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The Unreviewed: 2015 Round Up – November (11/12)

December 6, 2015

UnreviewedThe Unreviewed: 2015 Round Up – November (11/12)

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: “Regression”, “Fathers and Daughters”, “Truth”, “Comet”, “Goosebumps”, “Ex Machina” and more…

Cover_RegressionRegression” (Roque Baños, 21 tracks, 64.31, Lakeshore Records 2015). “When I compose, I generally start from the very beginning and continue chronologically, but in this case I started from the last scene of the movie and went backwards,” explained Baños. “One of the main themes, the ‘Regression theme’, is a twelve tone melody. This is a very rare, never used in film, way of composing. This gives it a very mysterious and dizzy feeling to when we go inside of a mind in the regression scenes. I also used it backwards.” It’s an excellent horror score. Scary, menacing and uneasy for the most part, with plenty of stingers and dissonant orchestral sounds. Yet it also has beautiful, elegiac moments. “It’s My Fault – End Credits” is a particularly magnificent piece for strings. The score is performed by orchestra and choir, though emphasis is on the strings. Baños is one of those composers who really manage to inject emotion and personality into an otherwise shit-scary score. Recommended, provided you don’t scare too easily!

Cover_FathersAndDaughtersFathers and Daughters” (Paolo Buonvino, 25 tracks, 61:15, Lakeshore Records 2015). “The entire movie takes place in two different timelines,” said Buonvino. “When Katie is a child, I approached the score in a more classical way of writing – you can hear that in the track ‘Father and Daughter’ used for the scene with the bicycle. For the adult scenes where she deals with the illness of her father (Russell Crowe) I used a combination of electronic music, the orchestra and a solo violin. The solo violin plays some harmonics.” Two cringe-worthy songs by Michael Bolton open this album, so you can skip them straightaway. For a few months last year James Horner was reported to be scoring this film, before Paolo Buonvino took over. Don’t expect his score to sound anything like Horner, though Buonvino did write a lovely, romantic score with a strong emphasis on piano, strings and woodwinds. The music has a bit of a ‘classical’ tint to it, sometimes reminiscent of Craig Armstrong’s rom-coms, sometimes akin to Dario Marianelli or Abel Korzeniowski and often recalling (in my mind’s ear) the good old innocent days of the 1990s, before film music got all dark and gloomy). It’s not going to blow you away, but there is much to like about Buonvino’s score.

Cover_TruthTruth” (Brian Tyler, 21 tracks, 55:57, Varese Sarabande 2015). “I wanted to make some connection with the essence of journalism,” Composer Brian Tyler described. “For instance, the sound of journalistic investigation is often the piano ostinato combined with harp since these instruments most closely resemble the act of typing. It has a metric, deliberate sound. And the plaintiff trumpet represents the militaristic and political narrative of the film. The horns have a noble, lion in winter quality for Dan Rather. And the strings tie everyone together emotionally.” “Truth” makes for a nice departure from Brian Tyler’s super-hero scores to something altogether more serious. That said, the score failed to really impress me. It opens quite wonderfully with the urgent, yet slightly mysterious “Asking Questions”. However, that delicate atmosphere is abruptly discarded by the “Main Title”, which is a rather pompous work, presumably designed to sound like a news show theme. The rest of the score is pretty enough (strong emphasis on strings), full of good intentions, but personally I struggle to engage with it most of it. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t really stand out either. There are a few good tracks here, “End of an Era” being my favorite.

Cover_NavySEALsZombiesNavy SEALs: The Battle of New Orleans” (Justin Raines, Brian Jackson Harris, Drew Jordan, and Michael Wickstrom, 22 tracks, 67:49, Lakeshore Records 2015). “The scenes involving the SEALs and their interaction with each other helped us to develop themes that revolve around the ‘brotherhood.’ As their struggle and situation changed, the themes evolved with them.” Described Raines. A big brassy theme accompanied by duelling string arpeggios and snare drums makes up the “Navy SEALs” theme. Sadly, the arpeggios are rather simplistic and the brass sounds clearly sampled. The rest of the score is not much better. It combines orchestral samples with (often) granular synth sounds. “Since the score used orchestral and electronic instruments, the most unusual choices we made involved using specific synths and drones to heighten the tension of scenes where our heroes are lurking around dark hallways and in tense situations,” said Raines. Despite best intentions, it sounds amateurish. The music finds all the right buttons, but doesn’t necessarily push them.

Cover_StonewallStonewall” (Rob Simonsen, 12 tracks, 35:27, Lakeshore Records 2015). After a handful of songs from the likes of Procol Harum, The Silver Stars, The Staples Singers (didn’t realise Staples had their own band)… the album offers just over 16 minutes of Rob Simonsen’s score. “We discussed embracing the sounds that were prevalent at that time,” said composer Simonsen. “Electrified instruments were the basis for most popular music at the time, electric guitars, Fender Rhodes, electric bass. Also drum kit, acoustic guitars. We wanted to capture an ‘on tape’ sound and feel like the score came from the era a bit.” He continues: “Danny’s theme is played throughout. It is about a tender hearted guy seeking community, acceptance and direction with his future. He’s a small town kid who comes to the big streets of NYC. There’s a love/friendship theme between Danny and Ray, played on Fender Rhodes.” As you might expect from Simonsen, his score is crisp, trendy and stylish. Its sound palette is largely made up from ambient synth pads, guitar, piano and organ. It’s not really a stand-out kind-of score, I suspect the songs take the lead in the film, but it’s quite pleasant nonetheless.

Cover_ExMachineBlackEx Machina” (Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow, 10 tracks, 47:54, Backlot Music/Invada Records 2015). A young computer programmer wins a competition to spend a week at a private retreat belonging to the reclusive CEO of an internet company. Upon arrival he learns that he must participate in a bizarre experiment which involves interacting with the world’s first true artificial intelligence, which comes in the form of a beautiful female robot. The film is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who’s previously screenplays for “28 Days Later”, “Sunshine” and “Dredd”, amongst others. Scoring duties went to Ben Salisbury (who’s scored various tv documentaries) and Geoff Barrow (from the band Portishead). For “Ex Machina” they’ve created an oppressing, electronic score. It’s an interesting work – sometimes mesmerising and sometimes quite uneasy. After the ongoing synth pads and pulses, a glockenspiel makes a welcome appearance in “Skin”, although a guitar is heard in several tracks (not too dissimilar to John Murphy’s work). It provides a vaguely upbeat ending to a brooding, moody score.

Cover_CometComet” (Daniel Hart, 20 tracks, 62:17, Lakeshore Records 2015). The composer says: “Director Sam Esmail had a really wide range of musical ideas he thought important to telling the story, and I feel like a big part of my job was to take Sam’s incredibly diverse palette and make it into something cohesive. Representing all of Sam’s musical influences related to “Comet” was a huge challenge for me.” Daniel Hart uses a soft, soothing palette for his score. Strings, synth pads, guitar and other plucked instruments. Sometimes it’s quite ambient, sometimes it has an energetic ‘indie’ vibe. The music is constantly moving. Ssounds or chords are constantly shifting. It’s really a very pretty score. “With the title theme, I was following a very specific melody that felt to me like a real representation of bittersweet longing, of unfinished love,” said Hart. “It was one of the very first musical ideas I had related to the film, and I’m glad it got to stay, and play a prominent part in the score.” It may be tempting to dismiss this release as yet another indie rom-com… but don’t! Daniel Hart’s “Comet” is a subtle and very pretty score.

Cover_MomentumMometum” (Laurent Eyquem, 22 tracks, 48:23, Varese Sarabande 2015). “Momentum is a hard-driving yet fluid, action score that is as much orchestral as it is electronic,” said Eyquem. “My goal was to create a customized sound signature for the film that used these sounds in unexpected, somewhat non-traditional ways. The soundtrack is definitely a hybrid or a fusion of sorts,, but I’ve stayed true to my melodic roots.” Strings, brass, percussion and electronics dominate this work. It’s a high octane score, unlike anything you might expect from Eyquem (at least based on the dramatic Winnie Mandela or Copperhead. In fact, it’s so energetic that it does become a little tiresome after a while. The electronics range from subtle pulses to hard-hitting percussion and almost-dubstep-like effects. There are so many risers, sweeps, drones and impacts… it sometimes feels like listening to a sample library demo. It’s all good fun, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sure this type of scoring is Eyquem’s forte. That said, he indeed stays true to his melodic roots and offers a pleasing main theme that can be heard throughout the score. The album’s mix is a little dry (for my personal taste) and seems to favour the electronics, but is otherwise crystal clear.

Cover_GoosebumpsGoosebumps” (Danny Elfman, 29 tracks, 64:07, Sony Classical). Directed by Rob Letterman (“Shark Tale”, “Monsters vs Aliens”), “Goosebumps” sees the town of Madison terrorised by demons that have escaped from the books of a local horror writer. It’s up to a couple of teens to put the monsters back in their books. Scoring this fantasy is Danny Elfman, who’s not holding back and unleashes his own imagination. It’s quintessential Elfman; and you can take that two ways. On the one hand it’s a lot of fun, quite the proverbial roller-coaster, with all of Elfman’s trademarks present. On the other hand, it all sounds very familiar. I’d say it’s a melodic score, but none of themes have stuck with me. Overall it’s a very ‘busy’ work. Quite incessant with its staccato strings and brass. I love the quieter moments, where the orchestrations get a chance to shine (and where it resembles “Batman”), but I struggle with the action music which is brass-heavy, relentless and ultimately tiring. And I really don’t understand why there are 12 bonus tracks tagged on to the end? The whole ideas of a ‘bonus’ track is flawed anyway if you ask me, and to have a dozen of them is just silly. If you’re going to include them on the album stick ‘m in the right place.

Lastly, there have been quite a few horror scores lately. “Bone Tomahawk” by Jeff Herriott and S. Craig Zahler offers several beautiful elegiac cues for a small string ensemble. It’s almost “Downton Abbey”-esque at times; but it’s countered with scary (and not so interesting) drones. “Unnatural” by Edwin Wendler is a more traditional horror score, relying on odd and detuned sounds. It’s all put together really well, quite stylish and surprisingly listenable; but ultimately… the soft strings, drones and scary effects just sound too familiar. “The Diabolical” by Ian Hultquist also relies heavily on synth pads and all the same sort of effects. Again, it’s well done, but it seems like all composers are using the same sample libraries – and there is only so much you can do with those sounds. “Condemned” by Daniel Davies and Sebastian Robertson also relies heavily on synth, but is much harsher than the aforementioned scores. Their choice of sounds reminds of the 80s and the heydays of John Carpenter. “The Final Girls” by Gregory James Jenkins offers more 80s synths, as this is a deliberate pastiche; and quite a cheesy one at times. It’s good fun, certainly from a synth lover’s point of view, but I can’t see it appealing to the more casual listener.

Reviews by Pete Simons

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