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Coming to a Screen Near You: Recent Film Music

When I was a kid grabbing each issue of Fanfare, one of the articles I skipped to first was Royal S. Brown's film music column. He did not really do an in depth review of these scores because he was mostly commenting on their recorded releases. For me, I just wanted to see who he was going to attack and if he left my favorite composers alone. As a reviewer for Film Score Monthly, it is always difficult to really decide how best to help people learn about new film scores. These days tons of new releases are sent my way for a lot of streaming projects. The plethora of pay-per-view channels with their own content has nearly doubled what we used to get for review and television series music is being released at an unprecedented rate (whether it should be or not!). All of this is due to the quick delivery method of streaming services. Now a corporation can pop music onto a streaming service quickly without production delays for a physical release which often meant such releases were not worth pursuing.

What I thought I'd try for this new blogging direction is to just give a little overview of what has crossed my desk over the past few weeks. So I will try and keep that up going forward! One thing that I've always tried to balance is that the composers whose music I am given to "evaluate" or comment about are often writing to very specific requirements. The music itself may not always be very compelling and when that happens, I must listen more for the craft of composition that should still be present. Every genre also has its own set tropes and approaches which is coupled with a real hesitancy for music to standout too much in the picture.

January found me checking out some quite varied releases. I have not seen the Netflix series Cobra Kai but La-La Land records is helping to enthrall fans with the excellent scoring for the series by Zach Robinson and Leo Birnberg. The collection of music here builds on a previous volume featuring great thematic writing and plenty of fine action material. Mark Mothersbaugh's humorous score for Hotel Transylvannia 4 is music to admire for its with an inventiveness even if it will pass from memory quickly. It is a score that I think must have been a trip to write with its musical jokes and references and comedic punches all service to work well. Switching gears, we move to a horror genre score for the film Free Fall. The music here is by Joseph Bishara who has been sort of typed into providing a lot of scores for films of this type. Often these lower-budget endeavors tend to be a variety of musique concrete and atmospheric noises to add tension to the on-screen terror. Bishara tends to be a bit more old school in his use of interesting instrumental combinations. His work is no less experimental, but there are lots of tightly-knit motivic and aural components that he uses to help bring unity to a type of music that one certainly does not just kick back to listen to on its own without good reason! His work still should move him to that top tier of newer composers.

We launched the shift of CINEMUSICAL to this new website in February with a review of the John Williams Berlin Concert. You can check that review now here. It is just amazing to me at the great variety of Williams' work and that he is now conducting orchestras that had traditionally looked down upon film music is truly a remarkable achievement. Also last month, I took a listen to Inventing Anna which features a new score by the excellent Kris Bowers. You might recognize his name from his work on Green Book, or the popular Bridgerton series. Bowers is a fine composer that is able to shift gears from urban styles to contemporary harmonic and orchestral styles with relative ease. This score gives us a taste of his more atmospheric and ambient design approaches with hints of his other dramatic writing. If you have not heard his excellent score for last year's King Richard do track that down! There was also a slight little romantic comedy score from John Debney for Marry Me. Solid writing here if the material itself is not always as compelling.

As February came to a close, a few last-minute scores appeared. Among them is Michael Giacchino's The Batman. I think Giacchino has composed for every major franchise at this point from Star Trek to Star Wars and Planet of the Apes and now both Marvel and DC universes, not to mention his superb Disney animated work. From the very first time I heard his work for Secret Weapons Over Normandy I have been impressed by his music. That work owed a lot to the WIlliams' scoring style. He has since proven to be a great chameleon of musical styles which he manages to morph into his own unique approach. This newest score is a tightly-constructed work that focuses on a four-note motive. There are thematic threads for the villains as well as the title character and even Catwoman. The film itself runs almost 3 hours so the release of almost 2 hours of score is a bit overwhelming. There is an expected lot of recurrence in ideas here but it is a fascinating score that sits in that tenuous world of Hollywood scoring today. Instead of creating a rather generic score, Giacchino's motivic focus allows for an often rich tapestry of sound and fury. A noirish quality wafts across the music which can sometimes find the music settling into a John Barry-like style. On the other end of the spectrum is Ramin Djawadi's score for the upcoming Uncharted--based on the video game series. This score has a rather excellent swashbuckling-like thematic statement to get things going but then a lot of the rest tends to feel rather generic. Djawadi is a master of rhythmic writing and some of that is quite at the forefront of the excitement. When that comes together with his theme the score really shines. I suspect that theme will find its way to the concert hall if the movie does well. From there I headed to that experimental intensity of electronics and ambience that is the current horror score. Colin Stetson's work on a "new" The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a perfect example of a composer tackling a project to explore what they can do with new sounds and manipulation technique. It is not a score you will likely enjoy listening to, but there is a lot of intriguing approaches here to using specific sounds as connective motives in the score. Listen for the chain saw idea which slashes its way through various tracks.

This sort of gets us up to date. Down the road here I'll be sharing some regarding a host of new releases from Dragon's Domain Records which includes a new compilation of rare film music by the great Ernest Gold.


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