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2015 Round Up – August (8/12)

September 16, 2015

UnreviewedThe Unreviewed: 2015 Round Up – August (8/12)

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: “Extinction”, “Staten Island Summer”, “Narcos”, “Jenny’s Wedding”, “Zipper”, “One and Two”.

Cover_ExtinctionExtinction” (Sergio Moure De Oteyza, 25 tracks, 67.38, Varese Sarabande 2015). “I used a classical symphony ensemble, specifically the Córdoba Symphony Orchestra, which I think did an incredible job,” Moure described. “I also used a prepared piano and several kinds of guitars. The prologue of the film combined the emotional and horror aspects of the film and permeated the tone of the rest of the score.” The score is heavy on the strings throughout. There are many elegiac cues for slow strings. These are nice tracks, though they are slow. There are a few action cues scattered throughout the album. These rely on string arpeggios, brass effects and percussive accents. It’s a far more elegiac score than you might expect for a horror film, that said… it’s all very slow, making the 67 minutes playtime feel very long.

Cover_StatenIslandSummerStaten Island Summer” (John Swihart, 23 tracks, 31:47, Lakeshore Records 2015). “[The director] was very good at expressing himself when it came to score,” said Swihart. “He had the idea of this place being something out of the past or ‘stuck in time’ as well as just being a little off in general. It was very tempting to punctuate funny comedy with music, but [the director] wanted to stay away from that as much as possible.” He continues: “All the emotional spots were scored traditionally with strings and piano but not without the help of a lot of electronic elements. The 70’s style funk stuff was a lot of hand percussion in particular some bongo lines that were played by a great percussionist from Santo Domingo named Reynold Roque. He also played all the Taiko drums for the suspense montage.” The result is a varied, but generally funky score with jazzy percussion, organs and guitar; often recalling the 1970s indeed. If there is a main theme, I’ve not picked up on it. The music consists mostly or riffs and motifs. It’s kinda fun… but a bit too higgledy piggledy.

Cover_NarcosNarcos” (Pedro Bromfman, 28 tracks, 57:39, Lakeshore Records 2015). “Conceptually speaking, I had this idea that the music for “Narcos” could be somewhat inspired by Sergio Leone’s westerns,” said Bromfman. “Colombia in the late 80’s and early 90’s reminded me of those towns you see in Westerns, dominated by a gang of outlaws. In those films, someone from out of town will usually come and help the locals defeat the bad guys. As people watch “Narcos” they’ll be able to see the parallels I drew, however in Colombia they had a much bigger and more complicated situation.” He continues: “We probably had 10 or more character themes in “Narcos”. It was my first TV show with several episodes, where I could really develop thematic material over almost 10 hours of storytelling. It was fascinating to be able to associate some of the smaller characters to a piece of music and adapt that piece as they evolved and sometimes became a lead player on an episode.” It results in a very atmospheric, sometimes gritty album with Latin influences (such as guitars and especially percussion). On album it’s tricky to pick out all those aforementioned character themes, but Bromfman’s sound palette is interesting and frankly mesmerising. A lot of detail went into the rhythms and the sound design, making them far more enjoyable than you might expect.

Cover_JennysWeddingJenny’s Wedding” (Brian Byrne, 12 tracks, 33:34, Varese Sarabande 2015). “This was a very last minute project that came to me,” said Byrne. “The brief was it needed a light score to be written and recorded, and maybe with one new song but it had to be done on a tight budget and in 10 days. That one song turned into five original songs and a new arrangement and recording of a standard!” He continues: “Mary Agnes [Donoghue, director] had a very specific idea about the score to begin with and had been working with a temp that had a lot of songs. Not just any songs, iconic songs that everyone knows. I ended up replacing nearly all of them!” The songs are as lovely and warm as the score. It’s a light-hearted score with an emphasis on strings, piano, guitar and bass. It’s a very pleasant score, but… and I don’t say this often… the songs (written by Byrne, with lyrics by his wife Kasey Jones, and performed by Kristina Train) are better. Really jazzy feel-good tunes.

Cover_ZipperZipper” (H. Scott Salinas, 20 tracks, 45:05, Lakeshore Records 2015). “I was involved in the project very early at the script stage, and was following production closely even watching dailies. So we had a great creative dialogue established very early,” described Salinas. “We sort of stumbled on the idea together of making the soul of Sam (our protagonist) be a cello.  And then we pushed further and asked, what if we used a cello choir? So we wound up recording eight celli arranged in a semi-circle as a choir. So we constantly shift from the choir to solo cello processed electronically in ways to disguise its nature.” So, the cello (or cellos, plural) plays a key role in this dark and ambient score. It provides a deep, warm sound, which is countered by high strings, bell-like sounds and atmospheric synth pads. Whilst there is a recurring ‘theme’ played by distant bells, it is predominantly a sound-driven score. That in itself may not appeal to everyone, but I’ve got to hand it to Salinas, he’s created quite a mesmerising work, largely courtesy of the cellos and violins.

Cover_OneAndTwoOne & Two” (Nathan Halpern, 19 tracks, 33:14, Lakeshore Records 2015). “At its heart, “One and Two” is a fairytale – albeit a chilling one,” said Halpern. “Thematically, classic fairytales speak to the most elemental oppositions of childhood: good and evil, love and abandonment, innocence and experience. So the score I created for the film was one of musical dualities: sweet melody and cruel dissonance; natural acoustic instruments and mangled electronics.” Another largely atmospheric score. And again it’s quite interesting, if you’re into this kind of thing. It’s mostly, if not entirely synthesised with the piano the only ‘real’ instrument. Halpern creates an otherworldly atmosphere with his rich, developing synth sounds. Bell-like sounds add a nice contrast against the ever-present pads.

Cover_MIRogueNationMission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (Joe Kraemer, 19 tracks, 73:34, La La Land Records 2015). Latest installment in the popular “Mission: Impossible” series, starring Tom Cruise. Following in the musical footsteps of Lalo Shifrin, Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer and Michael Giacchino, Joe Kraemer was given the opportunity to the score the fourth movie. And now the fifth: “Rogue Nation”. “The setting is very high-tech,” said Kraemer. “As I had endeavored to avoid electronic instruments in the score, I had to find another solution that felt electronic, but was in fact acoustic.  When Christopher McQuarrie heard the music I wrote for that scene, he encouraged me to expand its use to other parts of the film.” Kraemer delivers a thoroughly enjoyable, orchestral score with an expected emphasis on brass, really harkening back to the glory days of Shifrin. Kraemer makes great, inventive use of Shifrin’s original theme and adds a few great ones of his own. I want to say that this “Mission: Impossible” score sounds exactly as you’d expect from this sort of high-tech, heist-type movie. And in this case, that’s a good thing! It’s unashamedly big, phat, brassy and bold.

Cover_NoEscape2015No Escape” (Marco Beltrami & Buck Sanders, 27 tracks, 55:17, Lakeshore Records 2015). “The palette of the score is mainly manipulated Asian percussion and modular Eurorack synths, with some string orchestra,” co-composer Sanders described. “We played with the percussion sounds to really accent the ‘stranger in a strange land’ feeling in the film. We also used production recordings of some street musicians that were recorded on set. And I even recorded my daughter Roux doing a horrible, high-pitched scream and then slowed it down to help create a long, sustained ‘pad’ of wailing that channels the young girls’ screams in the film.” Unless that description by Sanders really appeals to you, “No Escape” makes for a (deliberately) difficult listen. It’s very well put together, really raises the tension and undoubtedly works great in context, but as an album it’s not very enjoyable.

Cover_PawnSacrificePawn Sacrifice” (James Newton Howard, 8 tracks, 23:29, Lakeshore Records 2015). In this true story set during the height of the Cold War, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) finds himself caught between two superpowers when he challenges the Soviet Empire. “Pawn Sacrifice” chronicles Fischer’s terrifying struggles with genius and madness, and the rise and fall of a kid from Brooklyn who captured the imagination of the world. The original score by James Newton Howard is slick and feels ‘meticulous’, much like a game of chess. It is bookended by two beautiful cues: the opener “There’s Usually One Right Move” and the moving “Bobby Wins”. These are gorgeous, at times lush, cues for strings, woodwinds and a distant piano. The six cues in-between are well executed but are of such a minimalistic nature that they offer little of interest.

Reviews by Pete Simons

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