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Life (Jon Ekstrand)

May 31, 2017


Jon Ekstrand, 2017, Milan Records
16 tracks, 57:53

Swedish composer Jon Ekstrand impressed with his stylish Child 44 score. Delving into the sci-fi / horror genre, can he impress again?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Life is a sci-fi thriller about a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station whose mission of discovery turns to one of primal fear when they find a rapidly evolving life form that could have caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds, the film is directed by Daniel Espinosa and written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick. The original score is by Jon Ekstrand, who impressed with Child 44.

What does it sound like? And is it any good?

Director Daniel Espinosa says about Ekstrand: “And then there’s the fact that he is brilliant. It comes from his soul, of course, but also from those secret spots we visited together. From that odd music listened to when we were lost and reimagining our future. He kept that up. I think that must be what he does when he watches our pictures: imagine, dream… And pour his creations out into his work.

The first thing that comes to mind is Alien – by which I mean the franchise of films, rather than any one in particular. I guess that’s not entirely surprising, as the film itself bares some resemblances too. Ekstand’s score is suitably dark and menacing, yet maintains a certain amount of grace. It may be suspenseful, but it’s always very listenable. Aside from the Alien franchise, the music also reminds of Gravity and Interstellar – to varying degrees. Sometimes these similarities can be heard in its rhythmic elements (e.g. “Welcome to ISIS”), other times in the soft radio bleeps (e.g. “It’s Alive”). In the closing track, the sliding basses remind a little too much of Sicario.

Life features an elegant, if somewhat elusive, main theme which is best heard at the end of “Welcome to ISIS” and in “Care To Dance?”. Elsewhere, Ekstrand offers variations (not sure if they’re directly related, but they sure are similar), with the ethereal “New Best Friends” and the downright epic “Godspeed, Doctor” being the best examples.

Daniel always invites me early in the process,” says Ekstrand. “He sends me the script and wants to hear my initial musical ideas. I always like to visit the set which gives me inspiration in the early writing stage. We talk about other films and musical references and what kind of character the music should have, and what instrumentation is the right feel for this film.

The first handful of cues are quite pretty and pretty quiet. Clearly, all is still well at this point. From “Need A Hand?” things onboard the ship start to go severely pear-shaped. Ekstrand follows suit with increasingly dense and suspenseful writing. Expect everything you would expect – growling brass, threatening strings ostinati, eerie glissandi, scrapes, risers and hits, even some choral effects and of course thundering percussion. There are no surprises here, but it’s all expertly executed. There’s a real menacing drive to the action cues, courtesy of the percussion and rhythmic brass clusters. There are some real kick-ass moments in cues like “Thrusters”, “I Thought They Came To Rescue Us” and “Where Are You?”. It’s incredibly effective and I find myself enjoying Ekstrand’s score very much.  I think it actually sounds more like an Alien score than some of that franchise’s recent efforts.

Ekstrand’s Life is elegant and reflective on the one hand, and full of drive and terror on the other. It’s not entirely flawless though. What is quite striking and perhaps, to some, a little disappointing is how ‘thin’ the score sounds. There are several big moments in the score where virtually all instruments appear to play in unison. At those moments the score lacks depth. It’s not always like that, but those moments do stand out – for the wrong reason. That niggle aside, it’s a very effective, craftsman-like score that I enjoy very much.

Rating [3.5/5]


01. Welcome to the ISS
02. It’s Alive
03. Like a Bird
04. Care to Dance?
05. New Best Friends
06. Need a Hand?
07. Not the Face
08. Sprinklers
09. Spacewalk
10. Thrusters
11. Up, Up
12. I Thought They Came to Rescue Us?
13. Goodnight, Earth
14. What Are You?
15. Godspeed, Doctor
16. A Long Way Back

Review (C) 2017 Synchrotones

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