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Five for Friday: Great Music from Modern TV Shows

Summer used to be a quiet time for new television – at least for those not wrapped up in the everyday drama of Major League Baseball. But the advent of streaming services and introduction of shorter seasons from cable networks changed everything. This month just saw the return of two beloved shows – Netflix's "Orange is the New Black" and BBC America's "Orphan Black," both in their final throes. Next month, look for the return of "Game of Thrones." All this acclaimed content has led many to argue television is the midst of a new golden era. And where there are shows, there is music. Here we look at five modern – emphasis on modern – television series whose music we love.

"Stranger Things"
Netflix's spooky-retro series set in 1983 certainly has music on its mind, as made clear by an early episode in which an older brother introduces his younger sibling to the tunes of punk-rock forebears the Clash. For original music – available in multiple volumes, including nifty vinyl packages with tie-dye-worthy picture discs – producers went after something that recalls the synthesizer-based sounds of the early 80s. Yet composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, members of Texas-based instrumental electronic act S U R V I V E, avoid a completely retro tone. Sure, the thick, old-school synth sounds occasionally evoke the works of Tangerine Dream or John Carpenter, but the duo often stretches out the digital soundscapes, letting them breathe in ways that avoid a direct connection to any particular era. The approach also ensures the scary parts jump out.

"Orphan Black"
It comes as no surprise that a show that deals with themes of identity crisis and boasts several realistically exaggerated personalities – many portrayed by actress Tatiana Maslany – boasts a wildly diverse and entertaining mix tape of a soundtrack. And while the vinyl edition sadly doesn't contain Trevor Yuile's score, it includes the trippy main theme composed by Two Fingers. The latter features synth and choral sounds that spin around another like a DNA coil. The rest leans in a pop direction, represented by the demented and stuttering electro-rock work of Humans ("Mon Ton Ton"), glossy 90s rock of Meredith Brooks ("Bitch"), and way-out-there psychedelic country of Daniel Romano ("When I Was Abroad"). By the time you reach the celebratory "Love Is All Around" from fuzzy 60s rockers the Troggs, the soundtrack has already attempted to toy with your mind in the same way the show does.

German-Iranian composer Ramin Djawadi is having a moment. This year, he took his "Game of Thrones" score on the road, complete with pyrotechnics to heighten the doomy, cello-heavy symphonic work. But his compositions for another HBO series, "Westworld," prove even more striking. Set in a futuristic theme park gone wrong, "Westworld" alternates between the organic and the programmed. Djawadi often puts classically influenced and merry-sounding piano at the fore, and then quickly contrasts the instrument with frantic strings and slight electronic tones. Pop fans, however, may want to check out the series for Djawadi's re-imagining of recognizable rock songs. For starters, he brings Western hues to an orchestral take on the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" and turns Radiohead's "No Surprises" into a loving hymn.

"Broad City"
Comedy Central's charmingly offbeat coming-of-age comedy "Broad City" follows the primarily big-city misadventures of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer as they fumble around New York on the hunt for dates and cash. Musically, the show reflects a melting pot of adventurous hip-hop-inspired tracks, chief among them the chopped-up fiesta that is DJ Raff's "Latino & Proud." Elsewhere, Scooter Island's "#Notyours" emerges as a defiant anthem to being young and reckless – complete with a rambunctious, junkyard beat that seemingly devours everything in its path. As a whole, the work eschews clubby vibes in favor of a sense of humor (see Zebra Katz & Kashaka's "Marijuana") while functioning as the kind of musical mash-up one hears in an urban environment (Tony Quattro's wild, reggae-leaning "Dat Gyal").

"Big Little Lies"
HBO's darkly comedic miniseries became a sensation earlier this year, and has been in the news of late with fans clamoring for a second season. The soundtrack, available digitally and on CD, arrives on vinyl next month. It captures the refined good taste of its grown-up characters while possessing a hint of strangeness. The centerpiece is the opening credits song, Michael Kiwanuka's "Cold Little Heart," a work full of subtle shifts and one that uses strings and acoustic instrumentation to maximum effect. For something odder, check Kinny's "Queen of Boredness," where sardonic lyrics clash with cocktail-party grooves – a vibe matched by Ituana's jazzy spin on "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

June 16, 2017

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