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2016 Round Up – April (4/12)

May 6, 2016

monthly_roundup2016 Round Up – March-April (4/12)

Synchrotones presents its monthly round-up: a brief overview of soundtrack releases that didn’t get their own dedicated review. And sorry we missed the March edition. So let’s focus on those scores that got away. Such as: “Zoolander 2” (Shapiro), “City of Gold” (Johnston), “Mr Selfridge” (Mole), “Pee Wee’s Big Holiday” (Mothersbaugh), “Criminal” (Tyler), “Confirmation” (Gregson-Williams) and quite a few more!

Cover_Zoolander2Zoolander 2” (Theodore Shapiro, 16 tracks, 50.09, Lakeshore Records 2016). “At its heart, Zoolander No. 2 is an epic mystery,” Shapiro described. “The movie starts with the question, ‘Who is killing the world’s biggest pop stars?’ and continues on a dark journey into the depraved madness that lies at the heart of the fashion world. The director Ben Stiller and I knew that such an epic journey required a score to match. I always favour a very serious approach to scoring comedies, and Ben [Stiller], shares that approach completely,” said Shapiro. “We really only talk about the music in terms of storytelling, never about jokes.  The film’s comedy always comes out in contrast to the seriousness of the music’s tone.” You can score a comedy like a comedy, or you can play it straight. Shapiro plays it damn straight in “Zoolander 2”. Confident string ostinatos, thundering percussion, powerful brass and electric guitars feature heavily throughout the score. Strings and flute can be heard during the score’s reflective moments, but it’s during the action cues when the score really comes to live. Of course it borrows and steals every possible cliche from the action genre, but the result is actually one of the most exciting action scores I’ve heard in a while; certainly on par with Joe Kraemer’s recent output (you know the one) or Henry Jackman’s & Matthew Margeson’s collaborations. It’s really well written and orchestrated. Heck, there’s an ostinato you’d actually want to hum afterwards, and there’s even a choir! Why do I sound like I’m surprised? Shapiro is a class act composer, and this score proves it once again. Don’t overlook it just because it’s for a silly movie.

Cover_CityOfGoldCity of Gold” (Bobby Johnston, 19 tracks, 33:07, Lakeshore Records 2016). “As the unabashed cradle of Hollywood superficiality and smoggy urban sprawl, Los Angeles has long been condemned as a cultural wasteland. In the richly penetrating documentary odyssey City of Gold, Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold shows us another Los Angeles, where ethnic cooking is a kaleidoscopic portal to the mysteries of an unwieldy city and the soul of America.” I love this album! I didn’t think I would, but I do. It’s totally addictive. From the very first tones (a weird rhythm made from ‘popping’ sounds) to the last. Soon bass, lively percussion and jazzy brass are added. Most of the album is of a modern jazzy nature, perhaps with some ska and reggae influences (I’m not too well versed in those genres to make a definitive statement, but that’s my gut reaction). A lot of it reminds me of Rolfe Kent’s “Sideways”… not literally, but it’s got that same playful, sunny vibe. The music oozes optimism; it makes you feel good without being blatantly obvious about it. It’s an incredibly colourful score, with lots of different instruments taking the lead. One moment it’s brass, the next it’s guitars, piano or mallets. Percussion plays a major in virtually every track, and the percussion alone is as inventive as the rest of the score. There are a few central ideas that recur throughout the score, but it’s the quirky, inventive nature of the music that really brings all the cues together. For me, this is one the year’s most pleasant surprises.

Cover_MrSelfridgeMr Selfridge” (Charlie Mole, 39 tracks, 69:09, Sony Classical 2016). The hugely successful and popular ITV series “Mr Selfridge”, starring Jeremy Piven, finally sees an album release of its, often jovial, music by Charlie Mole. Being a period drama, the score is infused with musical influences from the 1910s, such as smooth jazz, ragtime, waltzes and other light-hearted dances. I’ve always particularly enjoyed the almost piquant main titles; and the rest of the score is equally enjoyable. The score is not without drama but, like the show itself, it doesn’t want to put too much of a strain on its audience. It’s supposed to be light and fluffy. The incessantly upbeat character of the music does get a little tiresome after a while (it does for me, anyway); and the reliance on sultry trumpet performances makes me, somewhat reluctantly, want to compare it to the “Coronation Street” main theme. Yup… it’s a posh “Coronation Street”, you heard it here first (and probably last). Besides the trumpet, the score features strings and piano. It’s a lovely score that works like a charm in the show. It’s utterly pleasant on album, though I’m not convinced we needed as much as 70 minutes of it.

Cover_OpenSeasonScaredSillyOpen Season: Scared Silly” (Rupert Gregson-Williams and Dominic Lewis, 15 tracks, 32:41, Varese Sarabande 2016). Boog and Elliot are back in an all new adventure! When Elliot tells a campfire story of a monster in the woods, Boog – who has never been the bravest of bears – becomes very scared. His best friend Elliot comes up with a crazy plan to scare the fear out of Boog! Composers Dominic Lewis and his former mentor Rupert Gregson-Williams have put together a lively and entertaining score. It runs the gamut of cinematic and animated clichés; and cleverly pays homage to classic works. So don’t expect anything particularly original, but do expect something rather colourful and energetic. There’s a cheerful main theme that returns several times. Elsewhere, the lighter cues sound lovely and oh so innocent; whilst the action cues pack a surprising punch with fast-paced parts for strings and woodwinds. Really, it’s exactly what you’d expect – and that’s just fine.

Cover_PeeWeesBigHolidayPee-Wee’s Big Holiday” (Mark Mothersbaugh, 30 tracks, 50:04, Varese Sarabande 2016).  Let’s stick with the zany comedies for a moment. Mark Mothersbaugh quotes Khatchaturian’s “Spartacus” during the main titles, and it’s absolutely lovely. Elsewhere, it seems to approach Prokofiev’s writing. Now, I always thought Elfman’s main titles showed a classical influence, so I wonder what it is about the character that brings out those influences? I don’t know if people are expecting any similarities between the Mothersbaugh score and Elfman’s from three decades ago, but… both are zany, silly and very colourfully orchestrated. Elfman’s was probably more experimental and rougher around the edges. “Big Holiday” benefits from top-notch performances and recording technology. Mothersbaugh’s writing is impeccable. There’s a catchy main theme that recurs several time, in various guises. Musical ideas are being tossed around the orchestra like dollar bills at a strip club. It’s all over the place… and in the hands of a lesser composer that could spell disaster, but not here. Mothersbaugh somehow (i.e. through that ditzy main theme) manages to keep it all together. Now, this sort of over-the-top zanyness isn’t really for me, but I gotta admit to grinning all the way through this.

Cover_BaskinBaskin” (Ulas Pakkan, 26 tracks, 59.32, Lakeshore Records 2016). “Baskin has a timelessness and a post apocalyptic feel to it and we are not totally sure when this series of events is happening. We are given some small clues about the period in the beginning of the movie when we see Arda’s room,” Pakkan stated. “While I was creating the Arda’s theme, I tried to reflect the era of their childhood. Arda’s theme is the heart of the soundtrack. I reuse it in many of the scenes but arranged in multiple ways to create different vibes.” The Turkish composer put together a synthesized score with a strong retro feel (John Carpenter comes to mind a few times). It’s a dark album, with deep basses and fuzzy leads. Fans of electronic music might appreciate the effort that went into this score, but the more casual listener may struggle with the eerie soundscapes – but what would you expect from a horror movie? It tends to drone on here and there, but there are also some pretty cool moments to be found.

Cover_TheInvitationThe Invitation” (Theodore Shapiro, 16 tracks, 38.23, Lakeshore Records 2016). Wow… following “Zoolander 2” this is rather different. “The Invitation perfectly captures something essential about life in Los Angeles,” said Shapiro. “Los Angeles is a city of incredible natural beauty and utopian visions, but also a city in which dread, grief, and the curdling of those visions can often lie just underneath the surface. The score mostly functions in the film as the voice of dread, haunted memories, and grief that sits underneath the surface of a dinner party in the hills of LA. The music follows the film in its descent from uneasiness towards true terror.” As an album, this doesn’t really work for me. At best Shapiro offers dream-like soundscapes (there are a couple of cues that utilises softer drones or processed piano), but for the most part it relies on high-pitched drones and screeches. Highly effective in creating a sense of dread and unease. So effective indeed, that I can’t listen to all of it. From a technical point of view, I can appreciate that a lot of work went into manipulating the sound, but I get no pleasure out of listening to this. I’ll be over there in the corner, recovering with “Zoolander 2”!

Cover_CriminalCriminal” (Brian Tyler and Keith Power, 19 tracks, 72.24, Lakeshore Record 2016). “When talking to the director Ariel Vromen we came to the realization that we should experiment with creating a primarily analog synth score,” said Tyler. “We wanted this score to reflect two radically contrasting aspects of the film: grittiness and emotion. We utilized analog outboard synths to create a raw soundscape that could fulfill the entire range of music from grinding raw electronic score to melancholy heartbreak. The style of the score harkened to classic electronic scores of the past.” It’s resulted in some interesting sounds and arpeggios, but really it’s a rather anonymous electronic score that bubbles and rattles and drones its way through 72(!) minutes. As far as harkening back to scores of the past is concerned: the trouble is that so many composer are doing just that these days, that they actually start harkening to each other rather than to Vangelis or Carpenter (because I’m struggling to remember a classic synth score that utilised dub step…). The opening song “Drift and Fall Again” is pretty awesome though.

Cover_AHologramKingA Hologram for the King” (Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer, 11 tracks, 49.37, Lakeshore Record 2016). A failed American businessman looks to recoup his losses by traveling to Saudi Arabia and selling his idea to a wealthy monarch. The first few notes of Mr Clay’s theme remind of Morricone, but it’s a brief and superficial resemblance. The score combines acoustic guitar with strings, soft synths and some choir. It’s melodic and harmonic; it’s got a few good ideas and on the whole it’s quite a noble-sounding score. It’s got a lovely warm sound to it, and its heart is certainly in the right place. … and yet, it fails to engage as an album. I’ve listened a good few times to it and still struggle to remember much, if anything, from it.

Cover_MrRightMr Right” (Aaron Zigman, 27 tracks, 41.44, Lakeshore Records 2016). “[Director] Paco had expressed the importance of the action world in this film, so that’s precisely where I began,” Zigman explained. “In this film the action was, in a sense, what brought these two characters together—it created this underlying, superhuman energy that bonded them together, though it was ultimately Mr. Right who was able to successfully help his counterpart, Martha, discover her own sense of self-empowerment.” Reading Zigman’s notes you would be forgiven for expecting some high-octane action score… it’s not. There are a few action cues that are infused with rock sounds (percussion, guitars), but for the most part it’s quite a subdued, romantic little score. The quieter moments also rely on soft guitar play. Throughout, you will find nervously ticking percussion and quirky little bass lines. It’s quite funky and quirky.

Cover_ElvisAndNixonAlso a bit quirky and funky is “Elvis & Nixon” (Edward Shearmur, 17 tracks, 38.34, Lakeshore Records 2016). “The goal was to set a light and sunny tone for the film, that spoke to a sense of time and place and that hinted at the caper aspects of the story,” said Shearmur. “We weren’t trying to recreate or mimic an Elvis Presley sound, but music of the seventies, and specifically Memphis was definitely an inspiration.” After half-a-dozen songs from the era, we arrive at Shearmur’s score, all nineteen minutes of it. It’s as far away from his orchestral scores as you can get. Funky, wah-wah bass lines and jazzy brass motifs are what this score is all about. It doesn’t even necessarily sound like a ‘film score’. In the film, much of it could probably be mistaken for source music. There’s very little to say really, as pretty much all cues sound alike. It’s very good natured; a harmless bit of fun.

Cover_Confirmation“Confirmation” (Harry Gregson-Williams, 15 tracks, 39.02, Lakeshore Records). “From my perspective, there were four different thematic areas that needed exploration musically: Anita’s psyche, Clarence’s psyche, the semi-omniscient, procedural perspective offered by the archival news footage, and the circus-like absurdity that encompassed the judicial system and the media during the scandal,” Gregson-Williams explained. “Through a mixture of rhythmic textures, achieved through the use of string obstinate and interweaving synth pulse patterns, I tried to create a sense of impetus and energy which reminds the audience of how high the stakes were during the course of this historical event.” Harry Gregson-Williams has produced an easy-going, slick little score. You can even hear a few characteristics from his “Martian” score. Yet somehow it’s not quite as interesting as that one. It’s a very quiet and subdued score. It goes about its job in an understated manner and doesn’t really leave much of an impression. The composer does manage to keep things moving by always having something going on, albeit it very softly (a string arpeggio, a bubbly synth sound).

Cover_OnlyTheDeadOnly the Dead (See the End of War)” (Michael Yezerski, 20 tracks, 36.58, Lakeshore Records 2016). Yezerski used strings at the heart of the score, interspersed here and there with lower brass, percussion and electronics. He described: “There are echoes of an Oud but it’s not actually an Oud. All the things that sound like Middle Eastern instruments are actually electronics. I used the Arabic mode ‘Rast’ a little but not overtly. The lower strings often provide a pedal over which I’ve laid slow, rich melodies. I wanted to create a sense that the music is coming from the depths of the planet – an earth cry if you like.” The composer uses low strings and brass to create growling waves, which remind me of Clint Mansell. Akin to that composer, “Only the Dead” is quite an unusual, almost experimental score – it seems to sit somewhere in between a Mansell score and Zimmer’s “Black Hawk Down”. It’s an unrelenting, dark score with the occasional string ostinato, thunderous percussion and synths basses. On paper it reads like your typical, run-off-the-mill action score, yet somehow Yezerski’s work is different. Of all the uneasy listening lately, this is one of the more interesting and rewarding ones.

Synchrotones also received: “Hardcore Henry” (Dasha Charusha) which seems to combine techno, dub-step and ambient textures. Some of it is quite interesting, but most felt too aggressive for me . “Making a Murderer” (Gustavo Santaolalla & Kevin Kiner) relies heavily on guitar play with ambient patches in the background. Quite pleasant, but it gets a bit ‘samey’ very quickly. “Beyond Two Souls” (Lorne Balfe) is being released by Lakeshore. I remember some rave reviews a while ago, but I fail to get excited. I’m starting to recognise Balfe’s musical voice, and I do appreciate that; but his score here is so incessant and in-your-face, I struggle to enjoy it. “Krisha” by Brian McOmber relies on a series of rather bizarre noises. I think it’s fair to say this is more sound design than musical composition. A strange and very uneasy album. “400 Days” by Wojciech Golczewski is a moody, harsh and mostly uneasy electronic score. Glockenspiel adds a lighter touch, but it’s a bit deceptive; it’s really quite a harsh sounding score (lots of deliberate distortion on the sound).

Reviews by Pete Simons (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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