Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Albums, Oscars and A Single Man

Ahh, there are only so many hours in the day. Fact. If I were to sit and listen to all the music on my desk in one go, I’d probably have grown a considerable amount of facial hair by the time I was done (and then I’d turn around and there would be even more CDs on the doormat).

It isn’t easy, deciding what to give optimum reviewing time to, particularly when you’re the only regular reviewer for a website that needs constant updates and attention in other areas – news, articles, artwork… It’s all about time management you see, which is even more difficult when you remember that you don’t get paid for a single thing you do. There’s a ‘real’ job to consider, not to mention a life away from ‘the desk’. It brings me, often, to wonder why I do this. The answer? I love film music. Fact.

It occurred to me this morning – in fact it occurred to me last week when I was able to do absolutely nothing about it – that with all my spare time and focus going on Music from the Movies.com, I haven’t given anywhere near enough time to this blog. That makes me sad, because I really rather enjoy hacking away at this thing and sharing my thoughts across a variety of scores, events and moments. So today, this glorious Tuesday in March, seems like the best time to do so. I had expected to be working on a triple feature on multiple Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker, but as is often the case Rudy’s enthusiasm for his subject has seen him delving ever so much deeper into the film, the music, the people and their collective hidden depths. With that in mind I am left with time to ponder the pile in front (and behind) me.

There are CDs in a line to my left in my in-tray… These are ear-marked for my ‘full attention’ and include Christopher Young’s Creation, Shirley Walker’s The Flash and a recent British re-recording of Bernard Herrmann’s Citizen Kane and Hangover Square. I’m excited about the latter, for I love Bernard Herrmann.

Beneath the desk are more piles, one is a pile of discs I have already reviewed (phew!) and the others are titles that haven’t made ‘the cut’. That seems a bit harsh I guess, but there are only so many hours in the day and I can’t review everything. But perhaps this is as good a time as any to give at least some of them the attention they deserve?

There’s a rather nice album of music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, released at the end of 2009 by Decca, called ‘Playing The Piano’. This particular copy is a Deluxe Edition and includes the album ‘Out of Noise’ as a bonus. I’m rather partial to a bit of piano music, particularly solo, experimental stuff… I adore the Einaudi’s and Nyman’s of this world (though I suppose there are only one of each, ha) and I think Sakamoto can sit comfortably alongside. Anyway, ‘Playing The Piano’ finds the composer at the keyboard performing solo piano versions of his film works. The obvious ones are accounted for, and stand out, i.e. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and The Last Emperor. The latter is a favourite of mine and the piano rendering is rather special… I have to say I did hope for something from his gorgeous contribution to the Babel soundtrack, but it isn’t here and we’ll have to live with it. ‘Bibo no Aozora’? I think.

Nuzzled next to that is Chris Young’s effervescent Drag Me To Hell, which I frankly can’t get enough of. As soon as I saw the track ‘Concerto To Hell’ I knew it would be a bit special. Such a title usually means the composer was inspired enough by their own creation to have a play around with it and create something fun and exciting. Elfman is good at doing that as well – as his rather listenable album for The Wolfman shows. I don’t have a hard copy of the latter score… but I imagine I would have given it my ‘full attention’ if I had. (An insight: It’s hard enough to keep on top of actual physical CDs, let alone albums that I can’t see or touch… So if it’s on my hard drive it is not going to get a review. Fact.)

MovieScore Media are ever so prolific, which makes my job harder than ever and I find I have to be ultra picky. Daniel Pemberton’s Attila The Hun is marvellous, really, and Jeff Grace’s I Sell The Dead is rather infectious and brilliant – how could it not be, the man is fantastic. Suffice to say I hope to give Jeff’s The House Of The Devil my fuller attention in the not too distant future. I’m a big fan of Alfons Conde as well, and Guy Farley, so it pained me to have to demote both The Beckoning and Knife Edge to the lower pile. Both are dark and brooding and beautiful in places – the former, by Conde, features some super choral work. MovieScore really do love a good horror/thriller it seems, and I’m always up for that.

I have a pile of German albums to get through, courtesy of our friends at Cinema Musica… Richard G. Mitchell’s Der Seewolf remains in the upper pile for now – it’s rather good. The others, including Annette Focks’ Romy and Karim Sebastian Elias’ delightfully Zimmer-esque Das Geheimnis der Wale, have bags of charm and are hugely listenable. Such discoveries make me happy and remind me – which needs to happen – that there is more to film music than what comes out of Hollywood and London. Again, only so many hours etc. blah blah; you know the score.

La La Land Records are another prolific label and I very much enjoyed their double album of music from The Fugitive by James Newton Howard. I can’t say it’s one of his most inspiring scores for me personally, but it’s good to have such a generous presentation of a major title. Their release of John Frizzell’s Legion was also welcome. Once again Frizzell has created an immediate sound for the score.

This week saw the 82nd Academy Awards… The Oscars used to be a highlight of the year for me; there was a time when I would stay up until the wee small hours, with a flask of coffee to keep me awake. That was before Sky Movies took over the broadcast and I don’t have it, so my experience of the last few years’ ceremonies has been after the fact. With the announcement of no song performances this year, I felt as though I wouldn’t be missing out on much. Then, when a little bird informed me that the nominated scores would be presented through interpretive dance, I knew it was best left alone. I immediately recalled the last time they did ‘Dance The Score’; horrific memories of a man stomping and slapping about on the stage to John Williams’ ‘Hymn to the Fallen’ make me shudder even today. Why, AMPAS? WHY?

Still I was pleased with the result this year. Michael Giacchino is a great composer – certainly busy – and I’m chuffed that his beautiful score for Up stole the show. Sure it wasn’t edgy, or even cutting edge like the other nominees (save for Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was similarly charming and simplistic). Up is a classic, emotional orchestral score in the old tradition and I’m glad the Academy were won over by its charm. I'm hoping that Walt Disney Records will finally see fit to release the darn thing on CD now; come on Disney, a Golden Globe, two Grammys, a BAFTA and an Academy Award and we can't even put the album on the shelf?!

I was surprised not to see Abel Korzeniowski’s A Single Man in the list this year. His score – which featured additional music by the great Shigeru Umebayashi – was nominated for a BAFTA. I saw the film this week and was blown away by the music… Everything about the film was beautifully considered, every frame, every colour tone (and change of tone), while the music was part and parcel of the film’s design. At times it would bend out of shape, distorting along with George’s world view and sense of self, then it would flourish with the most incandescent beauty. Ultimately a simple score, with emphasis on strings, it added so much to the film experience. There’s a moment in the score where the score takes on the soul of Bernard Herrmann, as George’s world is coloured and warmed by the appearance of a sweet, innocent, pretty girl. It was a real Vertigo moment and it made the hair on the back of my neck rise. Genius. The album is available from Relativity Records it seems… I need it.

There’s plenty more to say, more discs lurking beneath the desk and more besides lurking in my mind; but I will leave it there for now. Anyway, I think it’s time for a cup of tea – what can I say? I’m British. Fact.