As far as anticipated upcomings, none comes more anticipated than John Powell's How To Train Your Dragon 2. At the time, I lauded the first film as one of the brightest highlights in Powell's career. Four years later, and I still maintain that it's one of the greatest examples of music storytelling done right. In truth, I'd be utterly stupefied (and delighted!) if he can capture that same type of magic for the sequel.
A leak of the full soundtrack to How To Train Your Dragon 2 has been making the rounds, well ahead of Relativity Music Group's June 10th release date -- and weak-willed Powellite that I am simply couldn't wait till the film dropped in order to hear it in context.
I don't spoil anything in my write-up below, but if you are trying to keep spoiler free, you may want to hold off clicking on the linked playlist; the track titles in themselves could be considered spoilery. If not, have at it:
The leaked 'How To Train Your Dragon 2' soundtrack, via Youtube
The album is breathtaking. It only took the first track -- a clear throwback to the first movie's all encompassing opening suite -- to handily convince me. I had a big, goofy grin on my face, and as the album pressed on past this celebratory reunion of themes, I'm certain that grin got bigger and goofier. Everything that I could have hoped for as a followup to one of my favorite movie scores has been made real. Powell's created a wholly natural progression that builds upon the musical foundation set by its predecessor.
-The score is a thematic powerhouse, reining in every major theme from the first movie, whist introducing two brand new themes. The returning ones are smartly arranged, some full on passages, others teasingly fragmented. I admit that I wished some of those fragmented bits ran longer, but I'll reserve judgment until I hear them in their contextual settings. Needless to say, Powell is culling from an embarrassment of musical riches with a deft hand.
-One of the two new themes looks to serve as the main theme for the sequel. Its presence is significant, appearing in 15 of the 19 featured tracks by my count, and nestles in nicely with the rest of the music's already established aesthetic. The other is a theme for the purported new antagonist. This one's not nearly as prominent, but it leaves its marks of malice where it counts.
-The big action piece of the movie appears to be track 12, akin to "Battling the Green Death" from the first movie. Here I'm counting THIRTEEN thematic change-ups in a span of six and a half minutes. It's damned near crazy in its Wagnarian approach.
-Beyond the quality of the compositions, the organic spread of the score sounds even more impressive than the first. Instrumentation is crisper and more pronounced, as is the seemingly endless new variety of the choir work. (My god, the choir work. It elevates the soundscape to new aural heights.)
-I've warmed up to the new Jónsi vocal track "Where No One Goes" far quicker than the first movie's "Sticks & Stones." Utilizing the memorable "Test Drive" Flight/Toothless theme as its main backing allows it to not feel as far removed as the latter did to the first.
There's so much more I want to say (and undoubtedly even moreso after I'd seen the film proper), but here's a declaration I'm not even pretending to be hesitant in stating: How To Train Your Dragon 2 is the best listen I've had in years. It's a golden age caliber fantasy-adventure score existing in modern times, and while the compositions aren't exactly subtle (a trait carried over from the first score; even the most contemplative, tender moments tend to swell and explode into a cornucopia of grandiose, sweeping flourishes), I think their epic nature is part and parcel of what makes this series so very appealing.