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.

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