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2016 Round Up – November (8/9)

December 21, 2016

monthly_roundup2016 Round Up – November (8/9)

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: Star Trek Beyond, The Light Between Oceans, Supergirl, The Flash, No Man’s Sky and Denial.

Cover_StarTrekBeyondStar Trek Beyond” (Michael Giacchino, 18 tracks, 61.04, Varese Sarabnde 2016). Michael Giacchino seems attached to so many projects these days that you’d almost forget he scored the latest Star Trek movie earlier this year. I remember really enjoying Beyond when it first came out, but a few months on and my enthusiasm has waned a bit. Inevitably, it lacks that sense of ‘discovering something new’ that his first Trek score had; and it lacks the coolness and the power of Into Darkness. That said, the writing and orchestrations are still impeccable; the action music is exciting; and… there’s a lovely new theme that is reprised a few times throughout the score, first heard in “Night on the Yorktown” (though it does remind me a bit of his Jurassic World material). The choir adds a sense of awe. All in all, it’s a perfectly decent score with a few highlights; but ultimately it doesn’t quite capture me the way the previous two did. Note: Varese Sarabande is releasing a 2CD Deluxe edition in December. It’ll be interesting to see how the expanded album works out.

cover_lightbetweenoceansThe Light Between Oceans” (Alexandre Desplat, 19 tracks, 62:11, Lakeshore Records 2016). Set in the years following World War I, The Light Between Oceans is a heart-breaking drama about fate, love, moral dilemmas and the lengths to which one couple will go to see their dreams realized. Alexandre Desplat delivers an on-point score, as you’d expect from him. The score relies very heavily on piano and strings, though a full orchestra is present. The music is very pretty and at times reminds me of Horner and Williams (in Angela’s Ashes mode); and it has received high praise from many reviewers. And yet… I struggle to connect with this one. I admire the craftsmanship on display, and it makes for a pleasant background listen; but somehow it fails to draw me in any closer.

cover_denialDenial” (Howard Shore, 18 tracks, 39:21, Howe Records 2016). Denial reminds me of the ‘old’ Howard Shore, the pre-Lord of the Rings Howard Shore. It’s a beautiful score that reminds me of his work on Philadelphia and other works from the 90s. The score prominently features strings and woodwinds, often performing the composer’s trademark stretched-out chords and repeating patterns. There is a simple main theme (or motif) for woodwinds that recurs frequently throughout the score. The music is of a low-key nature, with a sombre tone. Nothing surprising coming from Shore. It’s slow and quite depressing; and as such it’s difficult to get really excited about Denial, even if it harkens back to my favourite period in Shore’s career.

cover_nomansskyNo Man’s Sky” (65daysofstatic, 16 tracks, 2CD, 1:50.11, Laced Records 2016). No Man’s Sky is nothing if not ambitious. The video-game itself seems to have divided opinions, with some praising its infinite storyline, whilst others criticise that exact same endlessness (and thereby cheating you out of a proper ending). The score by Sheffield band 65daysofstatic is likely to meet similar criticism. The band creates experimental soundscapes using elements of rock and electronica. It sounds quite harsh at times, as they sure love their grainy granulated noises. To an extent this is ‘simply’ a new 65DOS album consisting of rock-like tracks for electric guitar and drums; enhanced with sound-scapey cues for the game. A lot of the overall sound seems derived from electric guitars (which sometimes seem to reverberate forever) and harsh electronics. From a technical point of view, there’s a lot going on that is to be admired; but from a purely musical point of view I struggle to enjoy this endless onslaught of sound.

cover_supergirls1Supergirl” (Blake Neely, 29 tracks, 78:29, La-La Land Records 2016). In the album’s booklet, Neely explains some of the thoughts behind the music. Initially the director wanted it to sound “more in the style of John Williams’ classic Superman score’. […] Although the score quickly evolved into a less traditional orchestral sound and more of a hybrid electronic/orchestral score.” The result is a modern action-adventure score that conforms very much to today’s norms. There are plenty of ostinatos and thunderous percussion; or pianos with a dreamy synth-pads behind them. You could almost argue that this is the new traditional. There’s a strong main theme, which still seems to have faint echoes of Michael Kamen (which I find rather endearing). Trumpet frequently takes the lead, especially during the main theme. There are a few additional composers listed, but stylistically everything matches up nicely, though there are a few tracks where the sampling quality is of a tiny little bit lesser quality. That said, there is a real orchestra present, and the score does benefit from it (as opposed to The Flash for example). At times it’s a heavy and busy score; but luckily there are plenty of lighter moments for woodwinds or frolicking strings. A pleasant album, if very typical for the genre today.

cover_theflashs2Listening to “The Flash Season 2” (Blake Neely, 26 tracks, 78:44, La-La Land Records 2016) it’s a slightly darker and murkier affair. Lots of ostinati for both strings and synths. Chanting choir adds an extra level of darkness to the score. However, the score is also much more obviously sampled, which takes some of the liveliness away you’d get with a real orchestra. There are a few attempts at some light-hearted writing, but again it doesn’t really appeal to me. Perhaps, again, because the sampled performance doesn’t quite get that lightheartedness across in the way that Supergirl (with real orchestra) did manage. Also, thematically and dramatically The Flash doesn’t appeal to me in the same way that Supergirl does, in that it’s harder to pin-down the main theme. I guess The Flash is more for Neely’s hardcore fans.

cover_blindspots1Blindspot” (Blake Neely, 24 tracks, 78:38, La-La Land Records 2016). And for those hardcore fans, music from Arrow Season 4, Legends of Tomorrow and the documentary Serena (all more of the same-ish) have also been released. More interesting is Neely’s score for Blindspot, which is a much more modern and edgy work. By being flat-out modern with synths, grungy beats and the occasional piano, I actually find Blindspot more enjoyable than any of the other Neely scores recently released, as you’re not distracted by a fake orchestra. It’s not trying to be something that it’s not; instead it’s allowed to be very good at what it is. As it turns out, it does feature live vocals, guitar and strings alongside striking synth and percussion parts.

cover_magnusMagnus” (Uno Helmersson, 18 tracks, 38:50, MovieScore Media 2016). Directed by Benjamin Ree over a period of ten years (between 2004-2014), Magnus covers chess-player Magnus Carlsen’s rise to fame from his humble beginnings as a child prodigy when he was dubbed the Mozart of chess to his nail-biting showdowns with the greatest champions in order to conquer, then defend the title of World Champion. Ree’s documentary won the Ray of Sunshine Award at the Norwegian International Film Festival. While scoring the film, composer Uno Helmersson focused on accentuating the growth of the child prodigy with clever instrumentation choices that grow more complex together with the protagonist. As he explains “I tried to manifest the core of chess with piano and strings, trying to keep the score as simple and plain as possible. I wanted to bring forth the strive of Magnus and his development as a character, so I had this idea of letting the instrumentation mirror Magnus’ journey from child prodigy to chess champion. One particular place is the timelapse where he grows into a young man. This piece opens with a string quartet, then the other musicians join in one by one until we have a full string orchestra with piano along with Magnus getting older. After this we stay with full string section until the end.Magnus is a beautiful score. Often a bit understated with soft, slow chords and faint electronics. When the piano or strings come to the fore, it’s a delightful work that reminds me a little of Alexandre Desplat and Thomas Newman.

Reviews by Pete Simons (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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