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Pixels: The Movie (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Pixels: The Movie (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Price: $9.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lots Of Orchestral Fun, But Hardly Much Substance, July 27, 2015
There’s no denying that Henry Jackman is one of the smartest and most talented composers working today. His ability to craft an electronic action masterwork and then do something magical with the orchestra makes him so versatile. The one thing Pixels has going for it would be that orchestral sensibility that Henry can whip out with ease. Other than that, Pixels just seems like bits and pieces of what Jackman has done so much better in previous scores.

The fully orchestral score presents a dilemma. It has some wonderfully lush moments, but unfortunately Jackman never gets the opportunity to develop anything except for the finale action set piece with Donkey Kong. In your head you might go, well it would have made sense to go electronic given the subject matter of 80’s low resolution video games sent by aliens. Or you might think that would have been the easy and expected route. All I know is that the last track “Arcaders ’82” is awesome, and I think that would have made an awesome approach for the whole score. But what does it matter? Adam Sandler’s go-to writers adapted a 3-minute short film into a giant mess of a movie. Clearly they temped it with Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph and just phoned Henry up because of his good relationship doing Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg movies for Sony. I’m sure old fashioned fantasy man Chris Columbus wanted something orchestral and airy too. Anyways, the end result is a nice sounding score that feels more like a generic orchestral demo reel for Henry instead of a fully engaging original score.

The Pixels score album only runs a mere 39-minutes, and most of the tracks are short little interjections. While Henry is running on all his orchestral cylinders for a fun little score, it’s mostly a less than engaging example of things he did much better in Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph. I feel like if the film was much better and allowed for him to actually write a more engaging score, then we would have something more substantial. The music adds a nice energy and a flourish to the adventure, but there’s no real emotion or character behind it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 2, 2015 5:44 PM PDT


Ant-Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Ant-Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Price: $9.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Genre-Bending Heist Score From Beck, July 27, 2015
The Marvel onslaught continues with Ant-Man as we get to see the origins of another superhero. Except here Marvel decides to do something similar to the approach of Captain America: Winter Soldier, and that would be genre bending. Winter Soldier is probably my favorite Marvel film so far because it tried to be something else besides a typical formulaic Marvel movie. Ant-Man does this as well in a very different way. While Winter Soldier is a throwback to some of the classic political thrillers like Three Days Of The Condor, Ant-Man tries to be part of the heist film genre. Christophe Beck took that approach with the score to a pretty successful outcome.

I love that the score for Ant-Man plays with the superhero and superpower aspects of the character in a very minimal way. The score is more in sync with the character and plot rather than trying to be something heroic. That makes for a score that is tonally quirky, fun and has a personality. Just like the titular hero, Beck can scale the music to be as big or as small as he needs it to be. When we are in the midst of big action then the music is big and bold. When we are sneaking around and are being quiet, the music scales back and focuses more on smaller textures. The theme is used throughout, which is nice. And thankfully the theme feels unique and of the character instead of a more generic sounding hero theme. Structurally the score is a pretty sound narrative, with lots of moments that engage and entertain. This is a Marvel film though, so any emotion or “stakes” feel forced and a bit inorganic especially since this film pushes the comedy side a bit more than others. In those instances, Beck is just doing what he can with the scene.

Despite all the behind the scenes drama of getting Ant-Man to the screen, the end result is a pleasant distraction. The score from Christophe Beck is full of personality and a style that fits like a glove to the titular hero. The score finds its tone and successfully weaves between quieter heist moments, some heroic action and some fun quirks thrown in. Beck was an excellent choice here and his score is lots of fun, and actually has both substance and style.


The Woman Astronaut
The Woman Astronaut
Price: $13.99
21 used & new from $10.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penka Kouneva Purely Unfiltered Is An Immensely Engaging Narrative Experience, July 27, 2015
This review is from: The Woman Astronaut (Audio CD)
Composer Penka Kouneva has been a prominent talent in the film music landscape for many years. She has established fantastic collaborations as an orchestrator working with composers such has Steve Jablonsky, Hans Zimmer and Fil Eisler. Her voice as a composer brings something fresh and inspiring, as is evident once again with her album The Woman Astronaut. In today’s industry, getting projects that really speak to your true talents and interests can be a challenge, Kouneva has found a workaround for that. By doing these standalone cinematic albums we can really hear the true voice of her as a composer, as the music is unfiltered without interference from studio executives or directors pursuing their own vision. This is her vision. Kouneva released A Warrior’s Odyssey, where each track acted as a moment or chapter. Here with The Woman Astronaut, we have truly flowing narrative that Kouneva takes us on. A journey of a young woman growing up, pursuing her dream and journeying into the beyond.

The Woman Astronaut is a completely standalone concept score. There is no picture except for the vivid images the music creates in your head. The narrative is succinct and focused as each track moves us along the journey of our protagonist. The music is a blending of orchestral and electronic that conjures up an epic scope yet still feels intimate and organic. Kouneva’s voice and style shines through immensely as she brings her own unique take to the musical storytelling. Weeping strings, choral work and electronic texture evoke all the right emotions to build tension, suspense, and awe as we move from act to act. By the end we are throttled to the finish line as the music suggests the journey ends with an act of martyrdom or self sacrifice. The score is a sci-fi journey, but only in certain moments does the music go out of its way to feel part of that genre. The rest of the time it's the thematic and melodic material that carries the character arc and emotional nuances.

The Woman Astronaut is a format that I hope more composers follow, as a listener and writer the music is an inspiring piece of work that conjures up an immense journey in your mind. Penka Kouneva has accomplished some of her finest writing and emotional arcs here because it was truly her vision unfiltered. She called upon the film music community via Kickstarter, everyone rallied behind her and allowed her to create this fantastic and inspiring work that came from within her. It’s a wonderfully grand narrative journey, but also a great examination of her as a composer. You can feel her own personal journey, her heritage, and her voice all in the music as well. If you’re looking for a film score experience where the composer has full and complete control, then The Woman Astronaut is a journey worth taking.


Cartel Land (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Cartel Land (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Price: $9.49

5.0 out of 5 stars A Tense And Refined Emotional Journey, July 27, 2015
Cartel Land is the intense documentary that takes you the frontline of the war on drugs. It follows one American and one Mexican on each side of the border who decide to take up arms and fight the drug cartel themselves. It’s an examination of vigilanteism and exposing a situation, and is so much more complex than it seems on the outside. The chilling and textural score is by H. Scott Salinas and Jackson Greenberg. These two young composers don't have a history of working together so I’m not entirely sure of the nature of their collaboration. But I can say this is one of the most effective documentary scores I’ve heard recently.

Documentaries usually require a different scoring approach because they usually have sit down interviews cut with footage. The music can't call too much attention to itself either. Cartel Land is a bit different in that this is truly more of an observational documentary. The camera is just there capturing life, and the audience is there to experience it as it happens versus having people tell their own stories of the past. The score therefore acts very much like a traditional fictional score. The meshing of trickling guitar with electronic textures and strings really made it feel like a mesh of Harry Gregson-Williams and Gustavo Santaolalla. I mean, there are some serious dramatic builds here. The score sends chills and evokes a sense of absolute dread at times, while still having this echo of humanity and life pulsing through it. Many people talk about how tense and relentless the documentary is, and it’s because of this score. The music is so on point and is never afraid to just score the hell out of it. The music doesn't tiptoe around emotions, it doesn’t treat the subject matter delicately. The music says “here it is, this is what humans are doing to each other, look at it”. There are anchoring motifs that carry this score all the way through and by the end you feel a bit emotionally drained as well.

Cartel Land shows you really can do a lot with very little. With a focused soundscape and emotional precision that doesn’t pull any punches, the music feels more like a fictional narrative than a documentary score. These two young composers have done some amazingly subtle yet moving work here. I think there is a great deal of promise here with these two talents as they don’t only present a style, but they know narrative and emotional substance as well. These days many people can make music or shoot video, but not many people can tell stories through their preferred medium. Salinas and Greenberg are clearly storytellers.


Poldark
Poldark
Price: $10.29
34 used & new from $6.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Example Of Great Writing & Masterful Tone, July 27, 2015
This review is from: Poldark (Audio CD)
The series of novels by Winston Graham as been adapted into a TV series twice now. Once in the 70’s and now a with a shiny gloss of paint for 2015. Poldark is more historical drama from the BBC that follows Ross Poldark as he returns home from war to build his life back. With the tone and look of a soap opera, Poldark is filled with gorgeous looking actors making history look super sexy and dramatic. The show isn’t tongue in cheek at all surprisingly, as is evidenced by Anne Dudley’s wonderful score.

Poldark embraces its melodrama wonderfully, and Dudley does a wonderful job with the music. The score is not a typical “historical” sounding soundtrack. Sure we get some violin and other strings to help establish a little bit of a setting, but overall the score is pretty timeless. The music carries a sense of elegance and beauty with it, but there is a melancholic current running through it all. The music also has this body of warmth that adds weight. These aren't just fluttering strings that echo away into the air, there's lots of deep strings working underneath it all. And while all the music is elegant and beautiful, it’s also wonderfully structured dramatically. Even in the album sampling of the season we get a lot of melodic builds that echo the characters’ stories. I found myself really entranced by the music and by the end wishing for the story to continue.

Poldark is a wonderful piece of work from Anne Dudley who showcases some great writing and mastering of tone. The music embraces the melodrama of the show, but everything feels rich and organic. The elegance within the melodies and thematic work pulls you in. The score has this light airy surface with a rich and deeper core that adds some dramatic weight. This is a score that feels very in sync with the narrative and never tries to do more than it should. For that, it becomes very enjoyable and effective.


Minions
Minions
Price: $12.99
24 used & new from $10.37

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heitor Pereira At His Melodic Best, July 27, 2015
This review is from: Minions (Audio CD)
It’s always funny to see how certain characters evolve and gain popularity in animated franchises, to the point of earning their own spinoff. However, the Minions were such a finely crafted piece of comic relief in the Despicable Me films that you could have foreseen their origin story coming a mile away. And thankfully we get to have full on musical continuity with Heitor Pereira being behind the entire soundscape of the Despicable Me universe. He even composed the music for the new Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride at Universal Studios. Here though he gets to create his best work to date in this franchise without having to work under the shadow of Pharrell. The result is a fun, bubbly and melodic orchestral adventure that works hand in hand with the large number of source songs used in the soundtrack.

What I like here is that even though there are a lot of source songs used in the musical landscape, non of them feel overpowering. And maybe that’s because there is a lot more score here versus the Despicable Me films. The first movie never even got a score release, while the second film only featured around 38min of score on the soundtrack release. Minions has a decent 50min on the album not including the songs. So yes, it’s wall to wall music in the film, but man it works.

Minions follows their origin story from the dawn of time up to meeting Gru. In their quest to find a villain mastermind to be their boss, they traverse the globe and get in a series of misadventures. The film’s comedy is pure old fashioned slapstick that meshes The Three Stooges with Looney Tunes style antics. And quite frankly, it’s hilarious. The fact that these little guys are good-natured and innocent while living in a world full of evil villains makes the comedy work. Heitor’s music is a perfect accompaniment to them as well. He definitely went the right direction by using his Minions theme from the Despicable Me films. The theme was literally a little side motif in those films, where here it’s the star of the show. He breaks the theme down into different variations that slowly work up the melody in full form. So he’s kind of making a prequel to his own music in a way, and it works great when woven in with all the other melodies of the film. Other parts of the score focus on that Bond-esque villain music and there are some great musical sequences that allow the score to really play. I thought the large amount of source songs would overshadow the score like it did in Despicable Me 2, but thankfully they really worked well and Heitor made sure the score worked with them in the film. By the end of it, it’s a fun ride from start to finish even if there is a lack of an emotional connection to truly make you feel connected to the music.

Minions showcases Heitor Pereira at his melodic best. His music truly gets to shine way more than it did in Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2. His bubbly and energetic melodies really lend themselves to the Minions’ slapstick adventure. We have characters here who speak an unintelligible language, so music is as important as ever. The film tries to fit in some emotional resonance amongst the antics but it never really clicks, and therefore the score doesn’t give us a true emotional resonance beyond just enjoying the ride. If you like melody and light-hearted orchestral slapstick then Minions is a real treat.


Terminator Genisys (Music from the Motion Picture)
Terminator Genisys (Music from the Motion Picture)
Price: $8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Balfe Delivers A Great Action Score As Well As A Worthy Entry In The Franchise's Iconic Musical History, July 27, 2015
Lorne Balfe had quite a task ahead of him when he was brought on late to score Paramount’s attempt of breathing life into one of the most iconic action franchises in film. It seems the Terminator franchise hasn’t been able to match the level of Cameron’s T2: Judgement Day. Also despite Marco Beltrami’s and Danny Elfman’s best efforts, those scores never felt part of the legacy that Brad Fiedel left. Balfe was a perfect fit here because his style and sound fit so seamlessly. With Hans Zimmer serving as Executive Music Producer and doing some synth programming, we get that old school synth sound from the 90’s that Fiedel made iconic with his T1 and T2 scores. Balfe’s score embraces what came before it by keeping 1 leg in the past and 1 leg in the future, therefore creating a score that successfully bridges a gap all the while being supremely entertaining.

Genisys sort of acts as a direct sequel to T2 and does a great job of making the whole time-traveling narrative work. The score from Balfe is bold and shimmery while being rhythmically driven, which gives us some awesome builds. The shimmering synth makes it feel like part of the Terminator sound, while Balfe’s writing style bursts through to make it feel new and uniquely his own. The “Fate and Hope” 3-note motif becomes the central heart of the score that speaks to the character triangle of Sarah, Kyle and the T-800 affectionately called “Pops” by Sarah in the film. This 3-note theme works surprisingly very well, especially to create the emotional bond between the T-800 and Sarah Connor. Similar to how John Connor bonded with the T-800 in T2. The action is fueled by a percussive march that Lorne uses to create some wonderful builds and add intensity. Balfe does a great job of referencing the Fiedel themes just the right amount, while saving the full reprise for the end credits. While the film itself suffers from a generic PG-13 studio glaze, it still ends up being a pretty solid entertainer due to Balfe’s fantastic soundscape.

Balfe’s Terminator: Genisys is wonderfully structured, has that vintage synth sound that calls back to T2, is uniquely Balfe in its writing and surprises us with pockets of emotion. Genisys is a real entertainer, from a solid 3-note central motif to anchor it and a percussive march that propels the narrative forward and gives rigid structure to the action. In the end you can stand back and admire Lorne’s range from a huge action tentpole like this down to his more intimate documentary scores. The film definitely is a more engaging ride because of the music here, and the score stands very well on its own as well.


Max (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Max (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Offered by SONY Music Entertainment Downloads LLC.
Price: $9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Rabin's "Anthem" Style Of Scoring Makes Max Soar Despite The Melodrama, July 27, 2015
Trevor Rabin has always been at the forefront of emotionally fueled anthem scores. His background as a guitarist lends his melodic approach perfectly for certain features, and I remember falling in love with his music growing up with his action scores of the 90’s. It’s been quite a while since we had a true and pure Rabin score. I would say going back to 2010’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the last time we heard Trevor in full-form. But let’s not forget he took a step away from scoring for some time to work on his solo album Jacaranda, which was a brilliant reflection on himself. Between then we heard Trevor’s music in The DeNiro/Stallone starrer Grudge Match, the Renny Harlin dud 5 Days Of War, TV series like Zero Hour and 12 Monkeys, and finally we have a really great return to form for Rabin with Max as he reunites with Remember The Titans director Boaz Yakin.

Max may be the typical family drama featuring a dog, but it’s hard not to give in to the sentiment presented to you with the story of a marine dog whose owner dies in combat. Now Max returns home as a broken and traumatized dog who can only seem to bond with his owner’s surviving little brother. It’s a recipe for melodramatic emotions and forced tears, but thankfully the skilled Trevor Rabin handles the narrative with a light hand to craft a supremely heartwarming and uplifting score here. The fact that the score is short (around 40min) probably helps in making sure it doesn’t lay it on thick. I do wish the score would have been longer though as to develop a more connected flow. As it stands the music only comes in when it's absolutely essential for it to do so, and I think the score would have benefitted from some more connective tissue to bridge moments together. Never does the music overpower to manipulate your emotions, and the main theme Max gets is warm and simple. In fact the whole score is structured quite straightforward and simple. Tragedy opens the story and connects two lives looking to heal, they bond, outside conflict ensues, the protagonists conquer it and boom a warm happy ending. Rabin’s music accentuates all these moments with heart and adds dramatic weight when needed. By the end you might find yourself wanting to go on this short and sweet journey again.

Every now and then you need a little lift, a little warmth and a little sentiment. Max showcases Trevor Rabin’s emotionally fueled anthem style of writing by giving us something really enjoyable and heartfelt. The music never lays it on too thick, making the themes really resonate by gently tugging versus forcefully yanking. In a movie landscape filled mostly with overcoming super villains, destruction and chaos, it’s nice to have something that is simple and full of lift with nothing but good intentions. Max centers on the bond of boy and dog and we’ve seen the story in other forms before, but Trevor Rabin’s terrifically approached score is a real pleaser and a great return to form for the composer.


Woman in Gold (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Woman in Gold (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Offered by SONY Music Entertainment Downloads LLC.
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Very Safe & Pleasant Score Executed With Delicate Restraint, July 27, 2015
Woman In Gold tells the true story of Maria Altman’s journey to reclaim her family’s stolen possessions that the Nazi’s took during WWII. Maria along with her lawyer fought a 10 year battle against the government of Austria to reclaim her family’s property. The film focuses on the unlikely pairing of the two as she faces her past in order to right her family’s name. Another unlikely pairing is that of Martin Phipps and Hans Zimmer, who have no prior history of working together. Some production scuffles resulted in the last-minute pairing of the two, which resulted in a short and mostly effective score.

The film is telling the story in present day, but of course we have flashbacks to WWII to fill in the history of Maria’s backstory. This ended up being a pretty easy split for the two composers. Phipps composed the music to accompany the main present day storyline, while Zimmer took the WWII era flashbacks. The result is a score that congeals quite well despite the two composers taking two separate thematic approaches. Zimmer’s waltzy piano theme makes that musical storyline standout quite nicely. It comes with a tinge of mystery and has that “backstory” feel. Phipps also uses a piano for his central motif for the main storyline, which is why the two really blend nicely. Phipps’ motif is a bit more of a trickling decent, there is a feel of gumption and hope in Phipps’ music that carries nicely all the way through. The score finishes on a reflective note with a great sense of personal closure. The piano gives way for strings that bring the emotion to the front for the listener to take in. Upon looking back at the score though as a whole, there does seem to be a deeper emotional “oomph” missing. The music at times feels more like a performance piece versus a score, and I think while it’s pretty to listen to there were times where more was needed.

Woman In Gold is a very decent score about a woman’s journey to reclaim her family’s past. Phipps and Zimmer do a very sufficient job of providing the subtle emotional undertones to both journeys, past and present. The score itself nails the tone, but lacks an overall emotional cohesion. The approach while simple, feels a tad bit uninspired. The music is elegant and wonderfully structured, and comes to a wonderful resolution. However, in the end it felt like it needed something a little more to resonate better. Woman In Gold is definitely worth your time if only to hear Phipps and Zimmer working quite well in parallel while maintaining a level of delicate restraint.


Trishna
Trishna
3 used & new from $16.55

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Motifs Presented In Movements, July 27, 2015
This review is from: Trishna (Audio CD)
Michael Winterbottom’s film Trishna was made way back in 2011 and released in 2012, but here Caldera records was able to do a very nice release of Shigeru Umebayashi’s string-based score to the romantic melodrama. The story follows a lower class servant falling in love with a rich man’s son. She relocates with him where their love would be less taboo and it exposes a dark twist when he begins to get a rise out of the idea of being an all-powerful upper class man with control over her. The score accents and speaks to the inner dance these two characters weave as Trishna finds herself in a seemingly overbearing situation.

Shigeru Umebayashi is a fantastic composer who probably gained your attention with his collaborations with director Wong Kar-wai. Here he completely ignores the Indian setting and allows no ethnic influences into the score. The film features a pulsing Indian soundtrack though with songs from Bollywood composer Amit Trivedi. Non of that is featured here so what we have here is Shigeru Umebayashi’s score working on its own. It make's sense that the tracks sort of work as movements versus a completely strung together narrative. By sequencing certain tracks “1”, “2”, and “3” you can pick up the internal flow of those pieces. You sense the music progressing and pushing while the music always carries a tone of despair. The score can feel too monotonous at times given its simple and minimal instrumentation, but structurally it’s very strong. The use of a waltz sort of clashed with me personally at first, but by the third movement of the waltz it felt right. Overall the score showcases some strong structural narrative flows within the connected motifs and that’s where the real heart of the music lies.

Trishna is an interesting small-scale score from acclaimed composer Shigeru Umebayashi. The simple and streamlined instrumentation could have used a little more textural work to make the music stick better. As it stands though you will find some interesting motifs connected in movements throughout the narrative of the score. The score carries the sense of despair through most of it, which makes it feel “one-note” at times, but there is a deep pain to Trishna’s journey and the music carries us through the ultimately inevitable dark ending.


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