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2014 – The Unreviewed (1/3)

December 20, 2014

UnreviewedSynchrotones is grateful for the many promos or advance copies it has received throughout 2014. A special Thank You goes out to the composers, publicists and labels who make this possible. It is genuinely unfortunate that some scores have been left unreviewed. But unreviewed does not mean unheard however. So let’s focus, if only briefly, on those scores that got away.

Related: “2014 – The Unreviewed (2/3)
Related: “2014 – The Unreviewed (3/3)”

After The Fall” (Marc Streitenfeld, 13 tracks, 31:46, Lakeshore Records 2014). An atmospheric score, where somewhat annoying whistling-sounds are omnipresent. Piano, mallets and a bendy guitar further accentuate this high-pitched ‘twinkly’ soundscape. Often criticised for ‘droning’, Streitenfeld’s latest score is more ‘whiney’. It’s not for me, I’m afraid. However, the score does offer a decent cello theme, especially in “Whole Again” and “Home Sweet Home”.

A Walk Amongst The Tombstones” (Carlos Rafael Rivera, 13 tracks, 30:48, Varese Sarabande 2014). Strings, harp and electric guitar (of the softer variant) dominate most of this thriller score. The main theme appears to be a sort-of see-sawing motif. Timpani often adds little accents. Choir and mallets play scary chords. It’s an adequate suspense score, deftly deploying all the familiar tricks; but it offers little that is particularly interesting away from the film.

Atlas Shrugged III: Who is John Galt” (Elia Cmiral, 15 tracks,  45:03, Atlas Productions 2014). You can’t blame Cmiral for trying. There is a lot to like here. Orchestra, choir, plenty of percussion. Some big themes, some small ones, often with an ‘Americana’ feel to them (e.g. “The Beginning”). There is suspense, action and wonder. Yet, the score as a whole does not live up to the sum of its parts. I wish the score was a little more colourful (i.e. more diversely orchestrated). There’s an over-reliance on strings that, in spite of some lovely cues (“The Oath”), ultimately results in a monotonous listening experience.

Bank$tas” (Steve London, 18 tracks, 28:30, Lakeshore Records 2014). Well, if you love that typical ‘heist’ sound consisting of bass lines and exotic percussion, you may find something to like here. Organ, synths and plenty of drum kits (acoustic and electronic) also feature. Wait long enough and you’ll even hear a faint trumpet, some woodwinds and a wacka-wacka guitar. It’s by no means unpleasant, but there’s nothing engaging about it either. Even at a mere 28 minutes it gets repetitive very quickly.

Batman: Assault on Arkham” (Robert J Kral, 23 tracks, 57:48, La-La-Land Records 2014). The opening cue is an exciting orchestral cue augmented with rousing percussion. It is all sampled, and it does show a little, but it’s a promising start. Track two then dives headfirst into dub-step. Yeah, the kind of stuff that was all over “Spider-Man 2” and which I didn’t like then. Kral offers plenty of seriously cool sections; most of which are orchestral (sampled), some are electronic. But they are mere fragments. Overall though it feels schizophrenic and exhausting.

The C.O.W.L. Sessions” (Joe Clark, 9 tracks, 42:52, Sparks & Shadows 2014). Set in 1960s Chicago, this score offers some sultry (bebop) jazz. You’ll find exquisite bass and piano performances, as well as the ‘noir’ sound of the muted trumpet and saxophones. It doesn’t feel like a film score, instead it plays like a 9 track jazz album with a variety of moods and tempi. If you like your jazz, this album would be well worth checking out.

Da Vinci’s Demons” (Bear McCreary, 19 tracks, 113:19, Sparks & Shawdows 2014). We’re treated to nearly two hours of McCreary’s orchestral (with choir) score for season two of this television show. It’s top quality stuff, possibly only let down by the mammoth amount of music on offer. More isn’t always better, though this album could keep you occupied for several sessions. The lengthy cues provide ample time for musical development. The main theme has a mystical quality to it, though it may take some time to embed in your memory (that said… it’s got two hours). Quality is consistent throughout. Overall, I struggle with the score’s length and memorability (or lack thereof), though it feels and sounds fantastic.

From Inside” (Gary Numan & Ade Fenton, 26 tracks, 67:12, Lakeshore Records 2014). Synth-pop pioneer Numan writes his first score for this bleak film. Unsurprisingly, synths dominate. The composer offers dense, horror-like soundscapes made from layers and layers of synth pads. Beats are also present. Faint piano and sampled vocals provide a human touch, against an alienating background. Technophiles may find some inspiration here, though overall it’s not an easy score to love.

Horns” (ROB, 22 tracks, 42:08, Lakeshore Records 2014). ROB is Robin Coudert, a French musician and composer. He often works with, though is not part of, the band Phoenix; and has worked with other French pop stars. He’s also written a few filmscores. “Horns” is a supernatural love story combined with a ‘who dunnit’. The score offers exactly what you’d expect from a modern thriller-horror score. It’s adequate at best, but nothing stands out. Some harp and flute passages stand out, though mostly because they sound sampled. There’s actually an odd juxtaposition between live- and fake sounding sections. Overall, familiar sounds and familiar harmonies for this genre.

Into The Storm” (Brian Tyler, 18 tracks, 47:49, Varese Sarabande 2014). “Into The Storm” is a decent action score by Brian Tyler. Trouble is that he churned out quite a few like these, some of them much better. This is no match for “Iron Man 3” or “Thor: The Dark World”. The opening cue offers the score’s main theme, which is another epic one with a sense of doom surrounding it. Familiar staccato rhythms and thunderous drums follow suit. From a technical point of view you can’t fault this score; it follows Tyler’s familiar formula and if that’s what you like, you’re in for a treat. Yet… that main theme doesn’t grab me as much as Tyler’s previous efforts.

Jessabelle” (Anton Sanko, 12 tracks, 40:00, La-La-Land Records). Fairly standard horror-score with a pseudo-innocent main theme featuring strings, cello, piano and mallets. Melodically it’s not bad at all. Synths, screeching noises and scattered vocal samples are also readily available throughout. From a technological point of view, there are some interesting things going on, though it does make the score lean towards sound design. Effective, expertly done, but probably ‘too far out’ for the casual listener.

John Wick” (Tyler Bater & Joel J. Richard, 27 tracks, 66:57, Varese Sarabande 2014). The director’s instructions for the score were to “kick ass”, as the film focuses on a hitman in New York. Expect plenty of granulated synth sounds and heavy percussion. Filtered piano with softer pads provide a touch of humanity. Technically you can’t really fault it, but you’d have to be a fan of this type of sound to really appreciate “John Wick”. I quit like the sound of it, but I’m missing a central idea to hold it all together; and at 66 minutes it feels quite long.

Laggies” (Benjamin Gibbard, 22 tracks, 21:16, Lakeshore Records 2014). Twenty tracks don’t make it past the 1-minute mark – that’s not a great start for musical development. As such it feels as if Gibbard is offering a bunch of musical ideas, predominantly for guitar and piano. Most of it is upbeat, re-using the same chords or melody – so there is some coherency. But 20 seconds do not make a track, especially not when up to ten seconds is reserved for reverb. A pleasant sound, some nice ideas, but as an album it lacks development and structure.

Mr Turner” (Gary Yershon, 29 tracks, 56:07, Varese Sarabande 2014). This film by Mike Leigh focuses on the life of painter J. Turner. Perhaps that explains Yershon’s classical approach to the score? There’s a strong presence for solo clarinet, which produces quite a high-pitched piercing sound that not everyone might appreciate (I don’t). Harp and a small string ensemble also feature. You could say it was written for small chamber orchestra and it sounds and feels like that. Very classical, very arty – but the sound of that clarinet is too much for me. The album also contains seven tracks for Leigh’s 2012 short film “Running Jump”. These cues are written for piano, bongos and trumpet. Again a small ensemble, with a slight Latin feel to it. Again it feels very artistic, though it also features long stretches of solo bongo play. For me… not a very engaging album.

To be continued…

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