The Big Score (Oscar Edition): Mica Levi / ‘Jackie’ OST Review

Oscar 2017 worthy composers and producers of the golden age of TV.


Gearing up to the 89th Academy Awards ceremony we examine the work of Mica Levi, one of nominations (we hope) for Best Original Score for her second big screen composition work, Jackie. The Pablo Larrain biopic drama, starring Natalie Portman as the wife of deceased John F. Kennedy in the days and weeks following his assassination, boasts an entirely original score from the young mind behind the Under The Skin soundtrack.
More commonly known by her stage name Micachu, Levi has had about as much of an aspirational rise to notoriety as one could hope for. Now internationally recognised for her award winning 2015 soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer’s first feature length in nine years, her band Micachu & The Shapes have been blasting out their sporadic brand of genre bending pop to critical acclaim for close to a decade, getting signed to Rough Trade in the process. The daughter of two musicians, classically trained Levi first picked up a violin aged four. Having studied both classical composition and electronic music academically, the sound Micachu creates with The Shapes is a fun, Lynchian amalgamation of lyricism and experimentation, translating from their passionate live displays to record with shambolic grace.
Known progressively more and more on the UK scene, and associating with acts like Kate Tempest, Ghostpoet, Late of the Pier and Toddla T, it wasn’t until Glazer approached her for input on the Scarlett Johansson sci-fi horror Under The Skin that the cinematic world began to take notice of Levi and her original approach to production. The score, featured below, won her a European Film Award for Best Composer, L.A. Film Critics Award for Best Music Score (tied with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood), and a BAFTA nomination. Under The Skin OST remains a sliding, screeching compliment to a surreal, nightmarish extra-terrestrial nail biter. The repeat riff being returned to and altered slightly as the movie progresses, with interchangeably panicked and frantic overlay accompaniments, produce a minimalist yet depth driven echo in the corner of the mind, that takes it’s cues from the old horror / suspense classics; Jaws, The Shining and the like. With the dissonant, made-to-distress nonlinear chaos typical of the horror genre at it’s finest, it’s only right that Levi received the recognition she did.

Which brings us to the Jackie OST. The opening ‘Into’ track is a haunting, portamento stifled fanfare of an opener that never quite loses it’s lachrymose grip, even when dissolving into more dainty trills as it meanders into the rest of the album. Second track ‘Children’, by comparison offers a more traditional change of pace, using it’s incumbent minor swells to ground rather than lift. ‘Car’, understandably takes a more frantic, sweeping overtone. Throughout the entire album a dichotomy between angst and passivity seems to be being reconciled; one of, we assume from interpretation, the themes of the narrative to follow.
For something so carefully supplementary to it’s dialogue heavy visual companion, the surprising layer and volume changes throughout give Jackie the Hollywood thriller atmosphere with a vivid stylistic boost, rivaling seasoned contemporaries such as Jeff Beal (House Of Cards, Blackfish). The signature stop-start ominosity immediately recognisable from her earlier accomplishments bleeds through within seconds of the album starting, championing a unique sound translatable between two films that couldn’t be more wildly different. The muted procession march drums of ‘Autopsy’, and the almost Radiohead circa Amnesiac instrumentals of ‘Graveyard’ speak of a subtle indifference to genre conformity, something indicative of Mica Levi as a performer. ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’, repeating the same bent chord sequence as ‘intro’, give a circular sense of what the film pivots on, and it speaks volumes about a work of cinema that a listener can gauge so acutely the tone, pace and progression of it from hearing the soundtrack before heading to the cinema.
A tactile and sombre funeral cortege of a record, Jackie would be well placed for a warm critical reception during next months award ceremony.

From director Pablo Larrain (No, The Club) Jackie airs in UK cinemas on January 20th, the album has been made available to stream via Fox Searchlight, links to follow on G4me0ver Facebook/Twitter.



 – Max Colbert