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2015 Round Up – April (4/12)

May 3, 2015

UnreviewedThe Unreviewed: 2015 Round Up – April (4/12)

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:


Cover_JerusalemJerusalem” (Michael Brook, 20 tracks, 32:42, Lakeshore Records 2015). Believe it or not, “Jerusalem” is an IMAX documentary about the city of… Jerusalem, its history and how it became such an important place for so many people. Michael Brook is not the first composer that would come to my mind when considering a composer for this film. His rhythmic, often electronic style seems at odds with this ancient city and its religious heritage. So, Brook didn’t write an electronic score. Strings, violin and cello sit at the heart of this score, which is (dare I say: surprisingly) warm and lyrical. It’s still rhythmic and ambient in a few places, but it’s done through harp, guitar, strings, some percussion (but not much) and synth pads (again, not much). There are some ethnic influences, but nothing overpowering. It’s a very well-balanced album. It’s low-key, but not minimal. It’s melodic, but unfortunately not particularly memorable, but whilst its playing it is really quite beautiful.

Cover_SpongebobMovieThe Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water” (John Debney, 16 tracks, 48:49, Varese Sarabande 2015). “Writing the score for Spongebob was a uniquely fun experience,” said Debney. “The idea of working on such an iconic show like Spongebob was exciting and gratifying. The score runs the gamut from traditional Spongebob music with Hawaiian guitar and ukulele to large symphonic landscapes.” The album opens with a catchy pirate’s theme, that ever so slightly reminds me of Alan Silvestri’s “Nazi Bookstore” from “Ricochet”. It’s insanely good fun and returns numerous times, in many guises, throughout the score. Key to these variations are the orchestrations, and they are fantastic! Don’t expect an ‘original’ score, as Debney deliberately relies on familiar styles and techniques, often paying little tributes to his colleagues. Some of the action cues sound like Silvestri; elsewhere it’s frightfully close to quoting Jerry Goldsmith’s “The Omen”. For the most part this is a large and colourful orchestral score (and particularly brass heavy). It’s clear that Debney had a great time, as the score is great fun, playing with all kinds of genre conventions.. However, it’s also quite frenetic and suffers a bit from ‘mickey mousing’. After a while it gets exhausting; that said, it’s very entertaining.

Cover_GoingClearGoing Clear” (Will Bates, 22 tracks, 54:53, Milan Records 2015). Documentary following eight former members of the Church of Scientology, detailing their experience. Composer Will Bates says: “There is a deeply emotional side to the story. There is courage and sadness in the former members of the church who have been brave enough to come forward. This was my task, to somehow sonically describe these strange and otherworldly beliefs but do it with a high level of respect.” Sonically strange, it most certainly is. Synths, theremin, distorted voices, echoing drumloops… Bates creates an alien soundscape that, for the most part, is really quite unpleasant. Occasionally the music morphs into something more recognisable (a steady drum loop, arpeggio, a vague muzak-like melody) though this may be the result of including bits of Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Ravel. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite as bizarre as this; and I’m really not sure what to make of it. In that respect, it suits the subject matter perfectly!

Cover_TheDovekeepersThe Dovekeepers” (Jeff Beal, 2CD, 51 tracks, 2:28:24, Varese Sarabande 2015). “Alice Hoffman’s novel tells the Masada story through the prism of the personal; four strong and passionate women who give voice to a side of this history we haven’t seen before,” Beal described. The composers was asked by Yves Simoneau to compose the music for “The Dovekeepers” only a few months after he and his wife returned from a trip to Israel where they had visited Masada.  “It’s hard to imagine a place that contains such natural splendor contrasted with the tragic fate of the Jews of 70 A.D. who sought refuge from the Romans there.” Beal’s score is beautiful and passionate; clearly a labour of love. The ethnic instrumentation (winds, vocals and percussion over warm strings) have become rather familiar, but it’s expertly executed here. Those who enjoyed the quieter moments of “Exodus: Gods and Kings” or “Kingdom of Heaven” will likely find something to enjoy here. I can’t really fault the music, but I can fault the album presentation. There is an awful lot of music here. Even with the best will in the world, Beal is not going to hold your attention for two-and-a-half hours. However, when digested in small chunks it is lovely score.

Cover_Child44Child 44” (Jon Ekstrand, 24 tracks, 63:09, Lakeshore Records 2015). “The movie takes place in the 50’s Russia and the plot is about an idealistic pro-Stalin security officer who decides to investigate a series of child murders in a country where this sort of crime doesn’t exist,” says Swedish composer Ekstrand. “We decided not to go with any electronic elements and only work with acoustic instruments and sparingly with effects. We also wanted solo Viola and balalaika tremolo beds to be a part of the score so that the overarching tone would be very dark and ominous.” Solo strings play a key role throughout the score and create an air of sophistication. Piano also plays a part; sometimes to provide melancholy through gentle melodies (“There is Only You”), and sometimes simply to add bass. The few action cues rely on staccato strings and sampled percussion, both skillfully executed. All in all, this is a really solid, classy score. Avery nice surprise, to be honest.

Cover_BlackwoodBlackwood” (Lorne Balfe, 15 tracks, 57:29, La-La-Land Records 2015). Horror film about a college professor who moves to a house in the country, only to find that things aren’t quite right. “[The director] wanted to keep the score orchestral so we found organic ways to highlight important motifs in the plot, especially Ben’s struggle with madness” said Balfe. “The piece ‘Cadenza’ is really the build-up of the family’s tumultuous experiences.” Balfe’s score relies heavily on strings, with key roles for additional instruments such as organ (“Harry’s Story”), bass flute (“Exploring the Woods”), brass (“A Masked Boy”) and piano. The latter appears throughout the score, often adding a whimsical atmosphere. Ultimately it is a fairly typical thriller score and I struggle to get really excited about it, though it does have a few really nice touches.

Cover_TheDTrainThe D-Train” (Andrew Dost, 19 tracks, 46:57, Lakeshore Records 2015). Comedy about a class reunion. WINNER 2015 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards.”The directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, absolutely had a clear vision,” says Dost, member of the band Fun. “They knew right away that they wanted a synthesizer-driven, John Hughes-esque score. We tried a few different ideas anyway – a western, Morricone style sound, for example – but when we landed back on the synthesizers we knew it was the way to go.” After eight songs by the likes of OMD, Inxs, Mr Mister and Foreigner we arrive at Dost’s score. His synthesized cues are deliberately cheesy with an 80s feel to them (and sometimes more than a little wink). There are some recurring ideas and I guess it’s probably quite funny on screen. Even the gentler cues are quite pretty. But… on album it is lacking substance. Here Dost’s score consists of 11 tracks totalling 14 minutes. It’s short and fragmented; seemingly with little purpose beyond being a funny pastische of 80s basslines and drums. Also, the sound is terribly distorted – I hope that was just my copy.

Cover_AnimalsAnimals” (Ian Hultquist, 19 tracks, 47:49, Lakeshore Records 2015). Film about Bobbie and Jude who are a young couple living in their broken-down car parked alongside Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Their days are a continuous ritual of theft and scoring until they must confront the difficult truth of their relationship after one of them is hospitalized. “From our very first meeting together, we all agreed that we wanted the score to be a significant part of telling Bobbie and Jude’s story.” Says Hultquist. “This is a love story, and the music had to uphold that relationship. On top of that though, the music had to shift between helping the characters escape out of their reality, while being able to immediately pull them back down into the grime again.” The result is a mixture of ambient synth chords, bordering on sound design, and folksy guitar play. There’s not a lot more to it. I can imagine it’ll help create a grim atmosphere on screen, but on album it’s just not very appealing. There are only 10 tracks and just over 14 minutes of Hultquist’s score. The rest of the album is made up of songs by bands like Wedding Dress, Gay Panic and The Life and Times…

Reviews by Pete Simons

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