The third season of Black Mirror landed on Netflix to widespread acclaim in 2016, and an additional treat was that a number of episodes were scored by well-established film soundtrack veterans. One such brilliant score for a particular standout episode (San Junipero) was composed by former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman and "Lux Aeterna" creator Clint Mansell. The episode itself was a different kind of Black Mirror; ultimately a period piece focused on technological nostalgia therapy and centered upon the romantic relationship between a female couple. Mansell's score transcends the primary '80s setting, interweaving forlorn strings, static-tinged electronica, and beautifully orchestrated strings awash with reverb. It features some familiar elements from Mansell's bag of tricks; his melodies play out here beautifully. Opener "San Junipero (80s-90s-00s-??)" begins with an enticing repetitive melodic pattern that sits against a captivating backdrop of graceful strings and ambience. The piece harks back to his accomplishments in encapsulating moods with simple melodies in films such as Moon and The Wrestler. Some new tricks appear elsewhere; "Night Drive" is largely composed of Nord-esque leads and soft strings before transforming into rumbling, discordant synth bass, marimbas, and timpani drums. "Property of Tucker Systems" is probably one of the tracks that is clearly geared toward a number of scenes, in relation to the same thing. Beginning with despondent acoustic guitar arpeggios and violas, it suddenly segues into something quite the opposite: ominous, piercing ambience with futuristic synths and urgently played bongos. Two definite standout tracks are "In Sickness, in Health" and "Waves Crashing on Distant Shores of Time"; the former is a stripped-back piece composed of sorrowful, heavily reverberated piano notes alongside sweltering and unwavering ambience while the latter is largely anchored by a very simple yet unforgettable motif that appears elsewhere in the album; surging synthwave strings climb into focus and end abruptly while the same notes are replicated by distant, ever-rising strings and an ethereal melody drips around it, with all elements eventually colliding into a gorgeous romantic score. Obviously, nostalgia has been encapsulated more prominently elsewhere within the episode of San Junipero; the use of Belinda Carlisle's hit "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" hits the nail on the head. And strangely enough, what seems to encapsulate the general feel of the episode's story through the score's mix, is how much occasional elements nod toward the use of popular music in classic '80s films; some minor instrumentation feels like a slight reference to Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" and the occasional harmony elsewhere harks back to some of the minor instrumentation in Madonna's early work. Mansell's score for Black Mirror's San Junipero episode perfectly encapsulates the tone, the characters, and the themes involved within the story it's helping to tell, not only with its use of electronics, strings, and percussion, but through its magnetic transformation of each piece. One of Mansell's true skills is layering his work, and there is plenty here to discover on more than just a few listens.
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