Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Review of "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" Soundtrack by Daniel Hart

AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS is a romantic drama set in the picturesque hills of Texas and featuring the small-scale story of an outlaw who escapes from prison to reunite with his wife. This setting and plot is simple and familiar, leaving the tough job of creating a unique and engaging tone to up-and-coming composer DANIEL HART.

Somber independent American dramas have come to sound alike in the past few years. The long hollow tones and eerie, wailing strings are joyless and persistent. In this way AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS is a predictable score. Sustained drones are an easy way to fill the sonic space with (seemingly meaningful) sound, and it wasn’t long before they became uncomfortable in my ears.

The dream-like nature of the score as a whole wears thin quickly, and there is little substance to latch on to. This is a common drawback of the ambient, minimalist style soundtrack, but sometimes there is something unique or interesting enough to hold your hand and pull you through. An entry point, so to speak. So what makes AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS stand out? Possibly it’s use of human body percussion. For the most part DANIEL HART forsakes drum beats for the more natural sounds of clapping hands and slapping thighs. I am, in general, an emphatic fan of clapping sounds in music. It’s often rather rousing, a fine way to make the music feel alive, and in some strange way - social. It can engage the listener in the momentum. To some extent it is similarly effectual in AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS, however the rest of the score is so desolate that it’s hard to get too excited. This clapping quirk is not unique enough to make AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS musically interesting for me.

In addition to human body percussion AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS sticks to a natural tone in most tracks. Plucked strings twang and acoustic guitars groan. This assists in the portrayal of the setting: a small American country town. Beyond that though, communication is not one of AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS’ strong points. The music doesn’t contain many hints at context, themes or messages apart from the obvious and overstated gloom.

Country style rings clearest in “Fixer Upper” (4). There is life in the twanging banjo, but the recurrence of a descending lament of strings is repetitious and ultimately leads nowhere. This cue and the soundtrack more broadly remain on the same melancholy level with no significant changes in texture from beginning to end. In “The Last Shootout” (10) the clapping rhythm becomes the main article, now accompanied by an archaic progression of offbeat percussion and a sustained dreamlike note which hardly changes for 4 minutes. Though this is the most energetic point in the soundtrack, it still feels too subdued and predictable to arouse any passion.

The album ends with 8 songs created by various artists and featuring a cowboy’s stride worth of country style. These are of varying quality, but all are arguably more appetizing than the main score. If you’re interested in these songs that certainly makes the album as a whole a more logical investment, but they aren’t used in the film and they don’t factor into my review.

This score was created to provide a simple bleak tone for the film it is attached to. On it’s own, the soundtrack is a little too ethereal, stagnant and empty. A lack of musical momentum, through rhythm or melody, meant I could never truly engage with the material. AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS operates on the same plane of anxious emotion from beginning to end, but since I couldn’t connect with the music in any personal way that anxiety did not become relevant. It’s like watching someone else be anxious, which is simply an uncomfortable experience. The regular use of body percussion struggles to stand as the main musical drive. How unique must a soundtrack be to be enjoyed on its own? A stretch more unique than this score, I would argue.

If you enjoy minimalistic dark scores with eerie, depressing atmospheres, maybe AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS is one for you. However for the rest of us the complete lack of variety and melodic material makes this a fairly ordinary listening experience.

One Of Us Likes To Eat People, So What? (Short Film)

A couple of months ago I created this short film. I made it entirely on my own - apart from some special effects from the awesome Nat Kelly - so it was pretty tough. I play a bunch of different characters, and some of them have terrible but hopefully entertaining accents.

Yours indulgently,

Fences All Around Us

This little song I created a year ago for a YouTube video has now been re-recorded a little nicer. And it's available on Google Play as a free single. I'd love for ya to check it out:


Yours deafeningly,

Monday, 7 October 2013

Review of "Europa Report" Soundtrack by Bear McCreary

A scientific expedition travels further into space than humanity has ever gone before and uncovers an incredible mystery about our universe? Sounds like the recipe for an excellent science fiction soundtrack!

The EUROPA REPORT film uses a realistic “found footage” format to present a fictional story of the first crewed mission to one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa. You only need to listen to the first minute of this score to have a good idea of the style of the whole album, and that’s all the time it took for me to be hooked.

The same rapid, pulsing beat which opens in “Lift Off” (1) can be heard through a large portion of the score, providing a consistent and wonderfully exciting tonal base. Similar to MCCREARY’s other recent science fiction score, “Defiance”, swirls of increasingly emotive strings wash over the low beat. There’s nothing unique here - or in any of this soundtrack - but MCCREARY certainly has a way of playing with melodies that is very easy to listen to. There’s nothing too musically complex going on here, but the vast majority of listeners will enjoy themselves to some extent, just as I have.

Now, unlike “Defiance” - which is deliberately hyped up to eleven with screaming electronic sounds - EUROPA REPORT is notably subdued. MCCREARY shows remarkable restraint, keeping the music at a temperate level even when he needs to communicate shock and excitement. Sure, the bombast of “Defiance” may be more unique and memorable, but EUROPA REPORT is arguably a more beautiful, tonally-consistent album.

The recurring haunting strings portray space as simultaneously beautiful, terrifying and sad in the same way as Murray Gold piece entitled “The Impossible Planet” (yes, I’m referencing Doctor Who). Simple, atmospheric strings play into an otherwise silent sonic landscape. Through sound the wonder of space itself is realized effectively. Many similarities can also be drawn to Clint Mansell’s “Moon”, another low-key psychological space drama. Both scores feel restrained yet are undoubtedly beautiful. Both are eerily quiet at times, which effectively draws suspenseful atmosphere. Furthermore, they both underscore the narrative - building an atmosphere rather than describing the action itself. “Moon” only has one evident theme, which it uses many times in varying flavours. The case is the same in EUROPA REPORT.

So is it repetitive? The answer is absolutely yes. But do I mind? No, for the most part I do not. There is one main melody used throughout the score. It is used to communicate a variety of themes and emotions: hope, loss, fear, wonder and adventure. It’s a well-layered and very adaptable theme, and I still enjoy hearing it by the final track. Sure, a second recurring melody would have been welcome, but the lack of diversity through the score does not ruin my enjoyment. Small changes in instrumentation are used to combat monotony through the album. For example “Water” (8) features the welcome addition of a poignant vocal track, and the main theme sounds good on piano in “Europa Report (For Solo Piano)” (6). Whereas I think Mansell’s “Moon” soundtrack becomes quite dull around the edges due to it’s long uneventful tracks, EUROPA REPORT maintains my interest to the last cue. Sure, it sags in energy around the middle, but it feels like a natural emotional progression. Finale-vibe kicks in as the energy picks up in “That Brings Us to Now” (11), a track which at one point incorporates a heavy load of sound design when a frantic cluster of descending string notes imply a horrific moment on-screen. It certainly gives me a sinking feeling.

It's pretty clear that I am really fond of this score by BEAR MCCREARY. While I don’t think it’s anything new or unexpected, it's another very solid entry in the space exploration genre. It takes the tension of a thriller and the magic of an adventure and melds the two together with understated radiance. Ultimately, EUROPA REPORT’s only downfall is a lack of diversity, but if the title theme grabs you you’ll enjoy the journey. A treat for science fiction fans.

Click here to visit the full review, including track ratings.

Friday, 20 September 2013

INTELLIGENCE Episode 3: Breaking and Entering

The final episode of this little series is now live.

This episode has a slightly different kind of flavour, since it was edited by the excellent Nat Kelly. Oh, and I act in it a little bit.

Some behind-the-scenes videos will be uploaded soon, which are sure to be rather amusing.

Yours doggedly,

Monday, 16 September 2013

INTELLIGENCE Episode 2: That Is The Question

The second episode of INTELLIGENCE is up on YouTube now. This one gets a bit spooky with some Shakespeare. There's one long take in the middle of this episode which cracks me up a lot, and kudos goes to Jordan Sorby for that.

Here's the vid:

Yours certainly,

Friday, 6 September 2013

INTELLIGENCE Episode 1: Good Cop Bad Cop

TV Shows are brilliant. So I made one.

Well, a small, experimental one. Basically it's a three-part mini-series I'm releasing on YouTube. It's very wacky. I'll be very pleased if you take a squiz.

Episodes 2 and 3 will be arriving over the next couple of weeks!

Yours resoundingly,

Top 5 Pieces From Hans Zimmer's Batman Trilogy

Hi! Or as Batman would say, "WHERE IS SHE!?"

Even though he's one of the most mainstream entities around at the moment, I can't help but love Hans Zimmer's film scores. They're often grand and powerful and make you want to be a pirate or operate a heist in someone's subconscious.

Anyway, the recent trilogy of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises by Christopher Nolan contained some top-notch Zimmer. I decided to make a list of my five favourite tracks from the three scores.

You can check it out right over here!

Yours impertenently,

ps. Batman

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Intelligence: Filming Has Begun

Yesterday filming began on my quirky new mini-series called Intelligence. Here is not the place to go into detail about it though, since the series has it's own website!

The series aims to premiere this August, but for now you can take a peak behind the scenes in the Photo Gallery.

Yours pertinently,

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Review of "Frozen Planet" Soundtrack by George Fenton

Another soundtrack review! This time for BBC's big Arctic documentary, Frozen Planet.

Click here to waddle over to the review on the Tracksounds website.

Penguins are pretty great.

Yours giddily,

Review of Trakt.tv

Ever wished there was a neat, organised and fun way to keep track of all the TV and films you watch? Enter Trakt.

Trakt is a website which compiles every single film and TV show (using solid databases such as TVDB). The free service allows you to perform a multitude of actions with this library of content. You can add things to your "watchlist", you can rate things, you can post comments or reviews. Everything you'd ever want is here on Trakt. And all of this is displayed with beautiful, large screens from each show or movie. Overall, the whole website has a brilliant, luxurious layout.

The service makes keeping track of what you've seen and what you want to see simple as a plate. Especially in regards to TV shows, which can get complicated with their seasons and special one-off episodes etc. With Trakt, you can see exactly what you've seen and where you're up to - even when the next episode is coming out.

Friday, 5 April 2013

One Video To Rule Them All?

Trailers are excellent because they can make no sense. This is why I made one for my YouTube channel.

That's right, my Thoroughmas YouTube channel, where the cardboard set is wobbling in the background while the actors actor presenter slave stutters over his illogical lines about something entirely meaningless. But hey, it's all for good natured fun! Well, mostly good natured fun... occasionally I use violence against stuffed toys to tackle real post-modern social issues.

You can watch the new trailer right here:

Yours incredulously,

Review of "Snitch" Soundtrack by Antonio Pinto

This score may be nothing to write home about, but then I'm not writing home - I'm writing to the internet, where all opinions are accepted with joyful objectivity and open arms and *ahem* I should just end this sentence now.

Click here to read my full review of the music behind Snitch!

You may notice I titled the piece, "Perhaps Snitch Has a Niche?" If you pronounce the word niche correctly, please forgive me. Yes, I've sold my soul to the devil for a cheap rhyme.

Yours nonplussedly,

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Soundtrack Review: Nobody Walks by Fall On Your Sword (Lakeshore Records 2012)

Led by Will Bates and Philip Mossman, FALL ON YOUR SWORD is an electronic band making a name for themselves through their scores for independent films. NOBODY WALKS is one of their most recent albums, accompanying the dramatic American independent film of the same name directed by Russo-Young. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012, and due to its limited release not many have seen it - including myself. Therefore I will be approaching this soundtrack by FALL ON YOUR SWORD as a collection of music without any specific context. Does it hold up? Let’s see...

The initial assumption is that an indie score by an indie band such as this will blend a modern musical sensibility with a risqué stable of unusual styles to achieve a mood which is feel-good with a constant reminder of its disturbing dramatic centre. As it happens, this is essentially what you’ll find in NOBODY WALKS.

The “Opening Titles” (2) track introduces the main theme of the score with a upbeat, modern style. A style which doesn’t appeal to me, but the three note theme itself is scrumptiously delicate. And somewhat catchy. Following this piece in absolute contrast, “Kolt” (3) builds an eerie ambience of hollow dread, a gentle hint of piano keeping us centered. Piano-based track “The Family” (4) takes the simple and repetitive melody of the main theme and explores it in a beautifully lurid approach worthy of Clint Mansell.

“Gallery Drive” (5) brings us back to the up-beat and feel-good. Beautiful layers and textures are ever present, managing to be both spacious and intimate. The end of the track dissolves smoothly into Kolt’s mellow theme. The off-kilter notes in “Guilt” (6) are strikingly effective at arousing a sense of unease, especially as the beat builds in magnitude. Even without knowing the context of this track in the film, it actively tugs at the emotion of the listener. The chirping of crickets keeps the beat in “Voyeur” (7), a hollow-centered, dream-like piece that sounds like it would suit a retro science fiction film.

Diving back into the upbeat, “The Dinner” (8) uses a unique combination of strings and electronic tones to achieve a sound which I found jarring at first, but as the track evolves I relaxed into the beauty of the piece. I had a similar experience with a lot of this score: feeling stressed on first encountering a new piece, but enjoying it thoroughly once I learned to relax into it. You have to go with the flow to properly appreciate this soundtrack - there’s nothing big and bold to drag an uninvolved listener through the album.

The final few tracks of the album are undoubtedly my favourite, starting with “Kolt’s Poem” (12), in which the hi-hat rhythm is a very welcome addition to the continuing ensemble of electronic effects. The main theme returns in all its delicate beauty in “Leaving Town” (13). As the track builds we hear some of the most exquisitely emotive strings on the album, forsaking the pop of “Opening Titles” (2) for a more classical style. Finally, “Kolt’s Reprise” (14) also uses powerful strings in accompaniment with ambient electronic textures and a sporadic drum beat for a heartbreaking rendition of the album’s sombre secondary theme. Its a perfectly mellow note to end on.

Though there’s nothing truly amazing here, it’s hard not to like this album by FALL ON YOUR SWORD. They’ve jam-packed the soundtrack’s short runtime (38:51) with creativity and confidence. NOBODY WALKS’ repetitive chord progressions prove effective at mixing a beautiful and intimate collection of unique sounds. I did not find being unacquainted with the context of the film to be distracting; the rhythmic and often simple nature of the score lends itself to the individual interpretations of the listener. I was impressed and rather entertained by this superbly crafted score, and I believe that any listener will hear something worth appreciating.

Click here to jump over to the full review at Tracksounds, including track ratings.