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2019 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards

January 7, 2020

The good, the not-so good and the good-byes. Welcome to the Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards 2019! No more teasing. It’s time to play. There aren’t any promises. Nothing’s certain. Only that some scores I like, some I don’t. You won’t ever know the hardship and grief we critics have to endure. I commit these awards to the net with a glad heart. For within each review, there is a promise of a new follower. So, let’s start cracking.

The 2019 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards

From 10 to 1 …

 

10. The King (Nicholas Britell)

I didn’t particularly enjoy this when I first listened to it (and I think a few of you will be raising your eyebrows at my top 10 ranking of it), but it has since grown on me. There’s some interesting string writing here, as well as some unnerving sound design (derived from strings, I’m pretty sure). There is a beautiful 3-part hymn for strings and choir (“Movement 2”). There’s another beautifully dramatic, string-driven trio of tracks for “Song of Hal”. Also three “Ballades” which are dramatic and slightly off-kilter as to how things are mixed. It’s a very intriguing score; and it’s becoming clear that Britell has quite a distinct style and sound. It makes me excited to see where Britell’s career may take him.

 

09. Fallen (Mark Isham)

There are moments where this score it utterly gorgeous; and there are other moments that I’d describe as a little odd. Female vocal plays a key role right from the start and throughout the score. In “Prologue” wordless vocals sing a haunting melody. It’s quite a ‘typical’ suspense-type melody, but it’s very effective nonetheless. The b-phrase to this melody reminds a little of Horner. The score is heavy on strings and electronics. “Fire in the Library” presents a dramatic passage for ostinato strings that vaguely reminds me of Philip Glass (Candyman perhaps). “Luce’s Test” is another beautiful cue for piano, strings and vocals in a Glass-like style. “Angel Battle” is quite an exciting cue that combines electronics, percussion and brass. Elsewhere, piano frequently adds gentle touches to the score. It is a hugely enjoyable score, though I do find that parts of it sound (too obviously) sampled, which is why I mentioned it sounds a bit odd sometimes…  a bit like a tv score. That’s the only real criticism. I don’t think it sounds like anything Isham has done before and for that reason alone it’s worth checking out.

 

08. The Lion King (Hans Zimmer)

On the one hand it’s a shame that the 2019 version of The Lion King is so very close to Zimmer’s 1994 original, but on the other… it’s a fantastic score. There is great writing throughout, with exciting action cues, but what really nails it for me are some of the gentler cues like “Remember” and “Simba is Alive”. It would’ve been nice if this version had something new to offer alongside the familiar cues. Yet, where Zimmer does try to spice things up by adding countrpoint vocals to familiar cues, it feels slightly ‘over done’. These are minor criticism though. Overall, The Lion King is hugely entertaining, hugely nostalgic and just an outright great score.

 

07. The Good Karma Hospital (Ben Foster)

Now here’s an unexpected gem! East meets West in this beautiful score from Ben Foster. Set in India, the music reflects the locale through the use of Indian instruments and compositional techniques. “Opening titles” offers an earworm of a main theme, which finds its way into many a cue. Another prominent theme is “Ruby’s theme” which is more Western and slightly new-agey. It’s great how much of the score revolves around these key themes and variations on them; yet there are plenty of additional melodies and motifs (to be fair, most cues are labelled as someone’s theme, but inevitably they can’t all be as memorable). I love this score because it’s varied (in style, emotion, orchestrations) yet never deviating too far from it’s stylistic roots. It’s all incredibly pretty, every single of the 43 cues; still there are some highlights, with “I’ll Always be Waiting” being a particular tearjerker courtesy of its poignant cello theme.

 

06. The Aeronauts (Steven Price)

Another knock-out score from Price, which offers sensitive writing, several subtly soaring cues as well as some exciting action material. Cues like “The Sky Lies Open” and “We Took to the Skies” are beautifully poignant and are among the score’s highlights, alongside the Silvestri-esque “She’s Late”.

Sorry it’s not much of a review. Good score though.

 

05. Chambord (Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen)

Chambord is a French film about Chambord castle, its history, its culture, its animals. It looks beautiful and it sounds amazing. I’d never heard of Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen before, but she’s made an almighty impression on me. Chambord is as lush and romantic as they come with lyrical melodies primarily for strings and piano. Cello plays a key role and it is passionately performed. The lighter moments feature marimba, guitar or plucked strings. The score also has a few ‘action’ cues, so there’s a lot a going on in this 47 minute score. The writing and orchestrations are exquisite; and the music never stagnates, not even during its quietest moments. At times the composer mixes in the sound of birds or rustling leafs. I’m not usually a fan of that sort of thing, but it works beautifully here. Ultimately, it sounds like one of the best period drama / nature documentary score I have heard in a long while.

 

04. The Crown S3 (Martin Phipps)

Another composer whose work I greatly admire, Martin Phipps has scored a handful of period dramas from North & South (not that one) to War & Peace and Victoria. The latter especially is excellent. His score for The Crown S3 is brilliant, though perhaps not in ways you’d expect. It’s very low-key affair really; and it wouldn’t surprise me if some listeners might find it too uneventful. But you see, there is great drama in the long sustained notes that Phipps offers, as well as loads of subtle details which are best enjoyed through headphones, I think. Like the gentle bell arpeggio in the opening cue. Speaking of which, “New Queen” presents the main theme, which is really a rather simple motif; one that I’m actually surprised works as well as it does. Phipps uses it frequently throughout the score. Highlight of the score has got to be “Aberfan”, with its long drawn-out notes for strings and horn. This is a 6-minute slow-burner that really gets under your skin, if you let it. Briefly, a hymn for choir emerges, but it fades away as quickly as it appeared, after which the slow strings and horns intensify. Why does this cue work, whilst so many similar ones fail? It’s hard to say. Perhaps it’s the subtle movements in the strings, as you can hear some additional layers of wavering sounds if you listen closely. Perhaps it’s the horn, which occasionally seems reluctant to let go of a note, letting it linger a little longer than expected… thus adding to the overall sense that time has stopped. Utterly mesmerising. “Simple Harp” and “Stretched Choir” are two cues that offer exactly that their titles suggest; and they are fascinating. “Roddy” is the score’s liveliest cue and is co-composed with Rupert Gregson-Williams and Lorne Balfe. As the score progresses (and presumably the story moves closer and closer to present day) Phipps introduces more movement (rhythm, if you like) in the strings, winds and with electronics. I could mention more cues, but the whole score is fascinating, mesmerising and dramatic… via surprisingly low-key methods.

 

03. How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World (John Powell)

One of the greatest trilogies ever composed and spanning nearly a decade, John Powell brings the HTTYD saga to an end with a score that is nothing less than superb. I must say that HTTYD2 remains my favourite, but this third instalment offers some insanely brilliant writing. From day one of his career it was clear that Powell had a serious talent for composition, but I’m not sure anyone could’ve predicted that by 2020 he’d be one of the most sophisticated, complex and ingenious (not to mention: funniest) composers in Hollywood, proudly waving the flag for big themes and lush orchestral writing. His music for The Hidden World is the most accomplished of the three, which I believe is particularly noticeable in his writing for solo instruments, but also in his action cues. “Armada Battle” covers a lot of ground during its 9-minute run time and it does so in perfectly fluid motion, whereas previously I’ve found Powell’s longer action-cues to be a bit higgledy-piggledy. There is something about Powell’s writing in the last few years that’s almost classical. It seems to transcend ‘film’ music. I never reviewed his scores for Pan and Solo (Pan Solo?) but those include some of the best individual orchestral cues I’ve heard in a long time; stylistically closer to his concert work Hubris than his earlier scores like Shrek or Chicken Run. The Hidden World offers a number of new themes (my favourite is heard in “Exodus!”, but the “Furies in Love” theme is also utterly charming), but I must admit that I’m most excited about the appearances of previous themes, many of which converge during the final cues. They really bring this story full circle and it’s so poignant to hear them, like old friends coming to say hi and bye.

 

02. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Daniel Pemberton & Samuel Sim)

Two of today’s most exciting composers contributing to the same show? Yes please! Presented over two volumes, the score is ultimately mostly Pemberton’s, with Sim’s music featuring on the second volume. Let’s start with noting that the original Dark Crystal theme from 1982 by Trevor Jones makes occasional appearances. Kudos to Pemberton for incorporating it. However, there is a new main theme and it’s… very simple, yet spectacular. At its most basic, it’s just a little see-sawing motif, almost childish, but Pemberton employs some really interesting orchestrations; and he manages to build upon this motif until it becomes some big hypnotic musical orgy of different sounds, styles and rhythms. The use of cimbalon (or something similar), solo violin and flute adds a medieval or otherworldly quality to the music. “Dzenpo!” combines quirky percussion with equally quirky flutes and, again, deceptively simple melodies. But Pemberton unleashes some big sounds when needed. Synths and brass add oodles of drama to “What Lies at the Dream’s End”. This cue is followed by “Together We Fight” which is the musical orgy I alluded to earlier. This cue is utterly brilliant, so exciting and addictive. Cue of the year material! There are many great cues here; and plenty of additional themes and interesting orchestrations. The quality throughout is astonishing; and that includes Sim’s work. On the whole his cues are less zany than Pemberton’s, featuring lyrical melodies and beautiful performances, e.g. “Brae and the Library”. At 2h and 20m there’s a lot of music here, but not a second is wasted. Fantastic stuff!

 

01. Our Planet (Steven Price)

Forty tracks, two and a half hours of music… and not a single misfire amongst it. Steven Price’s Our Planet is brilliant! Maybe not quite on the same level of brilliance as, I dunno, Schindler’s List or Alexander Nevsky, but it is my favourite score of this year by far, and arguably Price’s best work to date… and just a downright fantastic piece of work. The opening cue “This Is Our Planet” introduces a noble and memorable main theme. It’s not a million miles from what Remote Control have been doing for Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II and the likes, but it’s less bombastic and more charming. “Too Big to Argue With” is a 5-and-a-half minute masterclass in writing for documentaries, with an absolute ear-worm of a waltz repeated throughout the cue. “Mayflies” is majestic and sends shivers down my spine; “Great Rolling Waves” is fantastic; but “Where Life Gathers” outshines even those cue. What an absolute stonking beast of a cue! Epic, majestic, exciting; and best played very loud! After that… “The Oceans Belong to All of Us” is fantastic (and reminds me vaguely of when Mike Oldfield collaborated with Karl Jenkins on Music of the Spheres). “The Numbers Build” is fantastic. “Leaf Cutters” is fantastic and quite funny. “They Work as a Team” is fantastic; as are “We Must Preserve What’s Left”, “Ice Caves”, “This Glacial Ice”, “A Greater Resilience”, “The Next Twenty Years”, “The Importance of this River”, “An Ingenious Technique”, “The Ocean Returns the Favour”, and many others. You see, this why I hardly write reviews any more – everything’s just fantastic! This thing is just amazing from start to finish, with numerous great themes, rich orchestrations and plenty of variations (in style, tempo, et cetera) to keep you engaged throughout that long run time. Weakest link is the song “In This Together” with Ellie Goulding. The lyrics are a bit corny. Aside from the song, it’s a phenomenal album. Price’s The Hunt was great, but it pales in comparison.

Composer of the year

With Our Planet and The Aeronauts high on my list of favourites, and Wonderpark a bit lower down, I think it’s fair to say that Steven Price is my Composer of the Year!

 

The Big 2019 and Last-Ever Round Up

Here is a selection of some of last year’s most anticipated scores; as anticipated by me. Some of these are “the best of the rest”, some are “disappointments” and some are “should probably acknowledge their existence”.

1917 (Thomas Newman) The public seems split about this one, with one half claiming it’s Newman’s most inspired score in yonks and the other half claiming it’s not. And I’m gutted to say that I’m with the latter group. There’s some interesting stuff going on of course, but for the most part I find it a rather dull score.  Highlight of the score should probably be “Sixteen Hundred Men”, but it’s so close to Zimmer’s “Journey to the Line” from Thin Red Line (really… are we still aping this one?) that’s it’s just plain distracting. Elsewhere, some nice piano and cello work (“Come Back to Us” is the true highlight), but nothing that sticks in the mind.

J’Accuse, Little Women, Adults in the Room (Alexandre Desplat) Three very expertly written and diverse scores, but none made a lasting impression on me.

Ad Astra (Max Richter and Lorne Balfe) I am referring to Richter several times during other reviews here, so… how did the man himself fare on the sci-fi flick Ad Astra? It’s a very slow-moving score, so it requires a fair amount of patience. There’s beauty in some cues and suspense in others. It’s heavy on strings; and sometimes these are augmented by mesmerising winds and mallets; but other times Richter employs harsh electronics. “The Rings of Saturn” features a softly cooing choir singing slightly off-kilter harmonies, making this a very mysterious sounding cue. There are plenty of genuinely beautiful cues here, though it requires patience and you may want to skip the purely electronics cues. The film makers clearly had some issues with the score and hired Lorne Balfe to write a fair amount of additional or replacement music. To Balfe’s credit his cues match Richter’s style and sound quite neatly. It doesn’t really sound all that much different, which is why I don’t fully understand why he was brought on board, but… I think his cues are very good.

Amateurs in Space (Paul Leonard Morgan) When did I start liking Paul Leonard Morgan? Where did he even come from? He’s really snuck up on me. His scores for The Numbers Station and especially The B-Side are very cool; and now I’m really enjoying Amateurs in Space. “Space” opens with gentle piano, but gradually builds into a exciting cue for strings, winds, piano and the rest of the orchestra… I’m vaguely reminded of Max Richter at times, in that it shares that minimalistic rhythmic style. Piano and strings continue to dominate this charming score, though there are plenty of orchestral outbursts. At 70 minutes the score does occasionally feel a little repetitive, but I’m not complaining. I like this one a lot and might even end up regretting not placing it my top 10.

The Art of Racing in the Rain (Hauschka and Dustin O’Halloran) A lovely score for piano and strings as we’ve come to expect from these two… who share their musical universe with the likes of Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, Johann Johannsson, all whom I love. So, it’s no great surprise that I enjoy The Art of Racing in the Rain even though there’s nothing ground breaking here.

Captain Marvel (Pinar Toprak) Expertly executed action score with a strong main theme and some stellar action cues towards the back-end of the album. On the whole though, I think it’s fine but nothing special. Toprak wrote a more powerful score and main theme for The Wind Gods last year. She also scored the tv show Krypton in a raw electronic sort of way, which I sadly really didn’t enjoy.

Dumbo (Danny Elfman) This is a score that I tend to overlook. I like it, but it doesn’t ‘grab’ me. First of all “Trains a Comin” is a phenomenal cue! Beyond that, there’s an exquisite theme for Dumbo. It’s very gentle, and also very versatile. It works great in both uplifting and melancholy arrangements. There’s also a more ‘typical’ Elfman theme for the family, as well as a lyrical theme for Colette. In all, it’s expertly executed score that at times harkens back to classic 90s Elfman. Yet… whilst the cues featuring Dumbo’s theme are all absolutely superb, I find the rest of the score a little pedestrian. It’s very pretty, but doesn’t quite grab my attention outside of the key themes.

Erica (Austin Wintory) The score for this videogame is a lot darker than I’ve heard from Wintory. At times it’s venturing well and truly into Goldenthal territory, though never really losing Wintory’s identity. It’s a very interesting and disturbing score; at once beautiful, artistic and terrifying. I must say though that whilst I was instantly impressed with the overall sound of the score, over time my enthusiasm has waned a little. I think Wintory’s style and sense of melody are a bit of an acquired taste; and I think I have a little more acquiring to do.

Fast Color (Rob Simonsen) Simonsen does what he does best… ultra-cool electronics combined with beautiful melodies. But, Fast Color also offers something I don’t I’ve heard Simonsen do before. Several cues (such as “Escape”, “Fast Colour, Pt 2”, “Thunderstorm” and “Take Me”) feature vibrant and dynamics string writing in a way that reminds me of Richter especially. Combined with almost Tron-like synths, Fast Color is a feast for the ears (certainly mine).

First to the Moon (Alexander Bornstein) This may not be the most original score on the block, but its craftsmanship is admirable, and its enthusiasm is infectious. At approximately 50 minutes, the album is long enough for the score to tell its story without overstaying its welcome. I’m a bit wary of making some sort of back-handed compliment, but First to the Moon is an absolutely lovely, easy-going score that has found itself on repeat quite a lot here.

Ford vs Ferrari (Marco Beltrami & Buck Sanders) Lots of love out there for this one, and I can see why. It’s groovy, jazzy, a bit odd but quite charming. It captures that jazzy sound from the 60s really well and sounds pretty authentic at times; but… here’s that phrase again: it’s not my kinda thing. I appreciate the work that went into nailing the style and getting this sound (a lot of it is guitar based), but it’s unlikely I’ll ever return to this score.

The Goldfinch (Trevor Gureckis) Another composer I had not heard of before, but whose The Goldfinch I really like. Piano plays a key role, as do electronics. Stylistically I think it shares some minimalistic similarities with Hauschka, O’Halloran, Richter and all the rest, but Gureckis’ arrangements rely much more on electronics and are rather suspenseful (at least on this particular score – which perhaps pushes him more towards Rob Simonsen’s territory). I do think The Goldfinch gets a little monotonous after a while, but that’s only a minor criticism. I like this style.

Good Omens (David Arnold & Michael Price) Incredibly varied score. Lots and lots of fun, great themes, lots of different styles; but can get a bit tiring after a while.

Gylt (Chris Velasco) Gylt is described as a haunting puzzle adventure game in which the main character goes searching for her missing cousin. Some reviewers noted that it is a horror game, but one that doesn’t get particularly scary. So, lots of suspense in the music in every way you can imagine. But… it’s as scary as it is beautiful. There are some lovely, melancholy melodies, beautiful orchestrations; and overall the music is very well produced. This was another contender for the top 10, but clearly just missed out.

Harriet (Terence Blanchard) Neat little score with some cool, jazz-influenced thriller cues, some melancholy piano-and-strings cues, and some with African influences (percussion and vocals). It’s well produced and I like it, but I don’t like it as much as I had hoped for. It’s slick, but not very exciting. And there’s a particular chord progression that reminds of Goldfinger far too much.

A Hidden Life (James Newton Howard) Get it if you loved the violin work in The Village and want to hear more of it. Avoid if you don’t. I mean, really, it’s The Village part two (without the scary bits) and that’s really all you need to know.

His Dark Materials (Lorne Balfe) Well, I thought this day would never come, but here we have a score by Lorne Balfe that I actually really like! The main theme is quite an earworm, and it’s nice to hear it pop up during the score a few times. On the whole the score is quite dark (as seems common for Remote Control), but that of course suits the subject matter. There are some beautiful secondary themes, as well as exciting action writing. Hands down Balfe’s best work to date and thoroughly enjoyable.

Joker (Hildur Guonadottir) Edgy score that is winning awards left, right and centre. It depicts Joker’s descent into madness very well. It’s not an easy listen, but it does also have a few more traditionally beautiful moments. With the success of this and Chernobyl under her belt, Icelandic composer Hildur Guonadottir is making waves across the movie industry (and dare I say… filling the void left behind by Johann Johannsson’s untimely passing).

The Kill Team (Zacharias M. De La Riva) Military drama with a score from De la Riva, whose Automata score I thoroughly admired a few years ago. Half of this score is suspenseful, sometimes a little uncomfortable; and the other half is a dramatic score for strings along with the occasional cello, piano and dramatic woodwinds. That sort of set-up reminds me a little of Black Hawk Down; and some of the ethereal string writing reminds of Thin Red Line. Never too literally though.

Lady and the Tramp (Joseph Trapanese) Each Disney film, especially these latest converts to live action, is highly anticipated for its music. Trapanese is a surprising choice for this, but he pulls off a lovely, charming score. Lots of strings and some jazzy brass are on offer. It’s very pretty and does all the right things… but I don’t think there’s a wow-factor.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Geoff Zanelli) The first Maleficent by James Newton Howard is an absolute masterpiece in my opinion, so it would have been a very tough job for any composer (even JNH himself) to come even close to that level of quality. And I’m not going to lie: I never thought Zanelli would be up to the task. But I have to eat my words! Zanelli has composed a score that sounds great, is very entertaining, generously acknowledges JNH’s themes whilst Zanelli’s own material compliments this universe very nicely. It is a notch down from JNH’s original, but it’s still nothing less than a bona-fide great score; and was a close contender for a top 10 placing.

The Mandalorian (Ludwig Goransson) Was expecting a cross-over between a mandolin and a Delorean, and was left deeply disappointed. As a result, it was never, ever going to be anywhere near the top 10.

Midway (Harald Kloser & Thomas Wanker) A fantastic and heroic march with an ear-worm of a melody that partly resembles Super-Man, full of detail and counterpoint, rivalling Jerry Goldsmith’s phenomenal marches for MacArthur and Patton  …. is what John Williams wrote back in 1976 for Midway. Kloser and Wanker in 2019 wrote a bland score that’s forgotten before it’s even finished, rivalling nothing but their own works in terms of utter mediocrity. But… it’s not actually bad, it’s just terribly meh.

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon (Rachel Portman) Utterly, utterly, utterly charming. It’s only a short score; and it is the kind of thing that Portman can do in her sleep, but it’s so lovely and innocent it’s hard not to fall in love with this one. Another top 10 contender.

Music for Movies (Marco Beltrami) Excellent compilation album courtesy of the World Soundtrack Awards. Dirk Brosse conducts the Brussels Philharmonic and delivers some spot-on performances. It includes favourites such as Scream, Hellboy, Snowpiercer, The Homesman and Gods of Egypt. Also a couple of surprises like The Quiet and World War Z. Personally I’m missing Mimic and I, Robot, but I appreciate they’ve got certain limitation for these recordings. As it stands, it’s an excellent representation of Beltrami’s music and certainly worth seeking out.

Paradise War: The Story of Bruno Manser (Gabriel Yared) This is probably the most beautiful score I’ve heard from Yared so far. It’s a very melancholy work with slow strings and winds, soft choir and subtle melodies. It’s a poignant score, full of wonder and beauty, but also very dramatic in an understated manner. Its overall slow pace might just put a few listeners off, but if you allow yourself to immerse in this music it is hugely rewarding. I nearly placed this in the top 10, but opted for the more intense Britell score.

Secret Bridesmaid’s Business (Lisa Gerrard & James Orr) There’s some beautiful writing for strings and Lisa’s voice to be enjoyed here. There are also suspense cues that rely heavily on synths, sometimes bordering on techno. A bit of trimming would turn this into a soulful, dramatic album; but as it stands the thriller cues put a damper on my enjoyment.

Seven Worlds, One Planet (Jacob Shea & Hans Zimmer) Whilst it doesn’t grab me as much as Planet Earth II or perhaps even Blue Planet II, Jacob Shea’s work for 7W1P is still outstanding. It offers everything we’ve come to expect from these documentaries… lush melodies, exciting action cues, playful orchestrations. I gotta say, I don’t tend to remember any particular themes from this score, but I do find it incredibly beautiful to listen to. The overall sound and atmosphere are awesome.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams) John Williams really is one of the best composers cinema has ever seen. Yet… I’ve never been a great fan of Star Wars. That’s not to say I don’t like it, it’s just to say I’m not as big a fan as the rest of the planet. The Rise of Skywalker is a great composition, I cannot deny the sheer quality of it, but it doesn’t really do much for me. I’m not digging the new themes and I find the action music tiring. Highlights for me are those moments where the classic themes are reprised and the nostalgia factor kicks in big time; but I had hoped for some final, epic and never-heard-before treatment of the main themes. In that regard, Blakus’ arrangement for the trailer satisfies that need.

The Sun Is Also A Star (Herdis Stafansdottir) Just going off the instrumentation it’d be all too easy to quickly dismiss this score as just another of them ‘indie’ type scores, with strumming guitar, piano, light percussion and pseudo-pop melodies. But then strings come in, and there’s space for a solo cello, solo piano, and actually it turns out to be a really lovely score. It doesn’t break new grounds, but it covers the existing grounds very beautifully. It’s quite minimalistic, at times melancholy, but on the whole quite pretty and uplifting.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea (David Arnold) Light-hearted, swinging and jazzy little score. Lots of fun, very well done, but not quite my kinda thing.

Tolkien (Thomas Newman) Quintessential Newman in regards to instrumentation, harmonies, motifs over themes and length of cues. The sound of the score is absolutely beautiful full of intricate detail, even if it lacks a strong theme. Vocal effects and choir add a touch of magic to the already enchanting strings, piano and flutes. This is not a Lord of the Rings score; it’s a dramatic score about its author, but there are moments where one can almost imagine what a Newman LotR score could’ve sounded like.

Torpedo U-235 (Hannes De Maeyer) Tonnes of fun with this brassy and heroic score. It’s not very original and at times it borders on being cheesy… but its heart is in the right place. It’s melodic all the way through, with plenty of brass and snares to makes sure it sounds suitably militaristic. There are some nice tender moments too. Perhaps the best u-boat score since U-571, but perhaps it’s the only one since then.

Undone (Amie Doherty) At times incredibly beautiful with lovely writing for (solo) strings, guitar and piano; but sometimes a little bit too odd. The short cues also prevent to music from gaining any sort of momentum.

The War of the Worlds (Russ Davies) Absolute shocker of a tv show. I was really looking forward to this, as WotW is a phenomenal story. Sadly, the writers of this 3-part BBC series decided to take some unnecessary liberties, which detracted from the story. Davies’ score is a modern thriller score, entirely electronic I think, and totally anonymous. The deep synth pads (some nice ones though) and heavy percussion are at odds with the Victorian setting; and there is little if anything that resembles a main theme. The synth-geek in me enjoys many of the sounds, but as a score… no. I think the show missed the mark.

Wonderpark (Steven Price) A very playful score with colourful orchestrations and some cracking themes. It’s a very lively score, and in fact often a little too lively for me! The first two cues combined last 10 minutes after which I’m already quite exhausted. After that, the score is fairly well balanced with plenty of quieter and melodic passages that are really quite beautiful. The nature of the film is such that fast-paced, zany moments occur throughout the score. Price is matching Powell’s zaniness here and for me, well, it’s fun but I’m not a big fan of the cartoony moments. That said, there’s lots to enjoy here; and whilst I would personally settle for a slightly shorter playlist, it is a wonderful work that sticks out head and shoulders above the vast majority of scores this year.

You, Me & Other Animals of Planet Zoo (J.J. Ipsen) Fun, charming colourful score exactly as you might expect from the title. I wasn’t familiar with Ipsen’s work and this is certainly a very pleasant introduction.

 

Thank You

Thank you to all composers, agents, publishers, record labels and the IFMCA who made it possible to hear these (any many more) scores this year. I do apologise to them and to my audience for not properly reviewing more of them. And that brings me to my next and final point…

See You Later

Re-post of Hiatus (Synchrotones).

Last year especially I have struggled to find the time and the energy to review all the scores that I have so gratefully received (or otherwise bought). I don’t see this changing in the immediate future. I have thought long and hard about shutting up shop; and effectively that is what is going to happen. I will call it a hiatus for now. Perhaps one day I’ll find the inspiration and energy to breath new life into Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Reviews, but… there won’t be any new content for the foreseeable future.

It may surprise you how much I’ve struggled with this decision (trivial as it may seem to some), and how much time I’ve spent thinking about it. I’ve spent more time thinking *about* the site than actually working on it! There are times where I think that today’s film music is not my kind of music any more. As a result, I often don’t know what to write about the latest scores. Sometimes I think that if I change my format (to something even shorter) it may suit me better; and sometimes I simply feel like I’ve got little more to contribute. Regardless of whether I’m right or wrong, these thoughts have been all-consuming and very tiring; and they need to stop. I need, if nothing else, a break from it. After having made that decision, 2020 delivered the final punch. The company I work for has gone into administration, and overnight I’m out of a job. You can imagine that priorities change very quickly.

I love film music and it’s great to feel passionate about something.., or anything. I’ve been writing about film music since the 90s and I’ve met a fair few great composers because of it. More importantly, I’ve made some great friends because of it. I will carry on listening to scores (of course), and I’ll carry on moaning about the bad ones and raving about the good ones… but I think I actually prefer doing that as a member of a forum, where you can join (or start) a discussion when you’ve got something to say; and where you can keep schtum when you don’t. This… self-imposed formality of running a website… it’s not for me right now. The site and its reviews will still be here, but I won’t be adding any new content. I may re-evaluate things in a year’s time or so.

There will always be a place for critics and analysts; and there are some seriously good ones out there who put a great deal of time and effort into their articles. As a result, they enrich your listening experience by highlighting things you have missed – details in the orchestrations, connections to other works, recording techniques and most importantly… how the music fits the story. I will continue to contribute to those discussions through various forums.

To all those who visited, commented, contributed in any way to Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Reviews… I thank you sincerely. I will see you on Facebook and various online platforms… thus, this is not a goodbye, this is a see you later.

Pete.

 

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