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New Nordic Listening

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One of the great advantages of doing this job is that things like listening to music, watching films and TV, and playing video games constitute work. Or, rather, it comes under the remit of “work” without actually feeling like what one might call work!

Having decided to create a follow-up to the first two volumes of Zebra Nordsund, I naturally set about watching a bit more Scandinavian telly and listening to lots more music.

And whilst the absolute classics of The Bridge, The Killing and Wallander have continued to have a major impact on the creation of Dusk and Snow, I thought introduce you to a few more Nordic Noir soundtracks that I’ve enjoyed discovering during the process. Oh, and I should add, I’m (out of the kindness of my heart) only including soundtracks you can actually buy and stream.

You can also hear some of these soundtracks (and others) in my Nordsund Nordic Noir Scores Spotify playlist.

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I’ll kick things off with the only show in this recommendation list that I have ALSO watched, as well as listened to the soundtrack of: Rebecka Martinsson. This is also the only series in the list that is not scored by a Scandinavian/Nordic composer. It’s also my favourite of those on the list; a really excellent blend of sparse synth sounds, intermittently woven together with strings. Dan Berridge piles on the cold atmospherics (the series is predominantly set in Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city), with subtle string textures and motifs. There’s also a haunting, echoing piano refrain that contributes as the main theme and binds everything together. Darker, more crunchy, analogue riffs make occasional and welcome appearances. A truly lovely piece of work, for a very interesting series.

From Denmark, comes Norskov. This score, by Kristian Eidnes Andersen, is something of a surprise in places. The orchestration is expectedly small, emotional and organic in nature. Where it throws something of a curve ball is the use of synths. Some of it is fairly standard; a modern, synthetic sound you expect. However, much of the synthesis has a more ornate and retro feel, reminiscent of Berlin school and even the synthscapes created by Vangelis for Blade Runner. I’m not 100% sure whether the town of Norskov is real or fictional but, either way, even the capital of Copenhagen is far from being a neon metropolis! And whilst the classic synth vibes may be unexpected, they never feel out of place. A real gem and VERY Nordsund!

Flaskkvartetten have already produced the score to a couple of my favourite Scandi TV series: Wallander and Blue Eyes. Despite the name translating as Fleshquartet, they actually specialise in creating music with, often bespoke, electric string instruments. This results in scores that are simultaneously both familiarly organic and surprisingly otherworldly. Thicker Than Water, an emotional drama where three siblings are forced to run a remote family hotel before they are allowed to inherit it, is no exception. There are some similarities with their work on Wallander, as is only to be expected, but they also broaden their sonic palette with electric pianos and banjo. There aren’t any synths here (though there’s plenty of electronic effects involved) but some of those plucked, organic string bass sounds are a match for the meatiest analogue bass synths you can name.

In complete contrast to the previous example, Valkyrien provides plenty of synths to enjoy. There are, naturally, all the usual strings, orchestration and big, organic percussion one expects from Nordic drama, but composer Marius Christensen clearly enjoys a bit of electronic music. It’s full of techy beats and analogue riffs, glitchy electronics and all manner of synthy goodness; of which I thoroughly approve. And if there are occasional moments where it doesn’t quite come off (although not many), when it all gels together it is absolutely glorious stuff; a real dynamic, tour de force of a soundtrack. If you like some dancefloor vibes to creep into your score work, this is the one to listen to!

Finally, Bordertown is a series that has been highly recommended to me but I have yet to watch. It really epitomises the Nordic Noir sound to me: the icy piano, the delicate strings, the solid analogue synths and the organic, atmospheric sound design. Composer duo Kaspar Kaae and Brian Batz both have sidelines in writing and producing for their bands, as well as being composers in their own right, and it often shows in the well-crafted, narrative structure of their cues for Bordertown. The soundtrack release appears, at first, to be disappointingly slim (given the quality of the music) at just eight tracks. But, fortunately, most of them are longer suites of music, rather than the short cues you get on other soundtrack releases. Which is a relief, as it’s absolutely terrific work. Oh, and the main theme “Closer”, featuring vocalist Maria Holm-Mortensen is an absolute belter.

Obviously, after writing this, I shall have to seek out where to watch these series. There’s much in their soundtracks that I have not covered in either Dusk or Snow (Nordsund III anyone?!) but that appeals to and reminds me of The Unfinished sound – I shall also have to ponder on how come none of these composers are customers! Haha.

Anyway, let me know what your favourite recent Nordic Noir soundtracks have been below in the comments section.

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