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2016 Round Up – September-October (7/9)

November 11, 2016

monthly_roundup2016 Round Up – September-October (7/9)

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: Ben Hur, Anthropoid, Greater, and the non-score album Majestik. This will be one the last monthly round ups, as I’ll be switching to a weekly format soon.

cover_majestikMajestik” (Acoustic Labs, 10 tracks, 45.37, Acoustic Labs 2016). “One of the reasons my brand is called Acoustic Labs is because of the experimentation I do with common instruments using prepared techniques,” composer GC Johnson explains. “I feel changing the sonic footprint of an instrument is valuable as it reinvents something familiar and that serves to keep an audience interested.  It also constantly reinvents the instruments for me and keeps me inspired.” Acoustic Labs’ playing has been heard on the HBO show Newsroom and the Netflix programs Sense 8, This Is Congo and Back In Time (which was scored by Johnson); as well as in the film Hologram For The King. So, Majestik is not a film/tv score as such, but it does have a modern, cinematic sound. It’s a very atmospheric album, with a dusty, hazy sound from start to finish. I suspect that many of the synth pads are derived from vocal sounds, which give the score an off-kilter acoustic feel. Strings are raspy, guitars are grainy. There are recurring motifs, and the whole thing is quite hypnotic. It’s a minimal album, in the sense that much of it is build from/on repeating patterns. “Codex Transformata”, with its slow drumbeat, is my favourite, even if it really strongly reminds me of something.

cover_benhur2016Ben Hur” (Marco Beltrami, 27 tracks, 66:14, Sony Classical 2016). I fail to see the need for this remake.. especially this remake, but the promise of an epic Beltrami filled with some excitement. Sadly, as the film is just another typical Hollywood action romp, so is the score. The theme for Ben Hur himself is quite nice and noble and returns numerous times to provide some musical coherency. Many of the action cues are quite obnoxious; and they rely surprisingly heavily on electronic elements, providing a somewhat granular texture. Even the brass sounds a bit off, and somehow reminds me of Graeme Revell’s work for Chronicles of Riddick. Even the quieter moments include electronics, or otherwise slightly experimental elements. There are several (or even: plenty) of really lovely moments (e.g. “Forgiveness”), but the film simply does not allow for them to be explored to any great extent. I’m sure the film got the score it deserved. Shame it wasn’t a better film.

cover_anthropoidAnthropoid” (Robin Foster, 17 tracks, 41:03, Lakeshore Records 2016). Robin Foster is a British composer, influenced by bands like Talk Talk, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, New Order, The Smiths as well as by directors such as Michael Mann, Ridley Scott and David Lynch. His score for Anthropoid is a tense, brooding work breathy (but grainy) synth pads. Like Majestik (reviewed above) it’s a hypnotic work, relying on textures and repeating patterns. I dare say that “Anthropoid” is even more minimal than Majestik. Even though little seems to be happening at any given moment, the music does manage to drag you into its world. It’s an eerie, but fascinating soundscape; one that becomes increasingly dramatic as the album progresses. The two classic dance tracks (I’m talking early jazz / jive, that sort of stuff) create a bizarre but intriguing juxtaposition. The album concludes with “Dulce e Decorum”, a beautiful religious cue for choir.

cover_louisdraxThe 9th Life of Louis Drax” (Patrick Watson, 17 tracks, 35.01, Varese Sarabande 2016). Well, this one certainly came out of left-field. As far as I can tell, this is Watson’s first filmscore; though he has been an active composer and musician for many years, releasing several albums, winning awards and selling out gigs all over the world. For The 9th Life of Louis Drax he has penned a lush, dramatic score that’s heavy on the strings, with piano and winds accompanying. As the story unfolds and the album progresses, synths and effects begin to play a more important role, representing little boy Drax’s dream state. However, Watson never loses sight of his orchestra and his melodic content. He has been compared to Andrew Bird, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley and Pink Floyd. Some of this piano work here reminds me of Nils Frahm. Now, I don’t think anyone will come away from Louis Drax humming any of the cues, but that’s not always the point of a score, and certainly not this one. It is an incredibly fascinating work nonetheless. A fascinating blend of reasonably traditional orchestral prettiness with eerie electronic soundscapes. For me, it’s one of this year’s most surprising discoveries.

cover-it2016IT” (Timothy Williams, 15 tracks, 36:53, Varese Sarabande 2016). “John Moore (the director), Tyler Bates (the executive music producer), and I discussed the tone for the film at length,” Williams explains. “It was very clear that, while the film involved technology, it was at its heart a struggle between two people who both believe they are right.” I really like Williams and have admired his work for a couple of years now. He’s coming out of Tyler Bates’s shadow (even though he’s a producer on this album) and is gradually making a name for himself. I.T. could all too easily be dismissed as another techno-thriller score, but John Moore’s extensive liner notes reveal just how much thought Williams has put into this score. The result is a score that, yes, to a large extent relies on electronics, but that also holds on to (and indeed emphasises) the acoustic instruments. You can really hear the grating of the bow against the cello’s strings, or the fingering of instruments, whilst synths arpeggios and processed percussion tick along. It’s a mesmerising juxtaposition of the hyper-real and beautiful electronica. It’s not the most melodic score, but it’s undeniably a tense and dramatic score.

cover_halcyon6Halcyon 6” (Steve London, 15 tracks, 57:57, 2016). Massive Damage, Inc’s Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander is a retro sci-fi strategy RPG with a unique blend of base building, exploration and deep tactical JRPG style combat system with capital starships and their idiosyncratic officers, all captured in stunningly beautiful modernized pixel graphics. The original score by Steve London combines retro (8bit) game sounds with a full (thoug sampled) orchestra. It’s a creative blend of sounds and styles; and it’s good fun. It can’t be easy to combine such vastly different sounds, but London manages it well. There’s a lot of energy here. Plenty of racing strings and stabby brass. It does get tiresome after a while, and the brass is often a bit too obviously sampled. “The Known Galaxy” is 16 minutes of hypnotic beauty!

cover_sullySully” (Christian Jacob, The Tierney Sutton Band, Clint Eastwood, 19 tracks, 50.53, Varese Sarabande 2016). Clint Eastwood’s name may feature prominently on the album’s cover, a glance over the credits reveal that Christian Jacob is the main contributor to this score. And it’s a very pretty score. Gentle piano, soft bass and female vocalist take the lead in this smooth jazz-based work. Yes, it’s the kind of intimate (almost minimalistic) work we’ve come to expect from an Eastwood film, but somehow this one has me hooked. Sometimes all you need is a handful of instruments and some melancholy harmonies. Vocals (songs) are incorporated quite nicely, though it’s best to ignore the rather tedious lyrics. As the score progresses you may recognise certain recurring motifs, but the whole thing is a little too low-key to remember much of it once it’s finished playing. There are moments where I think it reminds me too much of something else (Unforgiven and others things that I can’t pinpoint), or that’s it’s a little too vanilla, but still… it’s quite a lovely little work to just sit and relax with for a few reflective moments.

cover_greaterGreater” (Stephen Raynor-Endelman, 16 tracks, 35.54, Lakeshore Records 2016). I’m not entirely sure what to say about Greater by Stephen Raynor-Endelman. It’s a lovely work, primarily for strings and piano, with winds and synths accompanying. It’s got a pretty main theme and the score frequently reminds of those light romantic-dramas from the 90s or even 80s. Back then it seemed like we got a dozen scores per month like this. These days, a cutesy little score like this feels like more of a rarity (which does somewhat work in its favour). Greater is a very pleasant score, with an uplifting atmosphere; even if it’s a little anonymous.

Reviews by Pete Simons (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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