Is it possible that the best thing Clint Mansell's done in years was for a TV series? Obviously, it's not as if the composer has been churning out rubbish for the last couple of decades, but the music Mansell made for the "San Junipero" episode of Black Mirror is both emotionally resonant within the context of the program, as well as standing on its own two feet as a proper album.
As a quick recap, "San Junipero" is set in a version of the 1980s, and it involves love and death and coming to grips with who you are as a person and how what you've done informs all that. To go into further detail kind of ruins a delightful surprise, but suffice it to say, it's one of the rare Black Mirror instalments which doesn't leave the viewer crippled emotionally at the end.
Somehow, some way, Mansell manages to embody the entirety of that preceding paragraph into his music. The score exists alongside a cavalcade of '80s songs within the episode itself -- most notably, Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" -- and so, it makes sense that the compositions are somewhat more in the vein of what Mansell did on Drive than the rather more ethereal work of The Fountain, or classically derived a la Black Swan.
The ten tracks on the album stand better together than they do individually, charting as they do the arc of two characters, as they negotiate their lives and relationship, but some do manage to stand alone. "Waves Crashing On Distant Shores Of Time" could easily pop in the midst of a DJ set that features Tycho or M83, as does the closing track, "San Junipero (Saturday Night In The City Of The Dead)."
The nods to synthy dance music pairs nicely with all of the action in San Junipero nightclub Tucker's, but the quiet side of Mansell's score is peacefully powerful. There's a restraint here in the earlier moments. "Faith, Hope, Fear, & Falling In Love," for example, uses wave-like swells of wordless chorus paired with flute to organically offset the electronic backbeat. It's obvious - even without the title - that this song, as well as the following "Tick Tock (Clock of My Heart)" are behind some romantically-powerful scenes.
Even if the listener has never seen a single second of Black Mirror, Clint Mansell's score for "San Junipero" represents a real career high point, demonstrating just what the composer can do to really pull an emotional response. At turns sad and fun, but always gorgeously touching, "San Junipero" is a must-have.
BLACK MIRROR: SAN JUNIPERO / COMPOSER: CLINT MANSELL / LABEL: LAKESHORE RECORDS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW