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2014 – The Unreviewed (3/3)

January 30, 2015

UnreviewedAs Synchrotones continues to review those score that were left unreviewed in 2014, rRead about Alan Silvestri’s third foray into “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”, Howard Shore’s weird and wonderful “Rosewater”, Guthrie & Budd’s ambient “White Bird in a Blizzard”, and Williams’ “Walking with the Enemy” (no… the other Williams).

Related: “2014 – The Unreviewed (1/3)
Related: “2014 – The Unreviewed (2/3)

Synchrotones 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.

The Canal” (Ceiri Torjussen, 23 tracks, 50:34, Lakeshore Records 2014). Horrorfilm set in a house by a canal. Torjussen’s score is totally disturbing. It’s very inventive with its sounds (lots of wooden, creaky, scratchy noises), but oh my… how unpleasant it is. And of course, that is exactly the point. It does a fantastic job at unnerving you with deep clangs, atonal violin passages, detuned pianos, etcetera. The thing is, Torjussen is an accomplished concert composer, and a multi-award winner. He knows what he’s doing – and what he’s doing is extracting the freakiest sounds out of real life instruments. And as unpleasant as “The Canal” may be, it is equally fascinating. Somehow you can hear that it’s all acoustic; and you’re trying to work out what on earth it is that you’re listening to. Forget melodies and harmonies, this one is for the ‘sound’ guys amongst you.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” (Alan Silvestri, 19 tracks, 57:08, Varese Sarabande 2014). The third installment of this popular franchise sees Silvestri returning to deliver an orchestral adventure score that is quintessential for the composer. That’s posh for more-of-the-same. The opening cue is quite a fragmented affair and, as such, doesn’t leave a confident impression. “The Grand Re-Opening” would’ve made for a better opening (and that’s the last time I’ll write the word ope…). You probably know by now that I’m a huge Silvestri fan – so, inevitably I enjoy the composer’s many -isms. And yet, this score doesn’t grab me. It’s nicely written, well orchestrated and the various synths (the composer’s Achilles’ heel) blend in surprisingly well on this occasion. The “Matrix Revolutions”-like “Xiangliu” will satisfy most with a hunger for chanting choir over racing strings and big drums. Many have put extra meaning into “Teddy’s Goodbye” (what with Robin Williams departing this world), but for me it’s a little too fragmented and, as a result, lacking gravitas. And that really sums up the entire score.

The Great Invisible” (David Wingo, 16 tracks, 40:09, Lakeshore Records 2014). documentary about the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, which caused a devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. The composer combines metallic, machine-like soundscapes overlayed with plucked guitars, in an effort to reflect both the industrial settings and the South American locale. Sometimes this juxtaposition works, sometimes it doesn’t. “Beach Cleanup” is an interesting cue with many different textures overlapping each other. However, throughout the score Wingo relies heavily on high-pitched, often grating noises that I personally find off-putting. There is some harmonic consistency in the folksy elements, but I think you’d struggle to find a melody, let alone something you’d remember afterwards. If you’re into sound design and you like distorted, metallic sounds, you may find some inspiration here. For me it’s too alienating – that’s probably the point, but that’s not going to make me like it any more.

The One I Love” (Saunder Juriaans/Danny Bensi, 15 tracks, 28:35, Lakeshore Records, 2014). The composers explain: “There’s a lot of percussion.‎ The day we started on the film we built this kind of junk drum set in our studio, which was like a drum set but it had all these weird ethnic instruments. Wood blocks and an old cymbal and a cowbell on it. It was from like the ’40s. Vintagey and weird, clangy and clinky.” The result is a quirky little score, that clicks and ticks its way through 28 minutes. Few strings and winds are also present. It makes for an interesting listening experience, but not one I’m in a hurry to repeat. Whilst the composition, and more so the orchestration, is inventive, it’s not easy to follow. It’s rhythmic and atmospheric, but not very harmonic or melodic. It’s one of those scores that provide the film with a unique sound, but it’s not all that engaging on album.

Rosewater” (Howard Shore, 16 tracks, 42:15, Howe Records 2014). Directorial debut of Jon Stewart, telling the story of an Iranian journalist who is arrested and tortured by a man nicknamed “Rosewater”. The opening cue is slow, melancholy, very atmospheric (almost science fiction-like) and very beautiful. Deep, warm chords augment a melody for ethnic flute – the melody is structured around a descending 3-note motif. All kinds of ethnic instruments (percussion, strings, winds) are utilised throughout the score. As is typical for Shore, melodies are sparse and simple of nature – much revolves around atmosphere and repetitive chord progressions (I don’t mean that negatively). It’s an odd, but intriguing score. Part of me isn’t interested in any more duduks or ouds, yet the other part of me can’t turn it off. Not sure where it sits in Shore’s oeuvre; its closest relative is possibly his recent “Maps to the Stars”, though it is considerably more appealing than that. Perhaps even “The Cell”, though without the chaos and aggression.

Walking with the Enemy” (Timothy Williams, 21 tracks, 47:56, Lakeshore Records 2014). Set in Hungary during WWII, a young man tries to find his displaced family by using a Nazi uniform and infiltrating into enemy territory. Based on a true story allegedly. Timothy Williams’ sweeping orchestral score is pretty decent, actually. It’s not one that will stay with you for very long, but it is a skillfully written and orchestrated work. It’s got lovely melodies, often featuring woodwinds and some sterling action cues for racing strings, brass and percussion (anything with ‘battle’ or ‘attack’ in the title). Strings and horn frequently soar, like… really soar. It reminds me of the 1990s when this style was the norm. It’s a score full of great intentions and it’s wonderful to listen to. Yet… the themes aren’t memorable enough and the overall style is too generic to leave a lasting impression.

White Bird in a Blizzard” (Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd, 12 tracks, 41:05, Lakeshore Records 2014). Guthrie of Cocteau Twins-fame and avant-garde musician Budd deliver a new agey score for this drama by Gregg Araki. It’s about a girl whose mother mysteriously disappears. At the same time, said girl is discovering her sexuality. That translates into music as dreamy synth pads, heavily reverberated electric pianos and forever-echoing guitars. As the film is set in the 80s, the music does deliberately sound a little dated. I quite like the ambient soundscapes, but there is little in the way of variation going on. It feels like it’s the same sound set over and over again. And whilst it undoubtedly provides the film with a uniqueish atmosphere (somewhat “Twin Peaks”-like), it’s rather monotonous on album.

 Reviews by Pete Simons

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