THE MERCY composed by Johann Johannsson

 

It seems fitting that I should review The Mercy today, not just because it is released this weekend in the UK but because on Friday we heard the shattering news that Johann died just 2 days ago, February 9th. Shattering not only because he was 48 years old but that the Icelandic composer, in what was a short timespan, had become revered for his deeply moving compositions. He very quickly hit my list of ‘favourites’. With the news resounding in our heads I will leave it to knowledgeable folk to discuss his unique talent as today, I just want to listen.

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“On the question of whether music in a film should be noticeable, Johannsson said in 2015, “It depends on the approach and it depends on the film. There are some films where a more kind of invisible sound works better. And then there are some films where you need a more aggressive approach.” He added, “It is amazing how music can actually improve a performance.”  The Hollywood Reporter

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It may seem strange that Johansson has scored a film such as this. On the one hand a crowd pleaser starring a firm favourite in Colin Firth and on the other a true story of a man who faced solitude and lost his way. Solitude being a state which was strongly featured in many ways in the Icelandic composers work. His music could make time stand still, could focus the mind and make you reach inside to your own deepest thoughts and fears.

The Mercy is the true story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst who took part in the Golden Globe Race in 1968 striving to become the first person to single handedly circumnavigate the globe without stopping. This was an epic and dangerous quest which forced Crowhurst to confront to his own madness and create an enduring mystery that will never be solved.

Flares is the beautifully short and magical opening, perhaps reflecting the childlike wonder of the sea which lured Crowhurst to take the quest. It’s referenced agin with  more scope in The Good Ship Teignmouth Electron, the vessel in which the inexperienced Crowhurst will invest his life. Whilst A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder shares hope and excitement.
Good Morning, Midnight starts with a 4 note string refrain over an electronic sound which bought to my mind the vast reach of space. A solo piano picks up the 4 notes and creates a loneliness. A Sea Without Shores is a short soundscape of fear.

The cue Innocence is the first of 3 cues taken from Johannsson’s score to the 2012 documentary Free Your Mind in which one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, professor Richard Davidson was encouraged by the Dalai Lama to apply the disciplined methods he used to to study depression and anxiety. This posed the question asked by Davidson if you could change the working of the brain through mental practices. This I feel, was an inspired thing to do as the films basis is a man confronting his own solitude of mind and the anxieties this would bring.

The Doldrums with piano and strings could have been a torrent of fear but it quietly depicts the unfolding of an unhinged mind. The same could be said of the 2nd track from Free The Mind – Meditation. The plucked strings and piano are trying to keep everything level whilst the woodwind darts in an out, out of control.

The score is somewhat educational as I had to look up the name of the next track – The Horse Latitudes and I quote ‘The horse latitudes are subtropical regions known for calm winds and little precipitation. “And it’s a pretty apt track name.  It’s a soundscape of linear lines with building layers – out of little, Johannsson can convey a lot especially with a violin interjecting a futility.
The Mercy is beautifully uplifting as is The Radiant City played by the British string quartet The Direc Quartet. The addition of a voice on a radio obviously broadcasting  a longitude and latitude reading which receives no response, makes it very poignant.

Rather than a soundscape this score could be seen as a mind scape, it is a musical map of the mind. Expectedly bleak and despairing whilst also uplifting. A childlike innocence can also be heard and the magic of the possibilities this lone, inexperienced sailor could have conquered. This is not a score that you may often revisit but you must experience it’s beauty, breadth and the sheer individuality that is Johann Johansson.

TRACK LIST

1. Flares
2. Boating For Beginners
3. The Good Ship Teignmouth Electron
4. A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder
5. Terra Firma
6. Into The Wide And Deep Unknown
7. Good Morning, Midnight
8. A Sea Without Shores
9. Karen býr til engil
10. Innocence
11. The Doldrums
12. Meditation
13. The Horse Latitudes
14. Radio
15. The Furious Sea Of Fogs And Squalls
16. Three Thousand Five Hundred And Ninety One Benches
17. The Captain’s Log
18. The Mercy
19. She Loves To Ride The Port Ferry When It Rains
20. The Radiant City
21. A Pile Of Dust
22. At 19°41’10.40 North 79°52’37.83 West, Lies The Shadow

Label Deutsche Grammaphon

 

 

HANGMAN BY FREDERICK WIEDMANN

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“Whilst listed as a Crime thriller this could be a fully fledged and accomplished horror soundtrack”

The Snake like violins and noir feel of the title track drew me in pretty quickly but then Wiedmann rarely disappoints. This continues through track 2 with The First Victim, an added ghostly swirl telling you that all is not well which given the film’s title you don’t expect that it ever will. This is a gruesome story of a serial killer who’s playing the children’s Hangman game with real people! Only Blood Left Behind is constructed over a chilling, sonic like vibration. Suicide Attack at only 1 minute long is voice led by soloist Ayana Haviv and leaves you wanting it to be longer.

Whilst listed as a Crime thriller this could be a fully fledged and accomplished horror soundtrack as you would expect from the composer of The Hills Run Red and Hellraiser: Revelation to name but two.

It’s the ‘quiet’ tracks enhanced with selected noises which scare the most such as the aptly named Slaughter House with strings sounding like a hord of flies. Together with the depiction of several murders, this score has continuous drive, time is running out and most noticeable in the cue The Replica. The character cue Archer, played by Al Pacino, is haunting. The much decorated cop is forced out of retirement for this case. it’s a heavy track full of remorse symbolised by a fleeting cello and the return of Haviv’s superb vocals.

Reviews of the film are not glowing and I rather fear that Wiedmann’s score will be overlooked which would be a shame. 

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Frederik Wiedmann

PLAYLIST

  1.  The Hangman
  2. The First Victim
  3. Only Blood Left Behind
  4. Joey
  5. Suicide Attempt
  6. Underneath The Cross
  7. An Old Case
  8. 11PM Murder
  9. Slaughter House
  10. The Letter B
  11. The Replica
  12. No Rest
  13. Inches Away
  14. Seven More People
  15. My Own Reasons
  16. The Girl In The Alley
  17. Th Apartment
  18. One Scar Is Enough
  19. Failed You
  20. Archer
  21. The Letter

LABEL: Varese Sarabande

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE by John Paesano

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“All three films have been scored by John Paesano and whilst there is no significant theme to the scores, Paesano has consistently created a thrilling mood of doom, hope and of course action.”

I fell into watching the first [2014] Maze Runner film [meaning there wasn’t anything much else to watch] and was pleasantly pleased. Based on the book by James Dashner, it’s set in a dystopian world where every 30 days a boy, who’s memories have been wiped, would be deposited in The Glade which is surrounded by a huge Maze. The oddness of it all is intriguing and the end result do not disappoint.
The second movie [Maze Runner: Scorch Trials 2015] had an entirely different setting as a small pose of boys were able to get through the maze. This sequel also kept my interest. So I am looking forward to the third and final Maze Runner saga.

All three films have been scored by John Paesano and whilst there is no significant theme to the scores, Paesano has consistently created a thrilling mood of doom, hope and of course action. Death Cure gets going with the creepy, and disturbing Overrun Checkpoint. With what sounds like struck, warped metal and a Jerry Goldsmith feel to it’s percussion –  it conveys real fear without using a full orchestra.

The Last City could be a softer opening to Alien, with a 5 note piece which is neither scary or threatening but just hanging there waiting for something to happen. It’s ghost like until the strings come in when it fleshes out such a short [2mins 37secs] but effective cue. Teresa’s Plea with piano is also another strong, emotive cue.

Love the distorted electric guitar [well that’s what it sounds like to me] jangling in the background of Closing In, like frayed nerves. Long Way From The Glade is worth a listen for the terrific synth glissando alone. Whilst there are the obligatory action cues these also take a breath to highlight the dramatic element with pauses of sadness and confusion.

If you didn’t take time this could just be tagged as another action/drama soundtrack which gets a second rate listen where you would miss the deeper tones of survival and hope, the rousing choral I’m Sorry, and the poignancy of Goodbye.

TRACK LISTING

    1. Rescue

    2. We Started This Together

    3. Overrun Checkpoint

    4. The Last City

    5. Teresa’s Plea

    6. Closing In

    7. An Old Friend

    8. Lawrence

    9. The Virus

    10. Long Way From The Glade

    11. Whatever The Cost

    12. Visions of Thomas

    13. Chat With Teresa

    14. Let’s Go

    15. Good Luck Greenie

    16. The Lion’s Den

    17. What Bus?

    18. Lawrence’s Final Act

    19. Please Tommy, Please

    20. Crank Lab

    21. I’m Sorry

    22.    Goodbye

      LABEL: SONY

 

Blade Runner 2049

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As I start to write this I am not sure if it’s a soundtrack review or just my reaction to the movie but as I have been thinking about it since I saw it 2 days ago, I feel compelled to just type.

The original movie is special to a lot of people. I saw it when it opened, I was motionless and in awe all the way through. Afterward I remember repeating ‘how come no-one knows about this movie?’ Then there was no internet and it hadn’t received a lot of reviews. We all know that it had a slow start but has come to be regarded a classic and changed future science fiction films for ever. Applause to Mr Ridley Scott! So from then on the movie was embedded in my psyche, a constant referall when others talked about other sci-fi films.

It’s an audacious thing to do, venture into that unique world 35 years later but then the theme of ‘skin jobs’ opens a whirlpool of morality issues more relevant than ever as we have now cloned a sheep, have robots building cars plus there is huge investment being put into synthetics of the bodily type. Why would we not want to look into the world of the future? Especially as it’s set 30 years from the first film and 2049 is only 32 years away.

We know what we are doing to the planet but feel little is being done. The digital age when newborn was exciting. We could email each other which was exciting and life changing. But we gave little thought to it’s immense power. And so when K or Joe [the name given to him so as to humanise his relationship with his hologram girlfriend] is seen climbing a hill of metal waste, we nervously smile to ourselves out of recognition. It’s the same when K travels to the eternal redness [almost orange] of Las Vegas.  Is this what we are facing we ask? All this gives us an attachment to the film we didn’t necessarily have when the first film came out.

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There are so many nods to the first film and if you haven’t seen the original you will miss them all – to misquote Roy Batty “we have seen things…”. They are beautifully placed. In fact if you haven’t seen the original and haven’t bothered to do some homework you may not get to grips with this amazing sequel at all and this is a good thing as both films are tightly seamed together and with an insert saying “30 Year On” could be watched as one.

It’s got a much slower pace that Blade Runner, almost meditative. But to me it wasn’t a good idea to have a running time of 2 hours 43 minutes even though it looks as good as it does which might make it easier for others to deal with the length. In fact I do remember when seeing the original which runs for 1 hour 57 minutes, I wanted to see more of this strange new world. I, like many, rewatched the first film just before going to to see the sequel and realised how the films chapters fitted together like lego, you never loose concentration. With a tightening up of several scenes in this new version it would have flowed much better.

One character didn’t fit quite right for me in 2049. That of Nianda Wallace played by Jared Leto who follows on from Eldon Tyrell. Tyrell built a corporation on genetically engineering replicants. As he was murdered it’s obvious that another character had to replace him. Wallace has taken the replicants far beyond Tyrell’s Nexus 6 range. First off [and probably a daft thought but I’ll go ahead anyway] – why was he blind? It seemed to close to Tyrell’s obvious sight problems which he overcame with impossibly thick spectacles.  Secondly -we know one has to be mad to genetically engineer on such a huge scale but surely Wallace has really lost the plot…reaching the scale of becoming god as he didn’t speak but prophesied in every line he delivered. In the scene where he meets Deckard none of what Wallace said made any sense.

And what of the beleaguered soundtrack? I was exhilertaed to hear that Johan Johansson was originally going to score it. A perfect choice in my mind and he is one the most atmospheric composers. But then he was pulled off the project. The reasons why abound on the web so I won’t repeat them here but I will say that the producers intervened way too late which is just absurd on such a crucial movie. And it shows, the replacement score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is sufficient but not mind blowing.

Nor surisingly it sounds rushed. It’s a sound pallet which creates an atmosphere rather than addresses any specific moments in the film. It’s a good and fitting atmosphere but it doesn’t take any part in building any character cues even though there a couple in there they do not give any insight. The opening track ‘2049’ begins with the same electrifying and mechanical doom as the original soundtrack but none of the score has the rich melodic feel of Vangelis who built a world of varying textures. A beautiful other worldliness.

And there’s the rub – even though the first score was not nominated for an Oscar [oh how that still hurts] it ranks as one of the of the best ever. And it is one of the best ever, it is outstanding. So who was ever going to match that and should it have been similar to the original anyway? Well, I guess not but in my humble opinion why not?

Saying all this I do like the new score but it’s just not special. There was a glimmer of the original soundtrack but you had to wait a while to hear it. In what I hope and surely is a tribute to Vangelis, it’s entitled ‘Tears In The Rain”.  But let’s not dismiss Zimmer & Wallfisch. Let’s not dismiss it just because it hasn’t the playability of the first score. And let’s remember in 2049 the world is more bleak planet than the first film and this new score definitely tells of a stark, terrifying and lost future.

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ALIEN:COVENANT Soundtrack Review

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A sequel to the Aliens Prequel Prometheus, this is the 6th film of the Alien Franchise [hate that word] … well this is what I have gained from my research, which, I am glad to say is ‘tight’. We have had teasers and a Prologue video and the trailer. It’s all been built up slowly to wet our appetites and even now there is scant information on the plot as a whole. This is the way I like it as I want to be surprised rather than spoon fed every morsel so that by the time you are seated in a dark cinema you know what’s coming before it happens.

MTV’s NEWS website says, “[Ridley] Scott has been adamant that while “Prometheus” “carries the DNA” of “Alien,” it is an original piece of science fiction that delves into everything from biotechnology to artificial intelligence to the origins (and possible destruction) of mankind itself.” Whatever Covenant is, I am in! I Being an avid sci-fi fan seeing Alien for the first time changed all future science fiction films, along with Blade Runner, for ever and both had a tremendous impact on me.

The plot is short [again as it should be] ….
Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David (Michael Fassbender), the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life-form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.

Originally the score was to be done by Harry Gregson Williams but it has now been handed to Australian composer Jed Kurzel. For me his score to Macbeth was one of the best soundtracks of 2015 and last year he scored Assassin’s Creed so it’s going to be interesting to hear what he has done for Covenant.

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                                                                    Jed Kurzel

Opening with Incubation and a reworking of Jerry Goldsmith familiar ‘pulse’ from Alien, is very short but you feel you are in familiar territory. The Pulse also opens  The Covenant with the pulse AND the familiar 7 note brass which branches out into an eerie sound palette – we are definitely in Alien territory. Neutrino Burst is a mixture of strings and electronics, it’s a slowness which works, building tension. The piano led A Cabin On The Lake has a feeling of calm and reminiscence as does Sails.

Planet 4/Main Theme is a strong cue which slowly builds but is then controlled again by the pulse, almost as if beauty had been glimpsed but we are then reminded not to feel safe. Spores is dominated by strange electronic sounds filled with dread which run into the next track, The Med Bay, seamlessly. This cue is brimming with terror! Payload Deployment is even more terrifying, almost like a bad dream session complete with a sound which resembles a muted scream, glad it was short!

The next 2 cues have titles which bring much expectation – Face Hugger being the first. A low start it may have but when – after a few seconds silence – the coarse sound of a metal like screech is launched, I jumped out of my skin! On screen this is going to do it’s job. This is followed by Chestburster which is eerily calm and dreamlike. Only Bring It To My Turf and Terraforming Bay could be classed as standard action cues but even these has electronic tones which elevate them above standard.

This soundtrack never goes over the top, there is no reaching where the composer wants to make his score stand out from all others. Kurzel has totally embraced what went before and embellished it with slices of electronic scariness. I applaud his loyalty. Whilst sticking closely to the Aliens ‘sound’ [and I would have been disappointed  if he hadn’t of] there are distinct swathes of his own smoothly intertwined.

I’m glad I don’t rate my reviews with points or stars as in reality the majority of the soundtrack is a re-placing of elements from the original and that would negate marks of originality. I was hoping for the Alien ‘feel’ with a little twist here and there and this is what this compact, clever score does.

Track Listing:

  1. Incubation
  2. The Covenant
  3. Neutrino Burst
  4. A Cabin On The Lake
  5. Sails
  6. Planet 4 / Main Theme
  7. Launcher Landing
  8. Wheat Field
  9. Spores
  10. The Med Bay
  11. Grass Attack
  12. Dead Civilization
  13. Survivors
  14. Payload Deployment
  15. Command Override
  16. Face Hugger
  17. Chest Burster
  18. Lonely Perfection
  19. Cargo Lift
  20. Bring It To My Turf
  21. Terraforming Bay
  22. Alien Covenant Theme

Milan Music

KONG SKULL ISLAND, LIFE & THE COMEDIAN – Pocket Reviews

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Composed by Henry Jackson

As lively as you would imagine but with a little thought behind it. The very short [0:36] opening track South Pacific has a slight throwback style to those awful 40’s & 50’s movies. Not that the track is awful, it’s not. It’s a scene setter as they say, an old fashioned prelude. Packard’s Blues has a a displacing, distortion on what I can only describe as a rusty piano, very effective and ‘wired’ sound. Assembling The Team gives us a little electric guitar, obviously their are some hot shots in said team. Kong The Destroyer has really mean brass and anxious violins. Things hot up with Spider Attack, the cue starts with a deep [I think electronic] buzz and you can just sense that the spiders are watching somewhere, it’s followed by rapid percussion. Another strange noise appears in an unsettling cue called The Boneyard. The tracks which cover the main event are never over the top and altogether this is another really strong score by Mr Jackman.

Water Tower Music

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Composed by Jon Ekstrand

The first track Welcome to the ISS, very conveniently tells us about the mission as spoken by a member of the crew Dr. Miranda North [Rebecca Ferguson]. That mission is to get soil samples from Mars. This opening track is like a space meditation, you could imagine floating to this. It continues to sound like a parred down Gravity soundtrack in It’s Alive but ends with a heralding trumpet saying ‘all is not well’. It doesn’t really change over the next couple of tracks and should action be needed it’s somewhat formulaic. Spacewalk cranks up the tension nicely as does Thrusters. It pretty much sticks to this sound palette all the way through until the dynamic A Long Way Back which again doesn’t veer from it’s doom-laden drop note. Swedish composer Ekstrand does say in his bio that he is a composer and film sound designer and this is definitively an outer space mood board. I will say I have not yet seen the film and this soundtrack wouldn’t encourage me to but as a true sci-fi fan I will get to see it and hopefully it will fit the film like a glove.

Milan Music

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Composed by Terence Blanchard

Joy of joys, a JAZZ soundtrack. Jazz soundtracks are one of my passions and this is a welcome score to the list. Composer Blanchard [also trumpeter and bandleader] has composed several jazz scores including Inside Man and Red Tails. A jazz led score is just right for the story of ageing and out of control comedian Jack Burke [Robert De Nero] and to get a sense of how out of control he is you only have to listen to the mighty Blanchard trumpet in the free fall track Electricity On MacDougal. Jackie In the Rain opens with a slow bass line making it easy to imagine the key character, shoulders slumped, ambling along in the rain. Each track is a gem and this score could easily be played anytime – but if you don’t like jazz then it probably will not appeal.

Blue Note Records

CONTRATIEMPO BY FERNANDO VELAZQUEZ -Soundtrack Review

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CONTRATIEMPO [The Invisable Guest] by Fernando Velazquez

From one of the busiest composers around and one of the most diverse. I am now a confirmed fan of this Spanish scorist and accomplished cello payer. This soundtrack colours a dark, intense thriller involving murder and manipulation and and you have no doubt of this as you listen to track upon track of full throttle darkness.

The first track Goodman starts with a low note cello intent on driving you mad as it just keeps going onward in the background as the orchestra dances around it, it’s quite a pull. I try not to compare too often but this is a good comparison – El Inivitado Invisible has those long violin notes which rise and then just hang there just like the classic scores of Bernard Herrmann. In La Pesadillla there is  what I can only describe as a continuous string vibration in the background akin to the sound of swarming bees, it’s very effective and really niggles at your senses. It appears on a more buzzy level in Tu No Quieres Perderlo Todo Verdad is a winding track with wonderful chord changes, there is so much going on in this cue, subtle and compelling. The last track has such gravitas starting with a sombre funereal drone, violins slowly come in and build until the strings can not reach any higher. There is no escaping this track it is really taking you somewhere … and then it doesn’t. It stops and you are left with a drum beat and then it’s back to how it sounded in the first track, jaunty and as if all was ok after all!

There is no motif as such but there is a pattern which journeys you along and there are many long, unswerving notes which just hang there giving a chilling sense of terror. This is a score which definitely gets under your skin!

The score is performed by the Euskadi Symphony Orchestra who do such a brilliant job under the baton of the Velazquez. The album also includes the original song “Nadie va a venir a buscarte,” composed by Velázquez and performed by Zahara.

TRACK LISTING

1. Goodman 2:27
2. El invitado invisible 2:12
3. La pesadilla 5:37
4. Giro a la izquierda 1:28
5. Tú no quieres perderlo todo ¿verdad? 3:19
6. El testigo 2:44
7. El hundimiento 0:51
8. Reencuentro 1:07
9. Un buen hombre 2:03
10. Atrapada 3:19
11. El último error 2:44
12. No me amenaces 5:08
13. Yo sé lo que vi 6:51
14. Chantaje 1:22
15. Tres preguntas 4:16
16. Pensamiento lateral 7:15
17. La sombra de la sombra 11:22
18. El invitado invisible II 7:45
19. Nadie va a venir a buscarte (Zahara)

QUARTET RECORDS