The only thing more exhilarating and exhausting than HBO’s stunning summer drama “Euphoria” was its soundtrack. Wound through the sparkly noir soap opera of teens in a love-hate relationship with drugs, sex and themselves was this equally torrid and twilight-y musical tone — an undulating, wall-to-wall set of songs and score crowding around Sam Levinson’s vision of ordinary madness. That there was just enough room for airy, gospel electronica and overheated melodic house to hover atop the proceedings — with the likes of Megan Thee Stallion, BTS, Fiona Apple, J Balvin and “Euphoria” actor-singer Zendaya among its often 20-plus songs her episode — was a miracle of music direction.
Labrinth made that miracle happen and created a score as hallucinatory as the images on the screen. The Brit-born dance floor producer and composer best known for bits of Rihanna’s “Unapologetic,” The Weeknd’s “Beauty Behind the Madness,” and records by Skylar Grey, Nicki Minaj and Emeli Sandé, also recorded hauntingly spare and eerily romantic songs of his own such as “Beneath Your Beautiful” and “Jealous.” The elegiac majesty of these earlier tracks made him the secret melodic weapon of S’a and Diplo’s LSD project (2019’s “Labrinth, Sia & Diplo Present LSD”), as well as Beyoncé’s moody compositional foil for “Spirit,” of Disney’s recent “Lion King” live action movie.
By fusing the holy lilt of gospel, orchestral and electronic, with the creaminess of R&B (even smooth jazz is in there) and the rhythmic jitters of jungle and hip-hop, Labrinth created a sound both aerated and open, yet tight as a drum. Considering that Levinson’s “Euphoria” was filled with equally cool and dramatic teens radically ready to burst at the slightest provocation makes Labrinth the perfect artist to essay their swinging moods and motivations.
Labrinth’s wiry 26 song “Euphoria” obviously worked as a score to the action on screen. You barely get through the first downturned sawing string moments of “When I RIP,” before you can see Zandaya’s drug-addicted 17-year-old Rue in the throes of a mean red trip. The anxious claustrophobia you hear in “When I RIP,” is the anxious claustrophobia you felt watching her slip.
Like a Mobius strip, Labrinth’s score works too as a set of dreamy, glitch-heavy songs away from Levinson’s hypnotic visuals. Though brief, moments such as the acoustic guitar-strummed “New Girl,” the glockenspiel-tapped “Grapefruit Diet” and the shimmering “Slideshow” are sweetly sinister lullabies looking for their inner child. Labrinth truly puts that glockenspiel effect to good work on “Arriving at the Formal,” as its melodic tings lay handsomely into the swish of windy synth sounds.
For every calm cool childlike song, there’s a brash and stammering carnival of noise that builds into an ticklish Fender Rhodes epiphany (“Gangster”) or a loud, hosanna-on-high gospel chorus jutting the cut-and-paste rhythms (“Nate Growing Up”).
The most effective tracks on “Euphoria,” however, feature the dark voice of the composer at play with spare, spacious melodies and in a churchy mood. The willowing baritone vocal that guides “Still Don’t My Name” moves through the peaks and valleys of its slippery, gospel soul melody and its ”miss you kiss you “ lyrics as if taking a slow, roller coaster ride. That same voice is present and menacing in “WTF Are We Talking For.” Set against a spare, churchy piano line is the rude talk of a five-finger sandwich contrasting such an elegant setting.
Between the stately vocal moments, the stirring instrumental interludes and the holy roll of it all, Labrinth’s “Euphoria” shows off a sense of drama that is at one with his visual surroundings and a fan base who’ve been waiting for these tracks to drop since the series ended. Hallelujah.