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2015 round Up – March (3/12)

April 5, 2015

UnreviewedThe Unreviewed: 2015 Round Up – March (3/12)

In spite of best intentions, it is genuinely unfortunate that some scores are left unreviewed. But unreviewed does not mean unheard. So let’s focus, if only briefly, on those scores that got away this month. Including: “Wishin’ and Hopin'”, “Operation Arctic”, “Journey to Space”, “The Cobbler”, “Unfinished Business”, “Battlefield Hardline” and “Effie Gray”.


Cover_wishinandhopinWishin’ and Hopin’ ” (Matthew Llewellyn, 20 tracks, 33:05, MovieScore Media 2014). I’ve been meaning to review this score for a long time, and it simply hasn’t happened. It deserves all the attention it can get though, as it is a lovely, innocent and playful score. The festive animated film is based on a NY Times best-seller by Wally Lamb. Composer Llewellyn says: “It needed to be something that resonated not only with the holiday season but also to help tell a story that we can all relate to. If you like thematic, orchestral film scores then this one is for you!” He’s not wrong! The album opens with the infectious main theme, which is then repeated in various guises throughout the score. It’s a lovely theme that instantly feels familiar. The music never takes itself too seriously, and its melodic nature ensures it’s constantly on the move. The orchestrations are colourful; and at a shade over 33 minutes this is a tight, charming and heart-warming little album. Highly recommended.

Cover_operationarcticOperation Arctic” (Trond Bjerknes, 17 tracks, 42:12, MovieScore Media 2014). “Operation Arctic” is an ambient electronic score that’s taken its time to grow on me – but grown it has. According to the record label the score for “Operation Arctic” is a hybrid of symphonic and electronic solutions, utilizing smooth synth textures, solo voice, solo violin and cold percussive samples to paint the portrait of the Arctic circle. A subtle, ambient synthetic score may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found the soundscapes here to be interesting and rewarding. It possibly owes a little to Steven Price’s “Gravity” though it is much lighter than that. It’s not melodic (certainly not in any obvious way, with the exception of the lovely piano theme in “To the Ice”) but the score keeps you on your toes with its constantly evolving layers of sound.

Cover_JourneyToSpaceJourney to Space” (Cody Westheimer, 23 tracks, 35:03, Lakeshore Records 2015). This IMAX film annihilates the perception that the space program died with the end of the Space Shuttle Program by showcasing the exciting plans NASA and the space community are working on. Cody Westheimer’s music is appropriately optimistic, patriotic and ambitious. The composer says: “I was beyond inspired to write a sweeping orchestral score for “Journey into Space”. The giant screen format affords incredible musical opportunity and I was thrilled to live out my boyhood dream of becoming an astronaut by scoring this film. The director was looking for an epic score reminiscent of some of my favorite film scores of the 90’s like “Apollo 13” and “Jurassic Park”. I was elated to oblige.” And it shows… a bit too much. It’s well written music (for the most part), but the “Apollo 13” influences are distracting. Some of the string writing, and the counterpoint presented within, is quite pleasant. At the same time it’s all a bit incessant and lacking real depth. It sounds low-budget. Sometimes it sounds like TV music, other times it sounds like corporate video music. And the arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “Mars” is frankly dreadful. A bit of a frustrating experience this… Westheimer is clearly a talented amd promising composer and “Journey to Space” is a pleasant-enough listen, but it doesn’t quite live up to its ambitions.

Cover_TheCobblerThe Cobbler” (John Debney and Nick Urata, 35 tracks, 63:06, Lakeshore Records 2015). Max Simkin (Adam Sandler) repairs shoes in the same New York shop that has been in his family for generations. Disenchanted with the grind of daily life, Max stumbles upon an heirloom that allows him to step into the lives of his customers and see the world in a new way. John Debney says of the score: “I think the instrumentation is very unique. Nick and I created a Klezmer style band sensibility. Nick’s band leant their remarkable talents to some of the score to great effect.” The orchestrations are dominated by harmonica, clarinet, violin, bass and mallets. Klezmer refers to Jewish musical traditions, so expect that Jewish / Eastern European type of sound. It’s a quirky, good natured score playing to the film’s comedic elements. If you like this type of music, it may be worth checking out, but only if you like this kind of music.

Cover_UnfinishedBusinessUnfinished Business” (Alex Wurman, 17 tracks, 46:01, Lakeshore Records 2015). A hard-working small business owner (Vince Vaughn) and his two associates (Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco) travel to Berlin to close the most important deal of their lives. But what began as a routine business trip goes off the rails in every imaginable way. Composer Wurman says of the score: “When we asked the question ‘what would be a funny German influence,’ I ended up pulling out my accordion and playing around with that a lot. When we put that together with the more contemporary German influence, electronic music, we ended up with something weird and funny.” For the most part, the score has an upbeat, funky/jazzy style, something you might otherwise associate with a heist movie. Light percussion, bass, organ, accordion, brass band, soft synths, piano and strings dominate the score. It reminds me a little of Rolfe Kent’s “Sideways”, as it’s got a similar jazzy, travelling, meandering atmosphere; but it is more modern and less engaging. Still, it’s quite an enjoyable score held together by a main theme that returns numerous times. The recording and mixing are superb; really playing with your senses as certain instruments are deliberately placed to the far left or right, creating an interesting spatial experience.

Cover_JLThroneOfAtlantisJustice League: Throne of Atlantis” (Frederik Wiedmann, 24 tracks, 56:43, La-La-Land Records 2015). Aquaman is forced to choose sides between the Justice League and Atlantis, when Atlantean warriors begin a war to conquer the surface world, starting with the coastal cities of Gotham and Metropolis. Wiedmann says: “[the score] asked for a little bit more than a standard superhero action score. I was in awe of the beautiful design of the city of Atlantis, The colors and the animation captured a wonderful sense of mystery and magic, so the music needed to complement this throughout the story.” Wiedmann manages that succesfully, but to call it ‘more than a standard superhero movie’ is pushing it a bit. It’s very well written with some engaging themes and sounds. The softer parts rely on live strings and plenty of attractive bell-like sounds. The action cues feature thunderous drums and brass, both sampled. It’s a shame the brass isn’t live, though Wiedmann does a cracking job at disguising it! It’s an entertaining score, but it does feel quite dense, even during the quieter moments (I’m not sure if that’s the mixing, or the constant underlying synth pads).

Cover_BattlefieldHardlineBattlefield Hardline” (Paul Leonard-Morgan, 19 tracks, 65:08, EA 2015). This is the thirteenth installment in the “Battlefield” series. This one is unique in the fact that it is police themed, focusing on the continual war on crime, rather than military conflicts depicted in previous installments. I nicked that from the Battlefield wiki page. The score by Paul Leonard-Morgan sounds pretty much as you might expect for this type of game. It is heavily rock influenced, with heavy drums, lots of electric guitars and granulated synthesized soundscapes (usually as metallicy-sounding as the guitars). Unless you’re really into this aggressive, industrialised sound you may struggle with “BFH”, as I did. There are plenty of interesting guitar riffs and rhythms (drum kits) to be found here; but a lot of the score’s atmosphere relies on stretched notes and harmonies, which start to grate after a while (or in my case: nearly instantly). It’s not for me, but I can see fans of aggressive guitar-driven atmospheres and lively percussion getting some pleasure out of this.

Cover_EffieGrayEffie Gray” (Paul Cantelon, 16 tracks, 42:20, Lakeshore Records 2015). Set in the Victorian era, “Effie Gray” is the story of a beautiful young woman coming of age, and finding her own voice in a world where women were expected to be seen but not heard. The composer says: “Working on “Effie Gray” was a privilege. I was allowed to write the music freely, which in turn allowed the music to express the depth of the emotion that the film creates. I was raised in a very similar religious background to that of John Ruskin, and was exceedingly moved by the film’s exploration of those important influences. This personal connection propelled the music to become a fully realized character.” Cantelon’s main theme for piano is a beautifully hesitant, quite literally stuttering, melody that blossoms as it proceeds. Strings and woodwinds accompany. The incessant use of piano (especially during the first half of the album), though beautiful and virtious, may feel a little overbearing to some. The second half of the album sees strings and winds come to the fore, whilst the piano parts become more sombre. It’s an attractive score with a European feel to it, but one has to really love the piano to appreciate it.

Reviews by Pete Simons

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