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Nerve (Rob Simonsen)

November 30, 2016


Rob Simonsen, 2016, Lakeshore Records
20 tracks, 48:41

Rob Simonsen is the king of cool. Cool music, that is. Can he hold his nerve and deliver a daring score for Nerve?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

A high school senior finds herself immersed in an online game of truth or dare, where her every move starts to become manipulated by an anonymous community of watchers. The film is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman; stars Emma Roberts, David Franco and Emily Meade; and features an original score by Rob Simonsen (The Final Member).

What does it sound like?

What’s striking about the score is just how playful it is. The album opens with “Game On” which features a catchy bassline and dance-like percussion.  “Night Drive” is a moderately-paced and super-slick dance cue full of retro goodness, from its sounds to its melodies. The added vocals (children’s choir as well as sampled sounds) lift this cue, and in fact the score, to a whole new level. The playfulness of the synths combined with the organic sounds of the vocals (both live and sampled) create this atmosphere of child-like innocence and adventure.

This sense of adventure continues in the faster-paced “New York F***ing City”, which starts off suspenseful, but soon introduces beats, arpeggios, that children’s choir again, and starts ramping up the tempo. As the tempo goes up, the beats and synths become more aggressive; ultimately culminating in drums banging over a cropped arpeggio… before coming to a peaceful conclusion. “Verrazano” is a laid-back piece, with soft percussion and warm synth pads.

But just because it’s playful, doesn’t mean (at all) that it’s not suspenseful. Despite the rhythmic drive and the innocent children’s choir, there’s a lot of tension and melancholy in the air; especially during the final third. From “Catfight” though to “Vote Yes Or No” the score’s tempi become slower and more menacing; as do the arpeggios and other sounds. During the first parts of the score suspenseful cues include: “Player”, “Staten Island”, “Lighthouse”, “Dare Accepted” and “Player vs Player”. Whilst some may rely on ‘droning’ sounds, Simonsen keeps things constantly moving through his percussion, arpeggios and evolving synth pads.

Jóhann Jóhannsso’s ulta-sad song “The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black” makes an appearance towards the end. The original is a lengthy, tear-jerker of a cue, but here it’s limited to just under two minutes. Simonsen has added some of his own sounds, so that it blends in nicely with his score; and it transitions particularly well into the emotional “Aftermath”. The album concludes with the song “Let’s Play”, based on the opening cue “Game On”.

Is it any good?

I’m late to review this one – I got Nerve back in July. But you know what? To this day, Nerve still makes (at least) a weekly appearance on my playlist. It’s an incredibly cool, fun and addictive score. Electronic scores, especially those with a retro feel, are very popular these days, so to stand out you’ve got to deliver something pretty special – and Simonsen does exactly that. I find this to be an extremely clever and effective score. One that is tense and melancholy, yet full of energy, drive and fun. The synths and percussion are stylish (as you’ve come to expect from the composer) and the vocals add something organic to the mix. Nerve has really got under my skin and has become one my favorite scores of the year.

Rating [4.5/5]


01. Game On (1.57)
02. Player (1.18)
03. Staten Island (0.58)
04. Lighthouse (1.18)
05. Dare Accepted (1.23)
06. Dress (2.32)
07. Player vs Player (1.46)
08. Night Drive (3.44)
09. Ticket To Aruba (1.35)
10. New York F***ing City (4.33)
11. Verrazano (3.10)
12. Catfight (2.43)
13. Losing It (2.48)
14. Snitches Get Stitches (3.03)
15. A Way Out (2.59)
16. Coliseum (3.00)
17. Vote Yes or No (2.47)
18. The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black (Rob Simonsen Nerve Remix) – Jóhann Jóhannsson (1.45)
19. Aftermath (2.32)
20. Let’s Play – Rob Simonsen & White Sea (Bonus Track) (2.50)

Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

  1. romanmartel permalink

    Just explored this score tonight, and wow it is really a blast. I”m a bit sad I didn’t give it a shot when it came out. But yeah this one climbed up my list of favorites from 2016. Great review.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 2016 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards | Synchrotones' Soundtrack Reviews
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