Tuesday, 10 March 2015

1ST QUARTER WRAP UP: Review Collation - Part 1

A departure from the usual review format, this segment shall be what I utilize to provide short, capsule reviews from titles which I may have missed earlier on in the year. These shall occur within (much as the name suggests) March, June, September and December, and shall give me an opportunity to cover scores which were either rather obscured upon release, or I was unable to get around to writing about such due to time constraints (or general laziness, which is the primary reason behind not having posted anything in the past few weeks). Enjoy!

Check it out... if you're an avid McCreary supporter, as Outlander presents some of his most instantaneously accessible material as of recently

Skip it... if you're resentful of McCreary's more blatant, lavish orchestral tendencies, subtlety sacrificed in this context for sheer bravado and grandeur 

Whereas Everly was presented as an electronic/Japanese/Western hybrid, Outlander returns McCreary to his more sentimental, accessible and enjoyable state of being. His compositions for Outlander add little to his resume in terms of complexity, thematic density or general intelligence, and the forms of instrumentation (part the predictable but nevertheless entertaining Scottish influences) utilised never stand out as overtly unique, but that is not to discount the great deal of fun that is undeniably to be had from beginning to end. McCreary moves through his wide assortment of motifs available with fluency and delicacy, characters and traits easily defined with caution, and there is rarely a moment that isn't full of bustling vibrance. The strings and flutes control the running time, delivering many of the primary themes of the score, and are utterly sublime. The mixing of the album is ideal, the size of the orchestra and individual performers escalated to give a scope to the recording that was very much required to fully encapsulate the depth and size of the Scottish plains depicted in the visual medium. The moments featuring the most energetic of performances, as a contrast to the droning and moaning of the percussion in Everly, are the timpanis and bass drums; the stand-out cue on the album, 'Dance of the Druids', featuring Raya Yarbrough, features a constant drum rhythm that drives the cue forth into the bliss that it encompasses. "Startling original" is not a term that shall ever be uttered in regards to Outlanderthough it is an undeniably impressive concoction that yields great replayability for either McCreary fans or those of bountiful or vehement orchestral brilliance. Considering the television show has been renewed for another season, be prepared for a second outing in this lush soundscape next year. 7.8

Check it out... if you're a sucker for wistful, large orchestrations that encompass a variety of moods, tones, nationalities and concepts to provide an uneven but undeniably enjoyable album

Skip it... if you require complete consistency from a score, as Paper Planes delivers little of such, extending its wings to produce a wide assortment of ideas in all manner of states 
Receiving general appraisal upon release earlier this year, Nigel Westlake's efforts for the Australian coming-of-age film Paper Planes became an instant front-runner for many awards come end of year, and it's hard not to understand exactly why. The speed, composition, density, intricacy; all of it is beyond measure. For those studying the art of film music composition, look towards Westlake's efforts in this context for a rundown of the "dos" and "don'ts", as his work is blatant, easily comprehensible and full of splendour. As an added benefit, it is also remarkably commendable within its context, and despite its glaringly obvious enunciation of various emotions in some settings, it remains effect within the visual medium it was initially written for. On album, it loses much of the distinctiveness that it contains within the picture, but remains an easily enjoyable addition to any collectors records. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra finally receives a perfect opportunity to flex their fingers and deliver one of the most intelligible and pristine performances of the year; the mixing is as applaudable, Westlake concentrating his efforts on providing a rich and varied canvas that accentuates namely the woodwind section which sound delightful and bright all throughout. The World War II influences only add to the wondrous diversity on offer. All that said though, Paper Planes remains a somewhat emotionally stagnant release for myself, and despite indulging in numerous listens, I haven't been able to connect with it as thoroughly as I would desire. The multiplicity on offer also renders a partially disjointed effect (as it did in the cinematic context), and whilst thematic consistency is preserved throughout, none of those thematic concepts prove all that compelling. Still, cues like the astounding 'The Competition' add weight to the opinion that the best Australian film composers are still greatly underappreciated by the myriad of foreign scoring fans all across the world. Hopefully, this shall draw more attention to the likes of Westlake, his general ingenuity in this surrounding, despite its numerous detractors, proving widely amusing. 7.0

Check it out... if you seek a quaint, intelligent score that focuses on the intimacy of its visual medium, and enunciates emotions with remarkable ease 

Skip it... if you are hesitant to embrace a score which seems to appeal to the more stereotypical of genre conventions for a film of this like; the instrumentation and thematic development a predictable assortment for a score focusing on medical turmoil

I noticed during my viewing of Still Alice a number of weeks ago the lack of development for certain leitmotific statements, especially one that occurs when the protagonist of the picture goes running. That said, the rest of Ilan Eshkeri's work for this emotionally manipulative Oscar-bait (that is still rather impactful) is surprisingly impressive, his utilization of a small ensemble a major factor in the success of the work. Employing a solo piano and a string trio to perform the score, Eshkeri set himself a challenge, which is most certainly not the norm for a score of this ilk. Whereas he could have opted for a far more generic effort, he attempts something slightly more eccentric. Sure; it doesn't wholly succeed as a drama score which remains distinctive throughout, as the string and piano melodies feel instantaneously reminiscent of a Philip Glass, Alexandre Desplat, Johann Johannsson or (surprisingly) Alex Ebert effort. Still, it remains an effective piece of writing that is both sincere and impassioned; dramatic yet subtle. It seems, to an extent, proportionally manipulative, much of its limited duration dedicated to reprising motifs which are obviously targeting our sentimentality. That said, it's a remarkably well conceived achievement that doesn't signify a loss in creativity from Eshkeri; working within a box set by the director, his options were limited, yet he still managed to find ways to procure key emotions and not sound completely indistinct. In terms of an individual album, it's not worthy of a purchase, solely due to the twenty-three minute long length that doesn't yield anything that resembles innovation. All the same, this happens to be an enjoyable work that shall remain on the forefront of any listener's mind for hours after end. 6.5  

On a somewhat unrelated note: both the poster for the film and the cover art for the score are tremendously terrible. The background colour is aesthetically disgusting.

Check it out... if you are confused by the influx of score collectors who have been remarking upon The Boy Next Door's supposed "historic" prowess, a comment which is made all the more hilarious by the lack of accuracy

Skip it... if you dislike belligerent, unrelenting synthetic monstrosities, the lack of redeeming qualities in terms of writing and recording in this context unparalleled by any 2015 release as of so far 

In a hilarious blunder on the part of Varese Sarabande, scoring followers were provided their first running joke of the new year when The Boy Next Door's PR statement included a comment that included the word "historic". And no; despite being taken out of context, it means exactly what you think it does. Varese Sarabande stated that, in more depth, "Randy Edelman and Nathan Barr join forces for a historic collaboration". To the dismay of all, this meant that this abysmal effort warranted at least a partial listen, and for many, partial was all that could be tolerated. As your most distinguished pundit, I forced myself to bear the full brunt of this abhorrent, idiotic, mindless, meaningless and technically inept pile of crap. Synthetics are not necessarily an instant negative capable of reducing great material to lesser than so, but in this case, they most certainly don't help. The atmospheric quality of the recording, lacking in clarity or general intelligence, provokes little thrills (much as I've heard is the case with the cinematic counterpart). Even in its most melodically competent moments, generic repetitious phrases litter the soundscape, reducing any quality the album aspires towards. The opening cue, 'Running', which features the vocals of Lisbeth Scott (who makes appearances on the vast majority of the pieces included), provides moments of genuine interest, and there are portions in the finale of the release which arouse fascination, but nothing is neither original, inventive or affecting enough to recommend. And the percussion; it's just terrible! Stay far away! 3.2

Check it out... if you desire a wholesome, entertaining, evocative and instrumentally adept admission into a scoring franchise which has been viewed as relatively basic in previous iterations 

Skip it... if your preconceived expectations refuse to budge and you desire not to seek out a surprisingly inventive and rigorous action release 

Whilst initially hesitant to seek out Nathaniel Mechaly's score to the third installment in the Taken series (a franchise which overstayed its welcome but minutes into the second film), namely due to a number of preconceived beliefs about what would be included on album, I was gifted an opportunity to listen to the score in all its glory when Spotify finally made the release available in Australia recently. First and foremost, this features perhaps the most fun, inventive and addictive action orchestration of the year to date, a wide range of synthetics, brass and string phrases implemented to add depth to what could have been a predictable and basic composition. Secondly, the variation in terms of action is sublime, no two action cues feeling wholly reminiscent of each other, leaving much of the album feeling distinct. But most remarkably is the fact that there is genuine emotion at the heart of it all; 'Bryan's Grief' happens to be one of the most gorgeous, sappy, unexpected additions to any score within 2015 as of so far. The release isn't perfect; generic love themes plague portions of the album, the recording and sound mixing isn't all that impressive (distortion and improper gain equalization observable within 'Bryan Runs') and it's not the most conceptually sundry work we've seen this year. That said, it's still a score that I'll most certainly refer to come end of year, and may even be a shoe in for a nomination in the "Best Action Score" category. Highly recommended. 7.7

Check it out... if you seek a Giacchino score with equal amounts of varied, inventive action, romance and drama, the composer utilizing his capabilities to produce a score that is as intelligent and bountiful as it is well conceived

Skip it... if you, like me, were underwhelmed with the quality of writing and, namely, recording within Giacchino's Star Trek: Into Darkness, Jupiter Ascending similarly lacking the size and complexity to live up to higher expectations   
I lied. I've been making fun of the fact that I was not going to comment on Jupiter Ascending in a number of prior reviews, but I felt like I really did need to provide my feedback on Giacchino's latest effort. If this site was ever to provoke even an ounce of controversy, it would have to be in this moment, because I'm perhaps the only person on this planet who actively thinks of Jupiter Ascending as "overrated". Compositionally, it contains all the complexity in regards to musical texture, instrumentation, density and general writing that one expects from Michael Giacchino, who many respect as being one of the most exemplary contemporary composers still in work. That said, in comparison to his prior effort, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, there is a stark difference in atmosphere and quality, I fear. Not only is the recording far better maintained within Dawn, but the entire score contains more life and blood. There is no blood within Jupiter Ascending, in my experience. I listen to it, and I simply can't appreciate its boldness and size when the music isn't really capturing me. When I listen to Dawn, I'm engrossed; the music feels alive, wet and real. Jupiter feels stagnant. There are few situations where I favour my gut over my head; Interstellar and Fury's near-perfect ratings perhaps, but otherwise, only but a slim margin of my reviews have been dictated by my emotions more so than my intelligibility. But when a score seems so distant, lacking or as non-compelling as this, I have to draw the line. I may never be able to fully understand why I think lesser of this score than Taken 3 or Outlander, especially considering the originality and magnitude of the writing in this context, but the fact is that I am neutral in regards to Jupiter Ascending. As I write this, I indulge in the four-part movement that occurs at the beginning of the running time, and I am still disappointed. The staccato string ostinatos; the snare drum marches; the trumpet and horn fanfares; it all sounds dreadfully blissful on paper, but I can't seem to connect to any of it. Whilst this is a negative rating, I am still assessing the quality of Giacchino's writing, so there is a mixed sentiment at the middle of it all. I hope you've enjoyed it far more than I have. 5.0    

A second part shall be coming soon in the coming weeks (or whenever I get around to it)!

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