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2015 Round Up – May (5/12)

June 7, 2015

UnreviewedThe Unreviewed: 2015 Round Up – May (5/12)

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_MadMaxFuryRdMad Max: Fury Road” (Tom Holkenborg (aka: Junkie XL), 26 tracks, 2:04:50, WaterTower Music 2015). Fury by name, fury by nature. Or Mad by name, … you get the drift. Dutch musician Tom Holkenborg is being catapulted to Hollywood stardom; and “Mad Max: Fury Road” is arguably his biggest blockbuster to date (certainly where he’s the lead composer). Holkenborg unleashes incredible sonic forces here. Thunderous percussion that rarely lets up. Relentless string ostinatos and numerous synth/brass blasts. It is loud to the insane. A lot of people have praised this score for its function within the film. However, away from said film I find it virtually unbearable. It is obnoxiously in-your-face, as if the music is constantly screaming “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!” And, well no, as a matter of fact. I am not. I actually find myself feeling bored with the droning, the repetitive ostinatos, the same old tricks and those bonkers drums. And it goes on like this for more than TWO HOURS! (The sheer madness of that thought makes me chuckle as I write this.) There is a main theme, of sorts, which is basically a short (4-notes I think) descending motif. As in “descending into madness”? No, not quite. Holkenborg does occasionally drop the beats and offers an attempt at dramatic string writing, but it fails to impress (me). It sounds like he’s tentatively searching for the right chords… only for the music to feel fragmented and predictable (and it’s not that I don’t like the sound of strings and, hey presto, a duduk… but a nice sound does not great music make). I had high hopes for this score. I adore Holkenborg’s “Divergent” and was hoping he’d do something along those lines: something with a strong melody, with stylish synths… but instead we get all the nasty bits from “Man of Steel” cranked up to 11. In all seriousness, I have no doubt about the passion and the man-hours that Holkenborg poured into this score. The result, however, is not for me.

Cover_SpooksTGGSpooks: The Greater Good” (Dominic Lewis, 11 tracks, 43:46, Silva Screen 2015). The popular (and often incredibly tense) tv-show “Spooks” finally gets its cinematic spin-off. I’m sure plenty of lady viewers will be wishing that ‘Adam’ was still in, but alas, he departed a long time ago. Scoring the film is Dominic Lewis, one of Remote Control’s offspring. I’m a little surprised here, as Paul Leonard-Morgan seemed a more obvious choice (having scored nearly 50 episodes and a good few big movies). That said, Lewis does a good job at retaining the shows sound. To be fair, that sound always consisted of fairly standard percussion, synths and obligatory reflective moments. Lewis’ filtered string motif serves as a nice little signature sound. The scraping cello sounds also provide this score with something ‘recognisable’. It’s all reasonably well executed (undoubtedly very functional), but there is little-to-nothing here that really stands out.

Cover_TheLongestRideThe Longest Ride” (Mark Isham, 28 tracks, 51:28, Milan Records 2015). Well, it would be the longest ride at this pace! Isham’s score trots along at snails pace to the sound of acoustic guitar, soft piano and occasional strings (or a synth substitute). Every now and then, the score seems to break out into a canter (“Good Shabbos”, “Beach Frolic”), but those moments are brief and far between. On the surface, the score sounds lovely – very pretty. It makes for great background music; but it’s so forgettable. There is no theme that stands out, and any dramatic build-up is quickly undone (making the already short cues feel even more fragmented). From Isham, whose “A River Runs Through It” is still a magnificent example of pastoral scoring) this is an incredibly underwhelming effort.

Cover_AgeOfAdalineThe Age of Adaline” (Rob Simonsen, 23 tracks, 58:08, Lakeshore Records 2015). “We all agreed that since the story spans the last hundred years, the orchestra was the appropriate instrument and tone for the score,” said Simonsen. “While there are some ambiences and synthesized elements in there, they’re meant to add atmosphere for the most part, and not sound manufactured, per se.” The composer (of “The Final Member“) has crafted a lovely, bittersweet score. One that is perhaps a little too understated too really stay with you long-term, but one that makes for a wonderful listening experience nonetheless. Strings and piano take the lead, whilst soft choir, harp and glockenspiel add a sense of magic. It’s a little Horner-ish at time, though he would probably have used slightly richer orchestrations. As with most of Simonsen’s works, this one is very slick and stylish. Occasionally, the music becomes more dramatic, adding a sense of urgency, as in “Never Speaks a Word of Her Fate”. And there is some mesmerizing, avant-gardeish, string writing taking place in “Twisted Around the Truth”. The composer says of his score: “Adaline’s theme is mostly heard on the piano. We wanted something melancholic and pretty, yet not too sad. And while the love theme appears repeatedly throughout the movie, it is actually not heard in its entirety. I wrote it away from picture and there was never a scene long enough to play it. However by repeating the opening phrases of the love theme, it has a quality of getting stuck in the ‘starting out’ mode, which is fitting for Adaline, who is stuck in time, repeating things in her life over and over, now a woman resistant to letting anything develop.” The result is a beautiful, immersive score. It’s not one for instant gratification and is instead  best enjoyed with headphones on (and a glass of bourbon in hand). The end song “Start Again” by Simonsen and Faux Fix, performed by Elena Tonra, perfectly blends in and is a little gem in itself.

Cover_GoodKillGood Kill” (Christophe Beck, 17 tracks, 40:08, Lakeshore Records 2015). “In approaching the score, I wanted to create a certain sonic ambiguity between the two desert landscapes featured: rural Nevada and Pakistan,” explained Beck. “The lack of clarity and separation between the home and war fronts is key to understanding Tommy’s confusion and motivation in the film and seemed like the perfect window through which to share that feeling with the audience musically.” After a nervous opening for tremolo strings, de-tuned guitar and ethnic flute (“Missiles Away”), the score continues with soft, breathy synth sounds (“So Beautiful”). Beck instantly creates an interesting contrast that sets the tone for the rest of the album (though the nervous tension dominates). There are plenty of electronics here, but they are of a softer nature, blending in nicely with the strings, guitar and duduk. Whilst I doubt it’ll leave a lasting impression on anyone, “Good Kill” is a (surprisingly) slick and beautiful score. Aside from the nervous tension, there is a real sense of loss and melancholy here. Again, not one for instant gratification, but worth the while when listened to through headphones.

Cover_SlowWestSlow West” (Jed Kurzel, 29 tracks, 40:53, Lakeshore Records 2015). “Slow West” is a western adventure set in late 19th Century Colorado, centered on a young man’s search for the love of his life. The score by Jed Kurzel is almost comedic at times, for example the odd cello in “Let’s Drift Theme”. However, later it takes on a more dramatic form. The raw sound of solo string instruments plays a pivotal role throughout the score, alongside pizzicato strings and the occasional banjo. It’s quite an oppresive sound, this constant scraping of the strings. I suppose the limited orchestrations provide a heightened sense of reality (and it comes across rather ‘arty’ or ‘indie’), however if you’re not a fan, this album is not for you. “We steered away from anything typically ‘western’ and went for something bittersweet, more in tune with Jay’s journey,” said Kurzel. “A score that, like Jay, is European at heart and at odds with the brutality of the American West.” Various songs and snippets of dialogue are interspersed with the score cues. It makes for a more cinematic experience, which I’m usually not a fan off… but this is an exception, as it provides a much-needed counterpoint to the buzzing sound of the strings. Not really my cup of tea, this album, though I rather enjoyed the closing track with its mesmerising guitar strumming and foot-stomping rhythm.

Cover_DeepInTheDarknessDeep in the Darkness” (Matthew Llewellyn, 20 tracks, 46:05, ScreamWorks 2015). Directed by Colin Theys, “Deep In The Darkness” follows the journey of Dr. Michael Cayle who discovers a terrifying and controlling race of creatures that live amongst the darkness in the woods behind his home. Matthew Llewellyn has been an integral member of composer Brian Tyler’s team and Tyler’s grand, rich sound seems to have rubbed off on Llewellyn. “Deep in the Darkness” is a lyrical yet aggressive horror score. “The Deighton Residence” introduces a rather lush, fantastical theme (here for strings) that recurs throughout the score. “A Good Fit” offers a gentle, if slightly mysterious melody for piano (you can actually sing ‘deep in the darkness’ over it, should you so wish). There are plenty of such melodic cues, beautifully orchestrated for full orchestra, that really give heart and soul to this score. Make no mistake, when things get scary Llewellyn pulls out all the stops with screeching strings, brass and timpani hits, dissonant clusters, glissandi effects, everything and the kitchen sink. “The Swarm” and “Crawling for Jessica” are two fantastic action cues, displaying lively string-writing and some deliciously fat brass. Following the lovely “Wishin’ and Hopin’” Llewellyn continues to impress!

Cover_RobotOverlordsRobot Overlords” (Christian Henson, 26 tracks, 61:49, MovieScore Media 2015). “Robot Overlords” is set in a dystopian future where Earth has been conquered by powerful robots from a distant galaxy. Christian Henson says of the score: “We tried to populate the score with ‘the truth’ for all the players – this means when we are scary, we’re impossibly horrific. When we’re tragic, all is lost. And when we’re heroic, we’re totally shameless. And like all kids,we had the ability to turn our emotions on a six-pence in the moment.” The score is a hybrid of electronic and orchestral elements, written from the perspective of the child protagonists. Electronics dominate this score. They are quite harsh and I can imagine some people being put off by them. There are plenty of beats and grungy sounds about. Think dub-step and that’s just the beginning! Yet there is also plenty of imaginative writing for strings and choir (‘nom nom nom nom’ …you’ll know what I mean when your hear it), as well as a simple but really heartwarming theme for piano and electric guitar first heard in “Escape!” What kinda sets this score apart from other ‘hybrid’ works is just how unashamedly crazy it is. The electronics are pushing far beyond anything done in mainstream films these days (seriously, even the lauded “Amazing Spider-Man 2” by Hans Zimmer is child’s play compared to the crazy shit Henson gets up to). I’m not normally a fan of this kind of sound, but this one is different. Maybe it’s because Henson sounds to be having a whale of a time, pushing everything to the limit and beyond, without ever taking it too seriously. Or maybe it’s due to his in-depth, first-hand knowledge of that kind of music. The orchestral side of the score is impressive too, with some really intense moments for strings (JNH-ish), brass and choir (“Bunsen Burners”), as well as various tender moments. A lot of the score will be sampled… and I would expect it to come from Spitfire Audio, a sampling company that Henson himself set up. “Robot Overlords” is a totally bonkers, edgy, but-not-for-everyone, fantastic score.

Reviews by Pete Simons

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