Wednesday, 27 May 2009

On The Desk II

In my in-tray this week – and indeed On The Desk – is a steadily growing pile of CDs which I’ve sadly had to ignore due to other commitments of varying interest. That said, there has been time to sample a handful of delights this week, including one of the more anticipated scores of the ‘Summer’.

Indeed, Hans Zimmer’s follow up to the scintillating gothic-fest that was The Da Vinci CodeAngels and Demons – has graced my ears a number of times since I hungrily grabbed it from the FedEx man’s clutches last week. Zimmer frames (!) Ron Howard’s scaled down religious thriller in a similar musical shroud to that of their first Robert Langdon ‘adventure’ though, like the movie, it feels somewhat more focused. The single location and smaller ensemble (casting wise) means there is far less to get confused about, and fewer bases to cover for the composer. With that in mind – and continuing a trend somewhat – the composer presents his lengthy score in just a few tracks, nine to be exact. Yes it’s the kind of album that will send some people completely mad as it is impossible to know what you’re listening to in relation to what you heard in the film.

This is a classic album production for the composer/producer, with all-encompassing track titles such as ‘Air’, ‘Fire’ and ‘503’ giving absolutely nothing away. Is that a problem though, really? Well I’m on the fence I suppose – as I’ve mentioned in my blog before, back in the day composers would record the soundtrack album specially and call it ‘Music from the Motion Picture’, thus creating a rounded listening experience and musical titbit for consumers to enjoy. Arranging and splicing score cues into lengthy suites – as Zimmer does here – is equally maddening for some, but like the ‘Music from’ albums it somehow captures the work in a neat little designed package. I watched the film having heard the album and immediately knew that the disc bore no relation to what I was watching, and in some instances I picked out perfectly nice cues that weren’t on the disc (such as a rather nice boy soprano solo for an early scene at the Vatican). The music in the film is immediate, sometimes relentless and – as my friend commented on leaving the cinema – rarely gives you time to breathe, so constant is its ascension to a seemingly unending precipice (that’s BeekBlog guff for Cliffhanger).

The album then opens with the end credits music – titled ‘160 BPM’, which is possibly how fast the audience’s pulse is racing by the time the cue ends. It is a brilliant album opener – despite being the film closer – and pretty much overshadows everything that follows. The rhythmic patter of the faux pipe organ, incessant drums and ecclesiastic choir all soar above quite a kitsch, almost 80s electronic beat. It’s all very Hans Zimmer though and is somewhat refreshing in a bizarre way; we’ve heard so much from his cohorts and protégés that you really do forget – as a colleague put it to me – how bloody good Zimmer can actually be. This track shows him on fine form indeed and I’d quite happily rate the entire disc on this piece alone; it left me breathless. There is another forty or so minutes of music left though, so I’ll try not to peak too early, even if Hans did. With ‘God Particle’ we get some of the music from the opening of the film as a familiar motional string line precedes Zimmer’s simple climbing theme from The Da Vinci Code, this time given life by violinist Joshua Bell. The instrument – and performance – gives it a matured and more emotive feel. It’s a strong thematic though and is warmly welcomed back, along with the threat motif from the first film. Initially associated with the shadowy monk assassin, it is used here for the similarly shadowy clergy-killer. Both thematic threads rear their heads amongst a sea of programmed loops, atmosphere and choral hue (‘God Particle’ quickly disappears from the memory by the way after Bell bows out). Bassy chords, shrieks and all kinds of eerie patter remind me of Hannibal, as Da Vinci did in places, with the grandiose choir and creepy pipe organ found here and there, for example in ‘Air’ and ‘Fire’, raising the hairs rather successfully. Bell returns in the latter, alongside all kinds of shimmer and twinkle, creating a rather mystical sheen before atmospherics take over once again.

The production design here is pretty special to be fair and you can’t fail to be impressed by the depth and nuance created by Zimmer and Co. There’s further excitement in ‘Black Smoke’ with much percussive wizardry and a return to the ‘160 BPM’ sound, while things calm down a little in ‘Science and Religion’ and the bassy ‘Immolation’. All in all it’s a very glossy soundtrack album which concerns itself more with a listening experience, rather than the original intent of the music in the film itself. A gripping listen... mostly.

Another shadowy film to turn heads in recent week is Tomas Alfedson’s gothic drama Let The Right One In. With a score by Swedish composer Johan Soderqvist, the atmospheric story about a bullied boy who befriends a young female Vampire has been winning over viewers the world over. While it is a visually beautiful piece of work, a lot of the film’s impact comes from the music by Soderqvist, who supports the story with a brilliantly balanced score that both lurks in the shadows and casts a melodic light on the unlikely friendship that blossoms between Oscar and Eli. MovieScore Media released the music on limited edition CD, and as a download, and their album presentation is a generous one that takes in many highlights, including the graceful, yet hugely emotive ‘Eli’s Theme’. Other standouts include the sweet piano-led ‘Then We Are Together’ and the gorgeous guitar take on Eli’s theme in ‘Going Home’, while darkness enraptures in the likes of ‘The Slaughter’ and ‘Virginia in Flames’. A fine album of a very fine score.

Finally, and adding a splash of colour to my pile, is the very yellow-sleeved Shifty. Released by Silva Screen Records, the British indy drama about two friends reunited after four years having gone down very different paths, was treated to a very listenable contemporary score by composing team Molly Nyman and Harry Escott. A small ensemble piece – performed by The Samphire Band – it feels wonderfully fresh and appealing, with a street-ish vibe that doesn’t alienate. The touch is really very light, with a slight electropop edge in the likes of ‘Busting My Ghaand’, while piano and guitar perform repetitive patterns in ‘Charming Glen’ and ‘Leave It All Behind’ (with Violin). The influence of Nyman’s composer-father is evident in this respect, but the younger Nyman takes his lead and runs in her own direction with well conceived edginess and colour. The final score cue ‘Play The Tape’ continues the feeling of ‘Leave It All Behind’, but with added percussion and is a definite highlight and an all encompassing example of what Molly and Harry have achieved here. All in all it’s a surprising listen, and not at all what you’d imagine from the subject matter; in fact the film itself has surprised many offering one of the most real portrayals of a heterosexual relationship between men seen on screen, not to mention the contemporary take on Islam. For those reasons Shifty has been celebrated, and the music should be too.

More On The Desk coming soon, including La-La-Land’s Heroes score album, John Murphy’s The Last House on the Left and a look at the recent music of British composer Jennie Muskett.

Angels & Demons is in cinemas right now, with Hans Zimmer’s score available on Sony Classical. Let The Right One In is still doing the rounds on screen in the UK and Johan Soderqvist’s engaging score is available on CD from Screen and as a download from the usual places. Visit for more information. Finally Shifty is available on CD and as a download from Check it out.

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