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2016 Round Up – January (1/12)

January 31, 2016

monthly_roundup2016 Round Up – January (1/12)

In spite of best intentions, it is genuinely unfortunate that some scores don’t receive a lengthy, dedicated review. But unreviewed does not mean unheard. So let’s focus, if only briefly, on those scores that got away this month. Such as: Bear McCreary’s “The Boy” and “The Forest”, Mychael Danna’s “Remember”, Lorne Balfe’s “13 Hours…”, Ben Lovett’s “Synchronicity”, Daniel Belardinelli’s “Lamb” and Charlie Mole’s “Dad’s Army”.

Cover_TheBoyThe Boy” (BearMcCreary, 13 tracks, 49.34, Sparks & Shadows 2016). One of two McCreary scores this month – and both for horror movies. “They Boy” revolves around Greta’s theme, which was inspired by Johannes Brahms’ “Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht”, also known as “Brahms’ Lullaby”. “This melody makes a couple brief cameos in the film itself, with Greta tinkering on the harpsichord,” McCreary said. “I sampled an antique music box, a gift from an old friend, for a frail, plunky sound. I then layered in detuned pianos, autoharps, dulcimers, ethnic bells, celeste, glockenspiel and harp, panning them around the mix. The creaky, off-kilter music box sound was the result of hours of tinkering with live instruments and samples, ironically the most time-consuming aspect of the score.” That all sounds good and well on paper, but on album it sounds just like every other horror score that relies on ‘off-kilter’ instruments, eerie waltzes, and so on. The music is well-written and nicely produced (perhaps almost a little too polished), and undoubtedly effective in context. On album, it sounds solid and should please fans of the composer and of scary music, but don’t expect anything terribly original.

Cover_TheForestThe Forest” (Bear McCreary, 10 tracks, 42:02, Sparks & Shadows 2016). McCreary’s other horror-score this month is “The Forest”, which is no more original than “The Boy”, but arguably makes for a more interesting album. It too follows all the conventional tricks in the book, and opens with a spooky kid’s vocals. Plenty of dissonant strings, and mysteriously tolling bowls follow. Soft choir adds an extra dimension. “The Boy” is probably slightly more accessible for casual listeners, but “The Forest” is (in my opinion) the grittier and more interesting one of the two. McCreary said: “The film draws heavily from Japanese folklore, in particular the tales of Yūrei, beings similar to Western legends of ghosts. I wanted my score to support this connection to Japanese culture incorporating Japanese music.” Hence the spooky choir and some wooden sound-effects here and there. Again it’s all expertly executed; prepare to be frightened, but don’t expect to hear anything you’ve never heard before.

Cover_SynchronicitySynchronicity” (Ben Lovett, 19 tracks, 42:39, Lakeshore Records 2016). “Jacob and I were both raised on 80’s movies and the music of John Carpenter, Wendy Carlos, Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre and others who pioneered the sound of that era,” said Lovett. “Since the visual tone of “Synchronicity” is very much inspired by science fiction films from that time period, we wanted to approach the music with similar reverie to reinforce the overall aesthetic goals of the film.” Lovett opted to work exclusively with vintage analogue synthesizers, his first entirely electronic score. And that really tells you everything you need to know. It’s a moody, and yet energetic album that almost inevitably will remind listeners of “Blade Runner”. When I say it’s an energetic album, I mean that the sound is constantly moving. There’s always something bubbling in the background; or synth pads are continuously evolving. It’s difficult to pinpoint a central theme, but I a guess ‘a theme’ was not the point to this score – the sound is. Warm synths pads and softly bubbling arpeggios are the norm here. It is quite a pleasant sound, if you’re into synths, and yet I struggled to sit through all forty-two minutes of it. It’s all pretty cool, but I struggle to connect to it emotionally; and the novelty of the old synths soon wears off. Maybe it did need a stronger, leading melody?

Cover_ManhattanManhattan” (Jonsi and Alex, Jeff Russo, Zoe Keating, 21 tracks, 47:25, Lakeshore Records 2016). Brooding, electronic scores have been on the rise for a while now – and here is another one. “Manhattan” is TV-show that follows the lives of the scientists, and their families, behind the Manhattan Project – the world’s first atomic bomb. The music for series 1 (track 1-13) is by Jonsi & Alex, whilst the music for series 2 is by Jeff Russo and Zoe Keating – but you can’t really hear a difference. Stylistically, it’s all very coherent. If anything, I think the music for series 2 sounds slightly denser and more oppressing.  The score revolves heavily around its sound, rather than any melodic content. There’s a lot of electronica here, quite possibly all of it, with the exception of Zoe Keating’s cello. Piano and samples of acoustic sounds are scattered throughout Jonsi & Alex’s music. From a technical viewpoint, you could consider it an interesting score and it’s all very well done; but again I struggle to connect emotionally. As much as I love synths and samplers, I’m quickly becoming immune to these synth-heavy, ambient scores that tell me nothing.

Cover_RememberRemember” (Mychael Danna, 24 tracks, 60:46, Varese Sarabande 2016). Christopher Plummer plays a man suffering from dementia and living in a nursing home in a frequent state of confusion. He is haunted by his memories of the holocaust, which causes him to hatch a plan to hunt down the man who killed his family; but his unreliable memory and unclear plan make it a difficult journey. Mychael Danna’s score makes for a colourful, but surprisingly difficult listen. Some synths aside, it is predominantly orchestral with an emphasis on woodwinds, piano and strings (the solo cello stands out). What makes it a challenging experience is the modern, avant-garde style of writing. It sounds like a modern concert-hall piece, rather than a soundtrack. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like it from Danna; as it sounds more like something you’d expect from a Howard Shore-David Cronenberg collaboration. I struggle to identify and melodic content, beyond various snippets or repeating patterns. It’s a difficult album to follow, which undoubtedly reflects Christopher Plummer’s ‘confused’ mental state. Much like the electronic scores I reviewed earlier, this orchestral one is interesting, but I once again struggle to connect to it emotionally, because the music is so (deliberately) … intangible.

Cover_13Hours13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” (Lorne Balfe, 13 tracks, 52.32, Paramount Music). I hadn’t immediately realised that this is the latest film by Michael Bay, though it does explain a lot. He seems to have left Steve Jablonsky behind, as “13 Hours” is scored by another Remote Control protégé: Lorne Balfe. “The music needed to reflect the complex feelings the guys were dealing with and so instead of creating a solely action-packing score, we stuck with more simple electronic soundscapes,” Balfe described. “Peter Gregson brought to the table his immense talent on electric cello and the sound we created with him, I think, evoked the feelings of isolation and abandonment that the men had to deal with.” So the album opens with this electric cello, a Remote Control staple sound. It’s an other-worldly sound (and the fleeting melody reminds me of “Prince of Egypt”), but its effect has diminished over the years. Soon, the score turns more aggressive, as ostinati, arpeggios and bubbling percussion kicks in. A lot of it reminds me of Hans Zimmer’s “Black Hawk Down” or “Batman Begins” or “Man of Steel”. The same old rhythms and rolling percussion, the same old chugging cellos, the same old grating guitars. It may be well done… but I don’t actually care any more. This constant pulsing and throbbing gives me headaches. The score’s quieter moments rely on synth pads and sparse piano. Again nothing earth-shattering. But then, it’s Michael Bay.

Cover_JaneGotAGunJane Got A Gun” (Lisa Gerrard and Marcello de Francisci, 24 tracks, 57.44, Varese Sarabande 2016). I suspect many of us won’t have heard of De Francisci, yet he’s been around for while. He joined Media Ventures in the early 90s and, much later, worked on scores like “Balibo”, “Oranges and Sunshine”, “Burning Man” and “Tears of Gaza”. Lisa Gerrard, who also collaborated with the Media Ventures gang, worked on the same movies as De Francisci, so with that in mind, this current collaboration makes perfect sense. “Director Gavin O’Connor was looking to find a very signature score to this film while shying away from what is considered the conventional western soundtrack,” said De Francisci. And so the album opens completely fresh and original with acoustic guitar and solo violin. You couldn’t get a more typical ‘western’ sound if you tried. As the score progresses, synths, percussion (of a ‘world’ nature) and Gerrard’s vocals are introduced. The latter rather very sparsely, actually, and often filtered into oblivion. It certainly isn’t a ‘wild western’ score; it is much more a tense and psychological affair. It’s an ambient score; and some might called it droning.


Lamb” (Daniel Belardinelli, 15 tracks, 33.03, Movie Score Media 2016). The music by Venezuelan-born composer Daniel Belardinelli features two very contrasting sets of cues on the album. The first is a series of simple solo piano themes written away from the screen and before the film was even shot – these were based solely on the script and the novel. The second set includes a contrasting group of dense dramatic cues featuring tank drums, Tibetan bowls, analog synths and strings that were carefully crafted around action and dialogue. As the composer puts it: “the score tries to play a layer of familiar feelings over the raw and unfamiliar intensity of the protagonists relationship and their journey.” The result is a melancholy, and sometimes slightly uneasy, listening experience. There is beauty in the self-confessed simplicity; especially the piano pieces are lovely. Elsewhere, the bowls and synths add mystery. On album it’s all quite pleasant, though perhaps a little underwhelming.

Cover_DadsArmyDad’s Army” (Charlie Mole, 21 tracks, 42.39, Silva Screen Records 2016). I’m not sure whether it was really necessary to turn the classic British TV-show “Dad’s Army” into film, but here it is and with a surprisingly stellar cast too! Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Gambon, Mark Gatiss, Sarah Lancashire and many others. The original score is by Charlie Mole, who is also doing a fab job for ITV’s “Mr Selfridges”. Unsurprisingly, it’s quite a fun score he’s penned for “Dad’s Army”. There are some nice, subtle nudges to Bud Flanagan’s song “Who Do Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler” song, which closes the album; and there are also a few winks to classical pieces (of which “The Ride of the Valkyries” made me chuckle). The music is very much what you’d expect from an old-fashioned war-movie – snares and flutes, plenty of brass, and the odd air raid siren, because why not? That said, it’s not ‘silly’ music. It sounds quite serious a lot of the time and, sadly, it’s actually quite anonymous; so I suspect the humour comes from the juxtaposition of the music against the lacklustre characters. Bud Flanagan’s song always was, and remains to be the real signature tune of “Dad’s Army”.

Reviews by Pete Simons (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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