticness of the score perfectly parallels Barry Allen as a character. He’s always running, usually always charismatic, and his theme reflects that. I often refer to Barry Allen as a puppy dog because of his eagerness, friendliness, and general charm. I love that the score perfectly reflects that with little trills and melodies that aren’t as bold as Oliver’s, but are just as engaging all the same. Barry is a different hero than Oliver and his score –– as well as the music of The Flash in general –– highlights his power and his heroism in a different way.

“Proud of You” is another track that gets recognition from me because it’s probably one of the most hopeful tracks you will find on the album. (It automatically makes you want to hug Barry because there’s a swell to the track that leads right into Barry/The Flash’s theme.)

(But I’m truly a sucker for anything related to Arrow and The Flash crossing over, so the track “Team Arrow in Central City” is SO GREAT. It’s fun and dramatic and begins really quietly and with a lot of the gentle violin lulls and beats that make it suited for The CW’s traditionally happier superhero show. But then, it becomes so intimately Arrow –– darker, more dramatic –– that I get really excited. Also, “The Flash vs. Arrow” is really fun too because it’s basically a dueling score, and Blake Neely essentially gets to duel Arrow’s musical riffs and The Flash’s musical riffs in one composition. How fun, right? This track is literally the two different scores and styles fighting against each other and complimenting each other somehow, at the same time. And it’s so awesome.)


WHY SCORE MATTERS, AND WHY BLAKE NEELY IS A PERFECT FIT ON ARROW AND THE FLASH


In listening to both of these albums, I was in awe of Blake Neely’s mastery of storytelling through score. I think that too many people overlook score in a television series because it’s easy to do so. The score, for most people, is just that thing in the background of your favorite scene or the sweeping orchestra over a battlefield. But I love composers on television series. Ludwig Göransson is one of my absolute favorite television composers apart from Blake Neely these days. Ludwig penned “Greendale Is Where I Belong,” a melody so iconic on Community that it was used frequently throughout episodes as a sort of refrain –– a coda that told the audience and characters everything would be all right.

Blake Neely has managed to take all of the elements that make Arrow and The Flash so engaging and translate them into scores. So when you watch a scene between Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards, the acting is important –– of course. What they’re saying matters. But when they look at one another and you hear that lilting piano melody in the background, suddenly the scene becomes more layered and dimensional than it was before. A mountaintop duel has more weight because you hear the intensity in the swords clanking, sure, but you also hear it in the orchestra swelling and the crescendos building. And a scene where a character dies is moving, but when you add the soft lullaby of a violin… well, we become sobbing messes.

Neely is the perfect composer for Arrow and The Flash because he understands the thing that drives each show and he harnesses that one thing into his music. You all definitely need to purchase your copies of the Arrow, season three and The Flash, season one soundtracks!

La-La Land Records presents THE FLASH Season 1 - Original Television Soundtrack and ARROW – Season 3 Original Television Soundtrack limited edition (3,000 units) 2-CD sets exclusively HERE today, and other major music retail outlets on October 27, 2015.

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