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Anonymous Rejected Filmscore (John Murphy)

August 18, 2014


John Murphy, 2014, Taped Noise
12 tracks, 67:04

It’s not every day that we get to listen to rejected filmscores. John Murphy decided to polish up his ‘lost score’ and release it via his label Taped Noise. Good call – or rejected for a reason?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Liverpudlian composer John Murphy says: “Ano” is the soundtrack album based on a film score I had thrown out five or six years ago. And even though the score hit the cutting room floor, I always felt it was one of my better, more original efforts. In my head it became the ‘lost score’. The score without a film. Years later the idea came to me to go back and finish it… the way it originally sounded in my head. And that’s what I did.

So, I don’t know for sure for which film Murphy wrote this score. I could make an educated guess, but won’t. I also don’t know whether there is a clue in the tracktitles or cover design – I suspect not. As such, it’s tricky to know how to interpret this album. Other than… sit back and go with the flow.

What does it sound like?

“3.59am” opens the album with faint instrumental effects, filtered strumming on guitar and a distant vocal singing a spooky lullaby. After 50 seconds or so, the filters come off (so to speak) and the sound opens up. An echo-y piano tune, soft beats and various synth noises accompany the lullaby. I’m reminded of Craig Armstrong’s “The Space Between Us” album, though it’s a bit rougher than that. The strings, and the way they seem to pitch-shift from one note to the next, reinforce this comparison to the Scottish composer. The rock drum kit and electric guitars that come in around the 4-minute mark are unmistakably John Murphy. The lush strings and arpeggiated guitars make for an interesting soundscape. Very neatly, the cue ends exactly how it started.

“1-2-3-4” presents John Murphy as we probably know him best. Fairly straightforward electric guitar chords, piano lending bass and female vocal singing another lullaby-type line. Soon those really fat guitar chords come in; as do lush strings and sampled brass. All these elements keep building to form a really dense sound. In contrast, “8mm Dream” is a slow are sparsely arranged cue which opens with a filtered piano sound. Some really cool effects are applied to the piano. Filtered strings join in, as does a flute (both, but certainly the latter have been performed on a Mellotron), giving the cue a deliberate old-fashioned sound. The production values on this cue are fantastic.

The lullaby and bendy strings from the opening cue are reprised in “Ghosts”; whilst “How To Leave Your Body” offers a floaty, almost perpetual melody (for a flute or whistle-like instrument) over classic Murphy chords and beats. Without the melody it wouldn’t be a million miles away from his mega-familiar “Adagio in D-minor”, but the whistley melody certainly gives it a whole new edge. The longer you listen to it, the more epic it becomes. In a different arrangement I could see this tune being something of a power-anthem. Here, however, Murphy chooses not to do anything with the melody, but instead keeps building up those chords, adding layers of sound until it becomes an all-encompassing wall of sound.

The heavily reverberated piano and flute (from a Mellotron once more) that open “Dead Ballerina” feel like something of a relief, though you have to listen quite hard to follow the melody. At 1.17 clear strings come in. And what they play is simply one of the most beautiful adagios I’ve heard in quite some time. Murphy released this as a single a few months ago and it broke my heart then, as it does now. The album version is mixed slightly different, in that the intro is heavily reverberated whereas the single is much drier. If pushed, I’d say I prefer the single version, but I can see how the added reverb makes sense on album. The long and short of it is… “Dead Ballerina” is simply stunning. And if I’m really honest, I didn’t know Murphy had this in him. The lush, counterpointed string writing is much more akin to Craig Armstrong really. Solo piano closes this track; and the way it fades away into a mist of reverb feels just right.

Murphy seems to enjoy contrast as “Automatic” offers distorted electric guitars accompanied by rock drums. The guitars play a repetitive pattern, as seems part of Murphy’s style. Sometimes it works for me, and sometimes it doesn’t. Here… I’m not a fan, but the track has more to offer as the composer also reprises the bendy strings theme (sorry John, there’s probably a more classy name for it). Filtered piano (or possibly another Mellotron sound) introduces “Boy”, a melancholy cue that also features strings and guitar. It’s a beautiful little cue, even though not a great deal happens. There is the promise of it building towards something grand, but it doesn’t… and yet it’s a fascinating cue. I’m not really sure how he does it! We’re sticking with Mellotrons as guitar and heavily distorted strings open “California”. Of course, the sound opens up as real strings come in, but throughout this cue Murphy keeps fading between real strings and Mellotron. Halfway through the track guitars start strumming away happily, while real strings (and a very soft female vocal) perform a playful melody. It’s not overtly ‘happy’, but it’s probably the most uplifting cue on the album. It took me a little while to recognise a descending 3-note motif from “8mm Dream”.

“Sacrifice” offers the album’s second heart-break after “Dead Ballerina”. Whist not as melodic, “Sacrifice” is a very emotive cue for slow strings and ghostly synth pads. Towards the end tremolo basses come in to widen the sound. It’s quite poignant. “In Extremis” continues to build on the epicness with a repeating 5-note motif for strings; accompanied by brass chords and Murphy’s typical guitar riffs. It’s pretty powerful, but if I’m honest I think the sampled brass actually detract from the cue. The strings are also a little weird, as there is quite a strong attack on each note, almost making it sound like it’s a backwards played line. I do like this effect on the strings, but the brass doesn’t feel quite right to me.

The album closes with “Fade To…”, another wonderful cue for strings that reprises some material from “Sacrifice” and also features the bendy strings theme, though largely focuses on a lush 5-note melody. Drum kit and the subtle tones of an organ give it both an uplifting and somewhat retro feel. All in all, a classy ending to a very stylish album.

Is it any good?

John Murphy’s “Anonymous Rejected Filmscore” is a very stylish album. Production values are high (kudos should also go to Tyler Barton); with numerous effects and the Mellotron lending it a classy and retro edge. Technophiles (like mself) may enjoy all the trickery that goes on. Those who are familiar with Murphy’s work will recognise his trademark sound – the beats, the repeating guitar riffs (as we know them from scores like “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine”). Even the Mellotron already featured heavily in “28 Weeks Later”, and Murphy displayed some nice string writing in “The Last House on the Left”. Yet, I think many listeners may be surprised by the sheer beauty of the (string) writing, especially in “Dead Ballerina”, “Sacrifice” and “Fade To…”. Those who enjoy Craig Armstrong’s non-filmscore albums may want to check out Murphy’s “Ano” as there is some resemblance in style and mood. What I’ve always liked about Murphy is that he has a very clear, recognisable style. Granted, his style may not be to everyone’s taste (heck, I myself am not the biggest fan of those electric guitars); and those people may want to check out the album’s trailer first (link below). This is not your typical Hollywood score and the melodies, though beautiful, don’t immediately jump right out at you. Maybe that’s why it got rejected; maybe it was just a little too ‘alternative’. Instead, it’s music that teases you and gets under your skin.

Rating [3.5/5]


01. 3.59am (8.20)
02. 1-2-3-4 (6.51)
03. 8mm Dream (4.02)
04. Ghosts (4.29)
05. How To Leave Your Body (6.16)
06. Dead Ballerina (6.14)
07. Automatic (3.10)
08. Boy (5.31)
09. California (4.57)
10. Sacrifice (4.25)
11. In Extremis (5.41)
12. Fade To… (7.06)


Taped Noise website
Listen to the Trailer

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