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The Unreviewed: 2015 Round Up – December (12/12)

January 5, 2016

UnreviewedThe Unreviewed: 2015 Round Up – December (12/12)

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. I’ll be focussing largely on Movie Score Media releases, such as: “Poker Night”, “Nina’s Children”, “The Murder Pact”, “Frame by Frame”; and also Silva Screen releases such as “Thunderbirds Are Go!”, “Doctor Foster” and “Humans”. There’s a new Fenton in there somewhere as well…

Cover_PokerNightPoker Night” (Scott Glasgow, 24 tracks, 77.74, MovieScore Media 2015). “I worked in a way to give each of the characters a unique tone to their scenes” explains Scott Glasgow about the score. “The film is based on small vignette stories by each veteran detective— and each had their own musical feel. “Davis” had a percussive element with synths that ran through his scenes; “Bernard” scenes were all flashbacks to the 70s with some groove vibes; “Maxwell” was primarily characterized by traditional orchestra minimalism music; “Cunningham” was more electronica and “Calabrese” was more brooding low brass since he was more in the modern timeline and less about flashbacks. Finally, all these techniques and considerations had to be blended into one score.” And that pretty much sums it all up. It’s a dark, brooding score. Very interesting, sonically, as Glasgow applies piano effects, vocal effects, some well placed synths and plenty of percussion (both light and heavy). Don’t expect to come away humming any themes, but do expect an expertly produced thriller score, with lots of intriguing technical elements.

Cover_NinasChildrenNina’s Children” (Gaute Storaas, 15 tracks, 32:00, MovieScore Media 2015). The composer said of this score: “Although this is taking place in one of the darkest chapters of human history, it is also a positive, at times happy story, and we wanted the music to reflect this doubleness. From the beginning, it was obvious that this had to be an all-acoustic, classical-type score, this is not a topic for cheap solutions. So within our somewhat limited budget, I had an ensemble of piano, clarinet and string quintet, which gave a nice intimate sound and still could supply the emotions and scope we needed. In fact, I don’t think I would have done it in any other way if we had all the money in the world.” It’s a beautiful little score, with a strong emphasis on strings and piano. Quite a melancholy work, though there are flickers of hope throughout. The music feels intimate and thoughtful; clearly a labour of love. The music box in “Going Back” is a really nice touch; and closing track “Lover’s Serenade” is a lovely waltz with Jewish sentiments.

Cover_TheMurderPactThe Murder Pact” (Matthew Llewellyn, 18 tracks, 47:10, MovieScore Media 2015). After the colourful, orchestral “Wishin’ and Hopin'”, Llewellyn’s score for “The Murder Pact” comes as a surprise: it’s entirely electronic. And, like… proper old skool electronica. “[the director] and I agreed that this score needed a contemporary edge, something completely different than anything else we’ve done before,” explains the composer. “Despite being entirely electronic, I approached this film as if I were scoring it with an orchestra using distinct electronic “sections”, colorful effects/textures, and character themes. Since the film is based on The Tell-Tale Heart, we incorporated a heartbeat-like sound into the score which is now a part of Lisa’s theme. It appears in various forms and instruments throughout the film and really helps create the drive that we were looking for.” So, if you like synths, big fat pads, big sweeps, saws, retro percussion, gated effects, everything including the kitchen sink, then you’re in for a treat (else: you’re not). It’s not really a melodic score, certainly not in any obvious way, so your enjoyment of this score really hinges on the sound of those synths. Although there are some overdrive effects, the palette is overall quite smooth and warm. It’s quite a fascinating work, though mostly from a technical viewpoint – I found myself listening to the sounds, the reverb, etcetera, more than the actual composition.

Cover_FrameByFrameFrame by Frame” (Patrick Jonsson, 16 tracks, 32:53, MovieScore Media 2015). After decades of war and an oppressive Taliban regime, four Afghan photojournalists face the realities of building a free press in a country left to stand on its own – reframing Afghanistan for the world and for themselves. Jonsson’s work is, for the most part, an atmospheric and understated work. The smooth synths, small string ensemble and piano (as well as some subtle mechanical sounds of instruments being operated) often remind me of Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Rob Simonsen  and similar composers. I love that sort of sound; and the moody strings remind me of “Broadchurch”. The subtle electronics and echoing effects in “A Feeling”, for example, are a really beautiful touch. I couldn’t sing you any of its themes, and purists might argue that there is nothing ‘Afghan’ about the music… but it offers a wonderful, mesmerising soundscape nonetheless.

Cover_LadyInTheVanThe Lady in the Van” (George Fenton, 23 tracks, 57:53, Sony Classical 2015). Directed by Nicholas Hytner, “The Lady in the Van” stars Maggie Smith as a lady who lives in a van. Yes, the title is one great spoiler. The playful and colourful score is by George Fenton, who has worked with this director on films like “The Object of My Affection”, “The Crucible” and “The History Boys”. Fenton’s latest score revolves almost entirely around “Miss Shepherd’s Waltz”, which is exactly that: a waltz – one that very strongly resembles Shostakovich’s “Second Waltz”. Throughout the score, piano and strings often provide a rhythm, whilst winds provide the melody. It’s not all waltzes, but if you enjoy the light-hearted nature of Shostakovich’s aforementioned waltz, or those of Johann Strauss, then you’ll probably find yourself tapping along with Fenton’s score. A few classical cues from Schubert and Chopin are also included.

Towards the end of 2015, Silva Screen released a number of television scores…

Cover_DoctorFosterDoctor Foster” (Frans Bak, 17 tracks, 42:22, Silva Screen 2015). An intriguing drama with the best dinner scene ever. It is a deliberately slow-moving show, similar to Scandinavian dramas. That sort of approach probably explains why Danish composer Frans Bak was hired for the score. It’s an understated work for strings, piano and subtle electronics. It’s quite beautiful, but largely atmospheric. Few cues aside, “End Credits” and “At the Restaurant” for example, it’s not particularly memorable.

Cover_RiverTVRiver” (Harry Escott, 20 tracks, 44:26, Silva Screen 2015). A cop show with a twist. Detective River is haunted by visions of his murdered colleague, and is determined to find her killers. Escott’s score combines piano with ambient synths. It’s a beautiful and effective soundscape, perhaps owing a little bit to “Broadchurch” though on the whole a bit more varied and dynamic. It makes for a mesmerising, but (again) not hugely memorable album.

Cover_HumansTVHumans” (Christobal Tapia De Veer, 22 tracks, 82:52, Silva Screen 2015). In a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a ‘Synth’ – a highly-developed robotic servant that’s so similar to a real human it’s transforming the way we live. I’m not sure I would personally trust a synth that’s not a Korg or a Roland… apologies for the bad pun! Would you be surprised to learn that the soundtrack is entirely synthetic? It’s another ambient score, full of wonderful synth sounds and effects. De Veer adds beats to some cues, edging slightly towards dance music; elsewhere the music may remind of things like “Prometheus”. I quite enjoyed all the electronic tinkering, but I’m not sure how much a more casual listener would get out of this.

Cover_UnforgottenUnforgotten” (Michael Price, 27 tracks, 53:00, Silva Screen 2015). Unforgotten… I often unforget things. Like for example, how we actually call it remembered. Police start to investigate when the bones of a young man are found under the footings of a demolished house 39 years after his murder. The original score is by Michael Price, who’s been working with David Arnold a lot lately. He also recently released a solo non-film/tv album called “Entanglement”, which is available on the Erased Tapes label. On “Unforgotten” he employs a minimal, piano-led style, akin to Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm and similar composers. It’s a beautiful album that requires a bit of time to grow; it’s not one for instant gratification. There’s a lot going on here. The recording techniques and mixing are as important as the composition itself. Yup, a very ‘arty’ album, worth exploring.

Cover_ThunderbirdsAreGoThunderbirds Are Go!” (Ben Foster and Nick Foster, 57 tracks, 77:30, Silva Screen 2015). Way over on the other side of the musical spectrum you’ll find Ben and Nick Foster’s “Thunderbirds Are Go!” The show is a remake/re-imagining of the popular show with the puppets. This time it’s all computer animated. The Fosters give the familiar main theme a modern make-over by adding string ostinato and thundering percussion. The rest of the score is a large, epic orchestral affair with plenty of electronic percussion. I think it owes a lot to Zimmer’s “Thunderbirds” and Michael Giacchino’s “The Incredibles”, it’s got that big, bold, brassy, sometimes James Bondy, Hollywood-kind of sound. It’s lot of fun, but it never lets up and as a result is also a bit tiring. The recording (or rather the mixing/eq-ing is a bit odd and not quite to my taste… it’s a live orchestral performance, but it often sounds synthesised. Still, loads of fun – in small doses.

Reviews by Pete Simons

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