Thursday, June 24, 2010

L'immortel by Klaus Badelt (Review)

I finally was able to import a copy of Klaus Badelt’s score to L’immortel. L’immortel is a French film starring Jean Reno as a mobster who exacts his revenge on his former friend who shot him and left him for dead. The American title of the film is the less glamorous 22 Bullets.

Badelt handles the material expertly by creating great atmospheric underscore and using electronic percussion to create tension. He uses a solo piano to great emotional effect and once the score gets rolling it becomes a darker and more intense journey. The pulsing strings give a sense of urgency and keeps the adrenaline high without the score ever becoming a “loud” action score. What I love about the score is that it can be minimal like in the track “Birthday Killing” or action propelled like in “Motorcycle Chase” and still grasp you just the same within the context of the story.

The style is akin to Badelt’s previous work like The Recruit and Equilibrium. So if you enjoyed his work there I highly reccomend L’immortel. Another great part about the album is the way it was arranged with lots of classical opera pieces by Puccini. So the first chunk of the album has a couple of extracts from works like Tosca and La Bohème, which really are an integral part of the listening experience.

L’immortel is a fantastic score by Klaus Badelt that bleeds with his style and takes us on an intense and dark journey. The score is able to resonate a visceral intensity without bashing you over the head. As of this writing the score has not been released in the United States in any format, but I urge anyone willing to spend the extra money on shipping to import it from Amazon France. It’s a simple approach at scoring a familiar genre that leads to a surprisingly effective execution.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Crying WIth Laughter by Lorne Balfe (Review)

Lorne Balfe’s minimal and poignant score to the Scottish film Crying With Laughter finally sees the light of day. The film revolves around a stand-up comedian who embarks on a dark journey of facing his past.

The score is minimalistic in nature but is so brilliant in that approach. It manages to have a full sound to it rather than just a barebones piano as Balfe uses some electronic drones to fill out the negative space. “Serenity” is just a beautiful piece and then the last track reprises that main motif from the beginning that somehow manages to stir you and you can’t figure out why.

The score is very short and is only available at at the time of writing this as a digital download. It’s highly recommended and I think you’ll be surprised as to how it will emotionally affect you with such a simple approach. Just to give you a frame of reference it reminded me very slightly of Zimmer’s score to Frost/Nixon in terms of its execution.

I’m extremely excited to finally have this one after having to listen to scattered tracks on YouTube now and then. A great solo effort from Balfe.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Star Trek: The Deluxe Edition by Michael Giacchino (Review)

Michael Giacchino’s score to Star Trek was something rather exceptional then again whatever Giacchino does is exceptional but Star Trek was pretty great. When the score was initially released it left so much to be desired (the release that is). It was an extremely short album and the selections didn’t really represent the true flow of the score in the film. So Varese Sarabande quickly fixed their mistake by re-releasing Giacchino’s Star Trek in a beufiful Deluxe Edition limited release.

So let’s get one thing straight. The Varese Sarabande CD Club label is usually reserved for classic scores that are either have since been out of print or have never been released. So it was a bit of a surprise that a movie that is only 1 year old got a release. Not that I’m complaining!

This 2-disc set is simply great. The score is in film order and fully represented here on this release. It’s packaged in a fantastic Digipak booklet with color photographs as well as the note from J.J. Abrams that was included with the initial release.

As for the score I’ll briefly go over what I said a year ago. Giacchino’s Star Trek theme is bold and daring and will get those hairs standing on end every time it makes an appearance amidst the pulsing trumpets and oscillating strings. His music is so amazing that there is always points that J.J. Abrams just lets the diagetic sound drown completely out and the score takes center stage in an emotionally breathtaking fashion such as in “Labor Of Love”. Fans of LOST know what I’m talking about here. The way only Giacchino can do it. If there is one thing to complain about it would be that Giacchino maybe used his Star Trek theme too much in the score so by the end it almost has lost its edge on the viewer/listener. He does finish his score with Alexander Courage's original TV Series theme though, which is perfect.

This is a limited release of only 5000 copies so get your copy before it’s gone. It’s a worthy purchase for a great score from one of the best composers around.

The Last Airbender by James Newton Howard (Review)

In the world of Director/Composer collaborations the Shyamalan/Howard connection is a huge one. James Newton Howard has had the privalage of scoring every single one of M. Night Shyamalan’s feature films. With The Last Airbender Shyamalan finally breaks from his comfort zone and goes for the lavish Hollywood blockbuster. James Newton Howard is no stranger to the genre so what was the end result?

The Last Airbender is a very good score. It’s such a string heavy score so the sweeping orchestrations truly wash over you and carry you on a mystical journey. It carries a heroic presence yet manages to stay away from a “superhero” formula. The score also flows very nicely. It evokes the imagery it sets out to accompany and in the end makes us feel like we did in fact complete a heroic journey. "The Blue Spirit" is a fantastic track that propels action and is percussion heavy. It really adds a rhythm to the score and is a great standout track.

The score does have an identity and there is no doubt about it. I was able to identify a couple of reoccurring motifs that for me adequately pulled everything together. There is a theme and it echoes James Newton Howard, but it doesn’t stand out. Whether that’s a good or bad thing I think is entirely up to individual opinion. Personally I don’t need a big boisterous theme leading the way if the score is still able to have an identity with identifiable motifs. James Newton Howard is a master of his craft and while it’s been a while since we’ve heard a score from him this is a grand welcoming back into action.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


My review coming soon! For now here's the official press release.


Composer James Newton Howard Teams With M. Night Shyamalan For Their 7th Film

(June 2, 2010- Los Angeles, CA) – Lakeshore Records will release The Last Airbender -- Original Soundtrack, available on June 29, 2010. James Newton Howard (The Dark Knight, The Sixth Sense), who has written the music for all of M. Night Shyamalan’s films since 1999’s The Sixth Sense, composed the original score.

James Newton Howard is one of the most versatile and respected composers currently working in films. To date, Howard has received eight Oscar® nominations, including six for Best Original Score for his work on Defiance, Michael Clayton, The Village, The Fugitive, The Prince of Tides, and My Best Friend’s Wedding. He was also nominated for Best Original Song for the films Junior and One Fine Day.

Howard’s success reflects the experiences of a rich musical past. Inspired by his grandmother, a classical violinist who played in the Pittsburgh Symphony in the ’30s and ’40s, he began his studies on the piano at age four. After studying at the Music Academy of the West, in Santa Barbara, and at the USC Thornton School of Music, as a piano major, he completed his formal education with orchestration study under legendary arranger Marty Paich.

Though his training was classical, he maintained an interest in rock and pop music, and it was his early work in the pop arena that allowed him to hone his talents as a musician, arranger, songwriter and producer. He racked up a string of collaborations in the studio with some of pop’s biggest names, including Barbra Streisand; Earth, Wind & Fire; Bob Seger; Rod Stewart; Toto; Glenn Frey; Diana Ross; Carly Simon; Olivia Newton-John; Randy Newman; Rickie Lee Jones; Cher; and Chaka Khan. In 1975, he joined pop superstar Elton John’s band on the road and in the studio.

When he was offered his first film in 1985, he never looked back.

Howard, who has been honored with ASCAP’s prestigious Henry Mancini Award for Lifetime Achievement, now has more than 100 films to his credit. Among them are all of M. Night Shyamalan’s films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening), five films for director Lawrence Kasdan (Grand Canyon, Wyatt Earp, French Kiss, Mumford and Dreamcatcher), four Julia Roberts comedies (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, My Best Friend’s Wedding and America’s Sweethearts) and three animated films for Walt Disney Studios (Dinosaur, Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire).

Air, Water, Earth, Fire. Four nations tied by destiny when the Fire Nation launches a brutal war against the others. A century has passed with no hope in sight to change the path of this destruction. Caught between combat and courage, Aang (Noah Ringer) discovers he is the lone Avatar with the power to manipulate all four elements. Aang teams with Katara (Nicola Peltz) a Waterbender, and her brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), to restore balance to their war-torn world.

Based on the hugely successful Nickelodeon animated TV series, the live-action feature film The Last Airbender is the opening chapter in Aang’s struggle to survive.

Paramount Pictures presents an M. Night Shyamalan film, The Last Airbender, in theaters on July 2, 2010. The Last Airbender Original Soundtrack on Lakeshore Records will be released in stores and digitally on June 29, 2010.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 by Lorne Balfe [Original Themes by Hans Zimmer] (Review)

Well here it is folks. Almost 7 months after the release of the game we have the official Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 score release. For the past 7 months I’ve been searching through the nearly 7 hour complete score looking for the themes and pieces I love, but alas you can move that game rip aside because here we have a complete rounded listening experience.

I reviewed this score back in December based off playing the game and listening to the massive 7 hour complete game rip that made it onto the internet (don’t worry, I redeemed myself by purchasing this album). With around 52-minutes on this release we get a real mixed album with full tracks and the experience is much better.

I’ll recap what I said last time. Hans Zimmer started the “modern warfare” sound in 2001 with his genre defining score to Black Hawk Down. Since then many composers even along the lines of Thomas Newman (Jarhead) and Danny Elfman (The Kingdom) have tried to mimic this style. The hard electronics, electric guitar and ethnic percussions have become staple to modern warfare films. Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the previous installment in this branching game series. That score was composed by Stephen Barton with heavy influence and thematic work by Harry Gregson-Williams. It’s the same case here where Lorne Balfe composed this score with heavy influence and thematic work from Hans Zimmer. A few of Zimmer’s collaborators also helped tackle the massive project.

So is this score Black Hawk Down 2? Not at all. In fact it’s different than what Stephen Barton and Harry Gregson-Williams did last time. I think the best way to describe this score is that it’s the “modern warfare” sound infused with the style of Zimmer’s 90’s action scores. Some of the themes and structures call back to Crimson Tide and The Rock while a few tracks here will remind you of recent work like The Dark Knight. The experience overall is a bit overwhelming but incredibly satisfying. Just think about? In the 7 months since the game has come out the music has become an iconic staple. In fact you could say that Zimmer did a better job than Harry Gregson-Williams of creating more identifiable themes to create a sonic identity for the game. Every time I start a multiplayer match and a little snippet of score plays as the clock starts its countdown to start I do smile. Lorne Balfe does deserve the credit for pulling everything together though. With such a massive scope and so many people working on a project I’m sure it’s easy to lose sight of things, but Balfe managed to pull everything together nicely.

So, while the whole experience can be a bit jumbled it’s an incredibly effective score that has a visceral intensity to match the game and raise it to a memorable level. It’s very nice to have this album with all the themes nicely arranged.

Red Dead Redemption by Bill Elm & Woody Jackson (Review)

Bill Elm & Woody Jackson’s score to Red Dead Redemption can be labeled as if Ennio Morricone’s music had a baby with Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ music and it was raised by Quentin Tarantino. It’s terrific even if a bit repetitive. I think a lot of Red Dead fans were wondering initially how the score would be handled.

The two musicians were picked by Rockstar mainly due to their style. They were part of a band called Friends Of Dean Martinez, which was a group that was essentially a Southwestern alternative rock band. They played instrumental pieces that pretty much all sounded like Morricone homages. Red Dead Revolver for the PS2 was source tracked by tons of classic western scores from Ennio Morricone, Luis Bacalov, Bruno Nicolai, Gianfranco Reverberi and many more. It all became an iconic interweaving that formed a unified sonic identity to the spaghetti western game. In short it made the game damn amazing. However, I can't imagine it was cheap using all that music.

So, when Rockstar took the game into their “free roam” style and went with an original score I think I was not alone in being curious as to what it would be. The good news is that the score is a full fledged Morricone mock-up. The use of trumpets and synths give it a fresh edge, but it’s such a befitting score. The only quarrel I have with it is that it’s very repetitive. The main theme is great and a few of the action cues are amazing, but overall what we have here can be labeled as non structured loops. Something that you can’t really blame on the composers considering this is a “free roam” game and the cutscenes are incredibly short when they do happen. “(Theme From) Red Dead Redemption” is quite fantastic and there are a few other stand out tracks.

The important part is that amongst all the Morricone homages the score still has its own identity. You could hear a snippet of this music and immediately think “Red Dead Redemption”, and that’s thanks to the impressive use of brass instruments.

Part of the game takes place in Mexico and the music picks up a Mexican feel to it when you head south of the border. Unfortunately that’s not really represented on this release.

Am I happy with this score for this amazing game? Absolutely. It’s a terrific accompaniment, but it could have used a little more muscle and could have been less repetitive. Just look at how bold Morricone was with his scores.