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2016 Round Up – July-August (6/9)

September 24, 2016

monthly_roundup2016 Round Up – July-August (6/9)

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: “Strangers Things”, “Mr Robot”, “Halt and Catch Fire”, “Ice Age Collision Course”, “Swiss Army Man”, “Music from The Hunger Games Saga”, “The Nice Guys” and a few others.

Cover_HaltAndCatchFireHalt and Catch Fire” (Paul Haslinger, 23 tracks, 38.30, Lakeshore Records 2016). “I love exploring the mechanics of how the story is told. It has become perfectly normal, these days, to tell stories in nonlinear, sometimes parallel storylines. I think this is also reflective of our time, which is that of many streams of information going on at the same,” Haslinger stated. When scoring the series Haslinger decided to approach the musical themes in a different way. “Music sets the vibe and provides a musical connection between the characters, their highs and lows. As the audience witnesses their fortunes and misfortunes, music is there to support that experience.” I’m not sure how that constitutes ‘a different way’? Isn’t that exactly what film- and tv- music is supposed to do? Okay, so what does it sound like? I was pleasantly surprised, but not blown away. I forgot Haslinger was part of Tangerine Dream; and his love and knowledge of synths is certainly obvious here. Tapping into that semi-retro synth style that’s so popular right now, Halt and Catch Fire revolves entirely around stylish pads and blips. The music is constantly moving, either through bubbly arpeggios, echoes, beats or all of the above. Haslinger’s sound palette is quite warm, very pleasant. It makes for quite a relaxed listen, unless you want to put your headphones on and listening closely to the layers of sound. I’m not really picking up on a main theme, and I think it lacks in the story-telling department. It didn’t grab me as much as the similarly-styled Nerve or Jobs did, but it’s nonetheless a pleasant synth album.

Cover_IceAgeCollisionCourseIce Age: Collision Course” (John Debney, 30 tracks, 57:25, Varese Sarabande 2016). “When I got the call to be a part of Ice Age: Collision Course, I was thrilled,” said Debney. “With a spirit of fun and great collaboration, we tried to create a score that is fun, a little outer spacey, and of course: full of heart.” John Debney takes over from John Powell… and he tries very hard to create a score that is as fun, fast-paced and frenzied as Powell’s. It’s hard to fault Debney’s work from a technical point of view. The writing and orchestrations are all top-notch, typical Hollywood and typical animation. It does all the right things at all the right times. And yet… I can’t warm to it. For me it’s too frenetic, too cartoony, just too darn hyperactive. There are some really great, exciting moments; and some lovely heart-warming ones, but they’re like needless in a giant haystack that keeps bouncing all over the place.

Cover_SwissArmyManSwiss Army Man” (Andy Hull, Robert McDowell, 24 tracks, 47:11, Lakeshore Records 2016). I think you’d struggle to find a more original score this year. Swiss Army Man is almost entirely made up from bodily sounds, predominantly the voice. For want of a better description: it’s an a cappella score. It’s all about multi-layered vocal harmonies and scat-like rhythms. These layers do get processed digitally, but it’s always recognisably human. Expect lots of oohs, aahs, dahs and diddely doms. It’s inventive and original, that’s for sure. And it’s quite humorous too, as their totally unique take on Cotton Eye Joe and the Jurassic Park main theme proves. Is it for everyone? Probably not. It’s quite ‘out there’. Interesting, but bonkers.

Cover_StrangerThingsStranger Things” (Kyle Dixon, Michael Stein, Vol. 1: 36 tracks, 68:40; Vol 2: 39 tracks, 73.15, Lakeshore Records 2016). Faithful followers of this website will know that I am quite partial to a good old, retro synth score. Stranger Things is exactly that; and yet… I’m struggling with this one. Inevitably, with 75 tracks and over two hours music available, there are some cool tracks to be found, provided you’re really into that classic, analogue synth sound. But a lot of it does not sound cool, but rather cheap. More disappointingly, it sounds uninteresting. I’m struggling to find a central idea, or any emotional resonance, or any sense of cohesion. It feels like each track introduces a new idea, which swiftly gets abandoned. Tracks fade in and out without doing much in between. I feel like I’m listening to a demo for a synth or a sampler (and sure, I’d buy that), but this as an album, does not work for me… not even the cool sounds can sway me this time.

cover_mrrobotAnd I’ll also briefly mention Mac Quayle’s score for the Emmy-award winning Mr Robot (Vol. 1: 29 tracks, 72:37 and Vol. 2: 23 tracks, 73:31, Lakeshore Records, 2016). My review basically echoes the one above for Stranger Things. It’s a full-on synthesizer score, some of it sounding retro, some of it sounding modern. It focuses on sound, rhythm and atmosphere; and whilst it’s got some interesting elements, I don’t think it really warrants two maxed-out CDs. “Elliot uses programming and social engineering techniques to seek and exploit weakness in computer networks, and I use programming and sonic engineering techniques to help enhance the emotional content of each scene,” said Quayle.  “Armed with our computers and an arsenal of software tools, we both attempt to create and discover the right combination of notes (code) and sounds (keystrokes) that help tell the story (access the network).

cover_raydonovanRay Donovan” (Marcelo Zarvos, 29 tracks, 65:46, Varese Sarabande 2016). “The music for the first 2 Seasons of RAY DONOVAN works on two levels simultaneously. First we have a crime/family drama, with a score that leans towards the emotional and orchestral. And second we have the ‘fixer’ element of the show which tends to be more propulsive and electronic,” said Zarvos. “It was great fun to put on the two different musical hats needed for the show!” So, plenty more electronics in Ray Donovan. It works much better here (than in the two aforementioned scores) because it’s a supporting element rather than the main act. Zarvos also applies rock elements and, most prominently, jazz noir elements. Creepy strings and sultry trumpets are never far away. It’s a very well executed modern noir-thriller score that at times reminds me of Mark Isham and Jeff Rona. Also available is Zarvos’ score for Cell, which is an altogether more aggressive score for eerie strings and brass, electronics and the occasional piano. Again, it’s very well done, but by nature of its film a rather scary listening experience.

Cover_HungerGamesSagaMusic from The Hunger Games Saga” (James Newton Howard, 15 tracks, 55:06, Silva Screen 2016). Now that the saga is complete, Silva Screen has released a compilation with arguably the highlights from the series; performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Evan Jolly. I wasn’t a fan of Howard’s music for these films before, and this album does little to change my mind. It’s perfectly adequate music, of course, but there is little here that excites me. It’s all very slow and subdued; and very heavy on the strings. I’m also not the biggest fan of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. I find their recordings hit and miss. This Hunger Games compilation sounds soulless to me, even though it’s performed note perfect. The cues from the two Mockingjay instalments are my favourites here. Casual fans of film music, Howard or the movies may find this a useful compilation. Hardcore fans will already have the originals.

Cover_MusketeersThe Musketeers (series 2 and 3)” (Paul Englishby, 2CDs, 40 tracks, 1:44.00, Silva Screen 2016). “Alexandre Dumas’s swashbuckling classic remains as relevant to today’s audiences 172 years later as much as it did when first published in 1844. The BBC Drama production which first hit our screens in 2014 brought a fresh and contemporary take on the novel and its characters and immediately struck a chord with viewers.” Silva have now released Paul Englishby’s music for series 2 and 3 as a 2CD album featuring over 100 minutes of music. It’s an energetic score for full orchestra and percussion. English horn often lends it a historical feel; whilst little musical ‘ornaments’ in the writing give it a swashbuckling, and somewhat Spanish-sounding, sound. There are moments where I’m expecting Zorro to appear. Mind you, that’s not a bad thing. Considering the amount of music, Englishby does well to maintain a consistent level of quality and energy. But it’s not all action, as there are plenty of beautiful dramatic cues to be found. A hundred minutes may be a bit much to take in during one sitting, but over several sessions, there’s some really nice music to be discovered here.

cover_theniceguys“The Nice Guys” (John Ottman and David Buckley, 18 tracks, 43:34, Lakeshore Records). “I wrote a balls-out theme for full orchestra, but the challenge for David Buckley and me was adapting the theme into a score that kept the film fun and quirky without feeling too silly“,  says Ottman. This is a pleasant 70s-inspired jazz-and-funk score. Rattling percussion, basses, flutes, organs, whacka-whacka guitars and plenty of brass. It’s the kind of score you’ll likely enjoy if you like these sorts of throw-back scores; a bit like Mission: Impossible, Oceans 11 or even Sideways. There are a few themes and motifs that recur throughout the score, and combined with the orchestrations, they make for a consistent album. The action cues have a more modern sound to them, as the composers include electric guitar and heavy, sampled percussion. It’s certainly a lot more enjoyable that Ottman’s overly pompous X-Men Apocalypse.

Free State of Jones by Nicholas Britell is a moody, often droney, score with various southern state influences (through use of fiddles and guitars). Central Intelligence by Theodore Shapiro and Ludwig Goransson combines gentle moments for strings, guitar and piano with fast-paces beats, pulses, electric guitars. It’s well done, but it’s all over the shop. The Infiltrator is a moody and fairly straight-forward thriller score, combined strings with lots of electronic elements. I like the choice of sounds and the album is well produced, but it’s not easy listening (still more pleasant than stuff like Strangers Things though). Music of DC Comics offers a fun insight into the music, sound effects and dialogue from various DC movies and shows, such as Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonderwoman, et al.

Reviews by Pete Simons (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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