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2015 Round Up – June (6/12)

July 4, 2015

UnreviewedThe Unreviewed: 2015 Round Up – June (6/12)

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_InfinitelyPolarBearInfinitely Polar Bear” (Theodore Shapiro, 14 tracks, 37.39, Lakeshore Records 2015). Written and directed by Maya Forbes, this film is about a manic-depressive mess of a father who tries to win back his wife by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young, spirited daughters, who don’t make the overwhelming task any easier. The soundtrack mainly comprises of songs (from blues to country, rock ‘n roll and Motown) compiled by music supervisor Randall Poster. He says: “We collect in the film a unique combination of songs that along with Teddy Shapiro’s magical score plant us in time and place, and set a place for us at the table of these lives. Maya put so much of herself into the film and it’s the songs I think that help her find that safe place from where this story comes alive.” Composer Shapiro adds: “Although the family that this story is about has a father who has bipolar disorder, the family is defined not by mental illness but by a messy, chaotic warmth.” Shapiro only shares four cues on this album (totalling around seven minutes) and they are of a warm, fun-loving nature. Perky beats, indie sounds, clapping hands, humming and whistling. It’s the feel-good kind of stuff you often hear in adverts and indie films.

Cover_PoldarkPoldark” (Anne Dudley, 20 tracks, 51:33, Sony Music 2015). Set in the late 18th century, Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) returns from the American War of Independence to his beloved Cornwall; having spent three years in the army to avoid charges of smuggling, leaving behind his sweetheart Elizabeth. Alas, he finds his world in ruins with his father dead, his house wrecked and his sweetheart engaged to his cousin. How will he move on from this destruction? Oscar-winning composer Anne Dudley says of her score: “This adaptation of Poldark appealed to me immediately,” says Dudley.  “I wanted to create a character to the music which was distinctive. The music in Poldark plays two roles – the general and the specific. Music helped underline the connectivity of the scenes and plot lines. There are also many shots of Cornwall itself – its weather and its landscape have a huge part to play in the drama. This gave me an opportunity for thematic material reflecting these elements and hopefully adding a further layer of drama.” The score is orchestrated and conducted by Dudley, performed by the Chamber Orchestra of London, with a particular focus on violin, cello, harp and piano. Clearly dominated by strings, “Poldark” is mostly a sombre score reflecting the lead character’s struggles and heartaches. The music is very pretty, but it’s all a bit too subdued to be really memorable. The various solo performances do provide the score with a virtuous element and also give it a bit of a pastoral character. Tracks like “The Longest Walk”, “Copper and Tin” and “Theme from Poldark” are beautiful highlights.

Cover_Poltergeist2015Poltergeist” (Marc Streitenfeld, 20 tracks, 43:40, Sony Music 2015). The sad thing is: no one ever expected too much from this remake; and ‘not too much’ is what we got. Many were left baffled as to why a remake was being shot in the first place, and why Streitenfeld was scoring it (as opposed to the director’s previous collaborator Douglas Pipes). Personally I quite like Streitenfeld and am particularly fond of his “Prometheus” score. Unfortunately, the best moments on “Poltergeist” only barely match the mediocre ones on “Prometheus”. Streitenfeld’s latest score revolves largely around scary sound design, ambient droning, soft and slow strings and stingers. There is little in the way of melodic (or even harmonic) content. When Streitenfeld cranks up the action (in “Into the Portal” and “Let Her Go”) it is most welcome and sounds relatively impressive. “Home Free” reminds of “Prometheus”; and as such the album finishes stronger than it began, but I doubt many people will sit through this for that long.

Cover_DawnPatrolDawn Patrol” (Joe Kraemer, 18 tracks, 70:52, Lakeshore Records 2015). After five diverse but guitar-driven pop/rock tunes, we arrive at Kraemer’s score. Softly pulsing brass, ambient electronic percussion and strumming guitars define his “Main Title”. It’s a stylish cue that sets the tone for the remainder of the score. Some cues are even more ambient, whilst others are a little livelier more akin to modern caper music. Though there is a main theme, it is rather subdued. Somehow it reminds me a little of Zimmer from the 80s! Composer Joe Kraemer himself says of the score: “[The director] also wanted a moody score, with synthesizers and modern sounds. There were many songs in the film, especially in the first half of the film, and these really establish the beach culture of the movie. The score operates on a more ethereal, almost dreamy level.” “Dawn Patrol” (part “Point Break” part “Hurt Locker”) is about a surfer-turned-Marine (Scott Eastwood) held at gunpoint in a distant desert who tells his tragic story of revenge for his brother (Chris Brochu) gone wrong to stall his execution.

Cover_BuryingTheExBurying the Ex” (Joseph LoDuca, 22 tracks, 42:28, Lakeshore Records 2015). In “Burying the Ex”, the new film from director Joe Dante, a twenty-something’s romance with his dream girl takes an unexpected turn when his dead ex-girlfriend rises from the grave and thinks they’re still dating. Seamlessly merging classic horror with screwball comedy and a poignant romance, “Burying the Ex” is a unique spin on the zombie genre. “As a composer who regularly gets invited along for the ride on horror projects, I can describe my experience on “Burying the Ex” in two words: BIG FUN. No one does horror/comedy better than Joe Dante,” said LoDuca. The composer supplies plenty of brass stingers and tremolo strings, but it’s clear that his tongue is firmly in cheek. Brass and choir occasionally rise to gothic levels, with solo violin providing a ‘traveller’ type sound. All this is augmented with bass, guitar, synths pads and plucked strings, which give the score a funky edge. A lot of is sampled, and the whole things has a kind of ‘retro’ feel to it (which wouldn’t surprise me from Dante). I can imagine it may have been fun to write, but away from the film it’s not that fun to listen to. It sounds a bit cheap, there’s a lot of mickey-mousing going on and there’s little memorable about it.

Cover_ManUpWangMan Up” (Wendy Wang, 21 tracks, 18:48, Lakeshore Records 2015). Directed by Justin Chon, “Man Up” follows Martin (Kevin Wu), a 19 year-old slacker, has his life turned upside down when he gets his girlfriend pregnant. He moves in with his best friend Randall (Justin Chon) embarking on a hilarious journey to learn what it means to be a man. Composer Wang says: “Justin wanted “Man Up” to feel nostalgic and to him the sounds of 80s teen movies would do that. I grew up in the 80s, so this tonal palette was an absolute dream come true to work with.” The result is an album full of cues that barely make it past the 1-minute mark. Drum kits, retro-bass and synth sounds dominate. It’s not even cool retro. It’s not Korg Wavestation or Yamaha DX7 retro… it’s Roland Sound Canvas retro. If there is a central theme I have yet to discover it. It’s an album full of snippets. Brief musical ideas, without a start or ending. Some cues just… stop or fade out. It’s like listening to samples on iTunes. Whilst I’m always happy to draw attention to a ‘new’ composer (Wang has worked with many famous artists) I really don’t understand how this album can be justified or how I managed to write even this many words about it.

Cover_LostForWordsLost for Words” (Andre Matthias, 17 tracks, 46:32, Plaza Mayor Company Ltd 2015). “Scoring “Lost for Words” was a wonderful challenge,” Matthias said. “In recent years, film music with actual melodic themes has become quite rare, so the opportunity to write a traditional romantic score with an Eastern touch was wonderful.” Flutes, guitar and cello play a pivotal role in this romantic, if subdued, score. The composer aims to avoid the clichés when East meets West and I think he partially succeeds. There is a hint of Eastern tonality in some of the cello performances – it’s subtle and not overtly obvious. There are moments where a Chinese influence is more obvious (both through instrumentation and melody), but for the most part it’s a slow, Western-sounding score. It is a very pretty score. It sounds delicate (fragile even) most of the time. “Harbour Crossing” and “You. I. Us… Go on Date?” are indeed the highlights, as the composer himself points out in the liner notes. I would add the final cue “Forget the Words” to that list. That said, it is also a very slow score; and I think you’ve got to be in a melancholy mood to fully appreciate it.

Cover_1985AtTheMoviesBack in Time… 1985 At The Movies” (Various, 6 CDs, 119 tracks, Varese Sarabande 2015). This collection features over six and a half hours of music from iconic 1985 movies. We’re treated to extensive score portions from “Back to the Future” (Alan Silvestri, conducted by John Debney with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra), “Out of Africa” (John Barry, conducted by Joel McNeely with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra), “The Goonies” (Dave Grusin), “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” (Danny Elfman). Other individual cues come from “Legend” (Goldsmith), “Witness” (Jarre), “Cocoon” (Horner), “Revolution” (Corigliano), “Agnes of God” (Delerue) and many others. The set comes in an exquisite deluxe gatefold LP package design with an originally commissioned cover painting by Matthew Joseph Peak.  Housed in the package is a 24-page booklet with extensive liner notes by album producer Robert Townson and exclusive photographs from the premiere Varèse Sarabande Symphony Orchestra recording sessions held on the historic Newman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox.  The 6-CD set has a suggested retail price of $99.98. For younger filmmusic fans this may prove an interesting guide to 80s filmscores, but for seasoned enthusiasts it offers nothing new. Disc 1 offers new recording conducted by David Newman and is arguably the most interesting disc.

Barely Lethal” (Mateo Messina, 25 tracks, 33:06, Lakeshore Records, 2015). High school action comedy featuring a hyper-active synthesizer score. As a synth enthusiast I enjoy listening to the various sounds. It’s at times retro, and at times quite modern. Always with tongue firmly in cheek. It’s a chaotic album, but (to my own utter surprise) I found myself enjoying it rather a lot. Strings and guitar feature in quieter moments, whilst plenty of percussion spices up the action. Neatly done and fun for a listen or two, but otherwise too fragmented and too cheesy.

The Librarians” (Joseph LoDuca, 25 tracks, 61:53, Varese Sarabande 2015) “The soundtrack album is a full orchestra score mainly from the pilot,” LoDuca explained. “I added a few tracks that feature fantastic female vocalists: Beth Rowley from London on ‘Cassandra’s Theme’, Raya Yarbrough on ‘Start Lite, Star Bright’, and young Hannah Devlin on ‘What are Little Girls Made Of’.” It’s a colourful and fun orchestral score that sees LoDuca tackling various different styles. It doesn’t offer anything particularly original, but it handles the genre well and turns out to be a very enjoyable album.

Cartel Land” (H. Scott Salinas and Jackson Greenberg, 22 tracks, 48:26, Lakeshore Records) “To tell the tale of the two worlds colliding, the human condition vs. the gritty, cutthroat meth production, we juxtaposed organic acoustic instruments like vibraphone, charango, mandolin, against synthetic edgy instruments like synthesizers and drum machines,” Salinas described. At first listen this may easily come across as yet another atmospheric, droney score. Listen deeper and you are rewarded with subtle themes and rich soundscapes that expertly blend synths with acoustic instruments. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s rewarding nonetheless.

Reviews by Pete Simons

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