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2015 Round Up – September (9/12)

October 17, 2015

UnreviewedThe Unreviewed: 2015 Round Up – September (9/12)

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: “Everest”, “Trumbo”, “Uncle John”, “The Runner”, “American Ultra”, “Stranded”, “un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos” and “Pressure”. Not necessarily in that order.

Cover_EverestEverest” (Dario Marianelli, 16 tracks, 48.52, Varese Sarabande 2015). “My initial instinctive approach to the score, which our director, Baltasar Kormákur, liked and encouraged me to follow, was to have a calling voice, a distant siren call,” explained Marianelli. “It is at the same time a voice that represents the ancient goddess-like mountain, but also a luring and irresistible calling to one’s own destiny.” This idea can be heard right from the very beginning of the album and its opening cue “The Call”. It’s a whimsical little melody, that expresses a feeling of longing, but also fragility. If I was nit-picky, and I am, I’d say it actually resembles the first few notes of John Williams’ “A Window to the Past”. It’s a brief and fleeting resemblance. “The opposite point of the musical compass is the ‘conquering’ attitude of the mountaineers, a kind of macho, go-getting approach to nature,” Marianelli continued, “which is reflected in a much more propulsive, percussive and energetic musical idiom.” This results in “Everest” being Marianelli’s most modern, or should I say most typically Hollywood, score to date. At times, the composer tip toes around Zimmer territory, and in the process sounds like Thomas Newman on steroids, with its ostinato strings and rattling percussion. It’s all really well done and it’s quite nice to hear the otherwise oh-so classical Marianelli write something this modern. That said, inevitable the score sounds a little anonymous, though several cues allow him to be more virtuous (such as the wonderful “Epilogue”).

Cover_PressurePressure” (Benjamin Wallfish, 12 tracks, 31:56, MovieScore Media 2015). A group of men are trapped in a small pod on the sea bed, after diving down to fix an oil pipeline and becoming separated from their ship. Benjamin Wallfisch wrote a suitably oppressing score. It relies heavily on atmosphere, sometimes through synth pads, other times through avant-garde orchestral techniques. There is a dark quality to the overall sound, which seems quite typical (but perfect) for underwater stories (or outerspace ones, for that matter). Occasionally, percussion and synth pulses add energy to the action cues. It’s not a melodic score, though there is a simple and effective elegy in “Depths”. The two final cues “Descent Ascent” and “Final Swim” offer relief from the pressure (pun fully intended) and also offer melodic content, even if it’s (still) in that “Thin Red Line” style. There is some wonderful and complex writing for strings and winds on display, especially in “Descent Ascent”. It’s a somewhat typical, but very slick underwater thriller score, with a satisfyingly complex finale. Benjamin’s sister Joanna contributes the nostalgic, piano-driven song “Satellite”.

Cover_StrandedStranded” (Stanislas Syrewicz, 29 tracks, 63:38, Keep Moving Records 2015). From the label’s website: “Stranded” is a two-part television adaptation of “The Swiss Family Robinson”, originally produced for Hallmark, in which a self-reliant family discover an exotic paradise while being threatened by pirates. With so many things going on in the film (ranging from the storm to the rebuilding of civilization and its intersecting plotlines involving pirates), Syrewicz chose the idea of ‘recovery’ as his central theme, gradually building towards the epic finale as the family clashes with the marauders, defending not only their home, but their family integrity as well. The score has an old-fashioned charm mixed with a few electronic additions, great percussion work and hints of Asian music representing the exotic locations. The CD comes with 8-page liner notes by Gergely Hubai discussing the film and the score based on original interviews with the director and the composer.

Cover_UnGalloConMuchosHuevosUn Gallo Con Muchos Huevos” (Zacarías M. de la Riva, 18 tracks, 55:21, MovieScore Media 2015). As far as I’m concerned, Zacarias M. de la Riva wrote one of the best score’s of last year with “Automata”. His latest release, which roughly translates to “A Rooster with Many Eggs”, is an entirely different kettle of fish. It’s a rousing, energetic and comedic orchestral score, very much in the vain of “Chicken Run”. It is a little bit ‘all over the place’ as it mickey-mouses its way through the best part of an hour; and the many musical nods and winks may not appeal to everyone. That said, it’s got catchy themes. It’s got lovely, tender moments. It’s got some surprisingly powerful action cues. Overall, it’s great fun. It’s incredibly well written and richly orchestrated, with satisfying complexity.

Cover_UncleJohnUncle John” (Adam Robl and Shawn Sutta, 30 tracks, 644:24, Lakeshore Records 2015). “Uncle John” features two intersecting story. Once is a love story, the other is about a murder. “One interesting instruction was that Steven wanted two main motifs- one for each genre – that would eventually weave into each other. This made us carefully work to create two distinct sounds that we could merge into one compelling theme,” said Sutta. There are few lovely tracks to be found on this album, “The Farm” for example. There are various nice pieces for piano and cello (“Attack”). However, it really is an album of at least two halves (and yes, I am aware you can’t have any more than two halves). For every cute little cue, there is a dark counterpoint. A lot of it relies on synth pads and sound design, sometimes quite old-fashioned sounding; and often deliberately unpleasant. Several cues end or start abruptly, which enforces the album’s disjointed presentation (as “Bike Ride” fades out, the next cues continues with the same melody… surely that could’ve been edited together for a more coherent listening experience). There’s some genuinely clever writing scattered throughout the album, but it’s all terribly fragmented.

Cover_TrumboTrumbo” (Theodore Shapiro, 28 tracks, 47:26, Lakeshore Records 2015). “I wanted the score to refer to the musical language of the period while having a modern sensibility,” Shapiro described. “I wanted to avoid writing a period score that would make the film feel purely historical, and therefore cut off from feeling contemporary and immediate.  I didn’t want it to be overly polite.  So without having a cut of the movie to work with, I sat down and wrote a suite of music based on what I hoped would work.  Jay loved it, and the suite formed the foundation of the “Trumbo” score.” There is a distinct jazzy sound to “Trumbo”, yet Shapiro manages to give it a modern twist. Opening cue “Eighty Words a Minute” is a clever little piece that sounds like a deconstructed jazz piece that’s been cut up with samples and re-assembled. That’s probably not what happened, but that’s what it sounds like. It’s very intriguing. What follows is, for the most part, a more traditional jazz score, though Shapiro frequently applies his modern twist. There are several hyperactive, improv jazz type, cues, but for the most part it’s an understated, smooth score. It’s not usually my cup of tea, but there’s something very appealing about “Trumbo”.

Cover_TheRunnerThe Runner” (The Newton Brothers, 22 tracks, 39:05, Lakeshore Records 2015). From the album’s press notes: “We had the political aspect of the film which we scored one way, and then Colin Price and his inner-struggles as another tone. We needed something minimal and intimate for Colin’s internal struggle to capture the humanity of his situation. It provides commentary on how we deal with vulnerability, life, and change – which is something everyone can connect with” explained composer Taylor Newton Stewart. The Newton Brothers achieved the musical balance by creating a hybrid score combining electronic and symphonic elements with unique instrumentation. Stewart described, “For the connection between Colin and Kate, we relied on a solo electric guitar for a very fragile and emotional theme which expresses their connection and character development. To keep the political world separate, we spent a lot of time coming up with subtle percussive elements and synth arpeggio’s to chug along in the background of various scenes to keep the ‘real world’ always moving around the story of Colin.” The composers also bowed a Bazantar and developed percussion patterns from recorded sounds of banging on guitars and dobros.

Cover_AmericanUltraAmerican Ultra” (Marcelo Zarvos and Paul Hartnoll, 22 tracks, 41:09, Varese Sarabande 2015). “I always love when a film pushes me to do something different from what I’ve done before” said Zarvos. “In the case of “American Ultra” director Nima Nourizadeh was very keen on an electronic sounding score, so we could never really picture a person playing an instrument. Even when certain elements were played live, a lot of time was spent processing the sounds so they always felt strange and unexpected. It was a fun direction that informed the entire score.” There is additional music by Paul Hartnoll, the man behind the popular, but now defunct electronic duo Orbital. Fans will recognise his style instantly, though it never soars to Orbital’s heights. There are some nice ambient atmospheres, as well as a few thumping cues, but none of it particularly stands out.

Reviews by Pete Simons

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