Familiar, yet excitingly different, Lakeshore Records‘ first soundtrack release for Star Trek: Discovery provides an instant connection to the tapestry of music in Trek’s history, while also moving much of the series’ scoring in bold and modern directions.
On this initial release of 21 tracks (featuring 53 minutes of music) from the first nine episodes of Star Trek: Discovery — save for “Choose Your Pain” — composer Jeff Russo invokes more strings than probably any collection of Trek music ever heard. Layered throughout the tracks are an interesting mix of violins and cellos (as well as percussion and reed instruments) offset nicely against what can only be described as a traditional Star Trek sound.
The result is a resounding success that somehow seems to mesh elements and tones from every previous Trek incarnation (including the unrivaled work of Michael Giacchino on the Kelvin Timeline films).
“I’ll Go” is a perfectly titled track that grafts the listener into the adrenaline rush being felt by Michael Burnham as she investigates the unidentified beacon in “The Vulcan Hello.” It’s the longest track on the album at 8 minutes and moves you up and down the scale: from heightened anxiety, to feelings of wonder and awe, to trepidation of the unknown, to a final fight or flight crescendo.
And as far as building crescendos go, nothing can top the ceremonial horns that overtake each other as T’Kuvma honors his fallen comrade in “Torchbearer.” The track is a nice companion piece to “We Come in Peace,” one of the album’s signature moments that helps set up the drama behind T’Kuvma’s declaration of war in the series premiere episodes with a thumping drumbeat. The two tracks together effectively serve as a de facto T’Kuvma theme.
On “Persistence,” Russo moves his familiar beats into EDM territory with an inspirational track that will have you running laps around your home or work place — just like Burnham and Cadet Tilly through the saucer section of the Discovery in “Lethe”. Make sure to put this one on loop, though, to expand its far-too-short 64 second running time!
The now well-known Discovery theme earns its place in Trek lore by serving as the building blocks for a number of the album’s tracks, including “The Day Is Saved” and “Undetermined.” The integration is seamless and exhibits the versatility of Russo’s exquisite main theme.
“I Can’t Dance” changes the pace a bit with a soft piano introduction that builds nicely through the pivotal slow dance between Burnham and Lt. Stamets that is destined to end with another timeline reset in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” That moment is captured poetically as the track comes to a sudden and dramatic close.
From the same episode, “Stella” is bursting with sweeping emotion and drama as Harry Mudd is reconnected with his wife in a ‘heartfelt’ reunion. The track poignantly ends with another classy nod to Alexander Courage’s original Star Trek theme to raise the emotional stakes even higher.
“Facing Off” is perhaps the most impactful track on the album. What sounds like the background music for a showdown between mortal enemies is actually a perfect reflection of the pain being caused by Burnham as she betrays Captain Georgiou and her shipmates in the stunning cliffhanger conclusion to “The Vulcan Hello.” The smattering of oboe on the track hearkens back to Vulcan themes throughout Trek’s past, and the sweeping, emotional horns and percussion of the track’s final 20 seconds literally makes you feel like you are being dropped off a cliff.
“Weakened Shields” is another standout, from “Battle at the Binary Stars,” mixing traditional Trek scoring rhythms with kinetic strings and pulsing brass. It starts fast and then comes to a moody close, as it perfectly tracks the action of Georgiou and Burnham’s infiltration of the Ship of the Dead that results in the sad death of the Shenzhou captain and her Klingon counterpart.
A slight departure on the album comes in the form of “What’s Happening,” which only runs 60 seconds and aligns very well with the introduction of the mysterious Pahvans. It’s tinkly, and a maybe even a bit saccharine, and will likely be judged alongside your view of the Pahvans and the effectiveness of how you think they worked on screen in “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum.”
The album concludes with a slightly expanded version of Discovery’s main theme, adding an extra 30 seconds of strong percussion to increase its running time from 1:34 to 2:11. The theme variation is a welcome addition to the album, and the album is a welcome addition to the storied and proud history of Star Trek music.
If you missed it, check out our interview with Discovery composer Jeff Russo about this new soundtrack release, touching on his approach to scoring Star Trek: Discovery episodes from the early days of production, through his current work finishing up the first season’s themes.
Currently available in digital download format only — and available on Spotify and other streaming music services — the “Chapter 1” soundtrack for Star Trek: Discovery is due out on CD and expanded vinyl releases in early 2018.