Man Of Steel- Score Review

Man of Steel Logo

Release Date: 11th June 2013
Composer(s): Hans Zimmer
[Additional Music By: Junkie XL, Atli Örvasson, Andrew Kawcyznski, Steve Mazzaro and Geoff Zanelli]
Length: 87:49 (standard edition)
118:18 (deluxe edition)
Recorded At/By: Eastwood Scoring Stage, Burbank, California
Label: Watertower Music

Why You Should…
For Hans Zimmer evokes a degree of awe and muscularity with his befitting new, action packed efforts for the titular character.

Why You Shouldn’t…
The startling lack of subtlety, romance or indeed, intelligent writing will detract the more learnt listener.

***

The notion of rebooting a franchise has transcended into second nature within the illusive world of Hollywood. Whether it be superheroes, heralded action thrillers, or even the more relaxed genres of filmmaking, it is somewhat of a disguised pleasure to see these characters materialise onscreen once more, and the audience is inevitably lead on a trail of nostalgia, and conventionalisation. Since the reboot of the Batman franchise, many other franchises followed suit, vigorously conditioning said characters and mythos into perceived standards of today to re-earn the “cool” status once more. A prime example of this is Zack Snyder’s polarising but ultimately eye-opening superhero feature, MAN OF STEEL. Perhaps no other attempt in the colourful realm of superhero-based filmmaking has ever ripped the critics and audiences away from each other, with both praise and punishment being hurtled from multiple angles. Drawing upon the panels of an American cultural icon, Superman’s origin story was adapted to suit to contemporary times, proof that the “most revered in the pantheon” (echoed by Henry Cavill, who convincingly won acclaim for his transcendence upon Christopher Reeve’s legacy) still thrives due its timelessness even today. Snyder’s take on the Man of Steel revolved around the internal conflict of Clark Kent, and as to whether he should unleash his mysterious powers if he is to defend Earth from a seemingly sinister General Zod, now hellbent on avenging Krypton’s demise. With more than enough gross generated worldwide to accumulate plans for a shared universe, in the vein of their counterpart, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, albeit to engineer that universe in reverse to provide contrast, Man Of Steel opened the doors for audiences to begin exploring the DC comic mythos in detail.

With Man Of Steel’s release, came a more healthier appreciation of Superman, though not without its detractors. Lack of character development and pacing were the main issues that both critics and audiences alike shared with one another. Where the film succeeded however, was its casting, the attention to comic book mythology, and visual effects. The score, by Hans Zimmer, elicited an array of responses- quite simply put, favoured by the masses, chastised by the elite. Speculation initially flew rampant of the composer’s involvement with the project, though Zimmer was quick to dismiss the claims. It’s interesting to think that when the composer seems as if he’s about to settle for something a bit more on the lighter end of the spectrum, out come the giants in the industry to pull him back for more explosive output! Argued Zimmer, that his fear of being compared with the iconic John Williams was his main concern, Snyder must have coerced him a great deal to accept the project. In some regards, Zimmer’s concerns were understandable- the daunting responsibility of stepping into the most prolific composer of our generation, and altering the compositional DNA for one of cinema’s legendary characters is no mean feat. To which degree Zimmer performed this, is arguable. Continue reading “Man Of Steel- Score Review”

Advertisements

San Andreas- Score Review

Release Date: 12th May 2015 (REGULAR RELEASE)
Composer(s): Andrew Lockington
Length:  1:12:12
Recorded At:  […] unknown
Label: Watertower Music

*

Why You Should…
Andrew Lockington’s remarkable handling of the project yields some fine calibre highlights in a raw, powerful score.

Why You Shouldn’t…
Confusion is raised several times, over the layering of styles and themes within several cues, and its application onscreen.
The revitalisation of summer blockbuster entertainment resumes in Brad Peyton’s SAN ANDREAS. Disaster films are sub-tropes of the human desire to protect one another from the possessive dangers Mother Nature may bring, and with them come a sense of low-key appeal, with plenty of eye candy and a multitude of special effects in array. The screenplay, however has always been a weaker point of aspect in such films, and commonly serves as a deal-breaker to many within the orientated demographic of audience.  San Andreas’ packaging of the familiar elements within an earthquake disaster film is more than adequate to compensate for its narrative shortcomings, instead wielding enough on-screen presence satiated by charisma and a thunderous arsenal of visual illusions to encourage the average viewer to invest their time watching it. It should come of no surprise, that this film is one of the better examples within the genre.
The film follows the course of divorced Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter pilot Raymond Gaines (portrayed by the ever-likeable Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) whose unquestionably workmanlike daily routines are interrupted by an earthquake of formidable magnitude and high impact. A stereotypical ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and an exuberant daughter (Alexanddra Daddario) are thrown in the mix, and soon the lives of the innocent civilians at risk became as much of a priority for Gaines as do his loved ones. With additional support from several resourceful characters that are intertwined by the story, Gaines must find a way to protect them from the oncoming gargantuan at play. An assortment of reviews, ranging from mixed to positive awaited the film’s release, but had little to no influence on the reasonably decent box office undertakings.

The application of Andrew Lockington as composer was a surprisingly cerebral choice- though limited in his body of work, Lockington has proved that he is perfectly capable of applying traditional symphonic mold to a contemporary canvas. Noted examples would be his stellar work on the Journey To The…franchise (also with Dwayne Johnson), as well as his City Of Ember. As such, Lockington’s handling of the scenes are no less than exemplary, relying on harnessing emotive response instead of wild action rhythms that one may commonly find in most generic efforts today.  “Main Theme” is audible proof of this, Lockington’s use of wavering strings and a soulful boy soprano voice highlighting the fragility of nature well. Counterpoint between the strings can be heard in the latter half of the piece, and the tone is surprisingly optimistic in terms of rendering. Subtle horns dictate the growing heroism displayed by the characters onscreen. “Natalie’s Rescue” harnesses the bleak feel, before using a drum-kit to pound tension to accentuate the chase.  The fluctuation in meter is commendable, as is the exploration between the strings and the brass and the required sense of desperation is evident. Vicious, accented staccato strings help enunciate this further. You have to give credit to Lockington for using more than just a horn blast to accompany the scenes( though in some contexts, that technique is more than appropriate). The rhythm towards the end of the cue is captivating in its buildup. The emotional core takes prevalence in “Caltech”, as the main theme is fragmented hauntingly, as if surveying ruin. This brief cue is expertly handled, with fleeting piano and string warmth to resonate in the latter half.

Lockington continues to explore the emotional focus in “Divorce Papers”, with solemn cellos emphasising the separation of two lovers. It’s not cheesy in the slightest, and nimble in its purpose, with intimacy painted by the strings and occasional piano interludes. A subtheme of sorts is gradually introduced by the piano, rising and falling meticulously with the flow of heartbreak. The latter half is nostalgic in its oboe renditions, but ends mysteriously. “Hoover Dam” returns Lockington to the action, with intelligent but wild horns complemented by the relentless strings and crashing timpanis.  Sections of this cue evoke memories of some vintage Williams scores (a good example being Jurassic Park). The theme then is sung by the choir, before the looming electronics take control. “San Francisco” brings the piano into the field again, with wistful traversal of the destroyed city. To contrast this, he uses the strings to give hope to the situation, with valiant horns sounding out gorgeously. This cue is a definite highlight for relaxed minds. An ominous tone is set in “Connecting The Dots”,with a low pumping electronic backing under some turmoil in the strings. The brief woodwind interjections generate curiosity well.

In “Emma’s Rescue”, the monstrous percussion and sliding strings make the blood boil. Tension is handled superbly by Lockington, and one may find themselves asking for more outward efforts from him as such. The horns become suddenly heroic, with a propulsive force giving way to panic among the violins, the sinking feeling evident again. The unashamed yet controlled bombast within this cue showcases Lockington’s innovative action writing. A cutting, abrasive electronic wave is referenced repeatedly throughout the cues, perhaps an allegory for the scenes of destruction. The tone become drastically out of control in the latter half, with the strings and horns flailing for control. This frantic pursuit continues in “Escaping The Tower”, the brass marching with the bouncing strings in determination in vigorous stature. “Need A News Feed” employs advantage over the synths, tastefully handled, with a more melancholy feel, but robust in its pulsating movements. At 1:20, some truly cool waves of electronics are interwoven into the cue, a cold sound proving highly effective. “Blake’s Trapped” uses the horns to create animalistic timbre at the start, before those horns and fleeting strings return. This score never tires the listener with its mastery of tonal control, and the theme is inserted commendably. “Remembering Mallory” flips the tone into reflection of the character, with some mournful trombones and horns, and wailing cellos, and electronic manipulation gives this heavy cue balance amidst the shaking ground. Another poignant highlight, as the bravery overshadows the sorrow at the end of the cue.

“Coit Tower Destroyed” relaxes the tempo suitably, but timpani flourishes and gentle strings make their mark. It’s clear that Lockington gave just as much focus to humans as well as the earthquake, and the synthesis of these responsibilities is remarkable. The subtheme is mildly reintroduced from “Divorce Papers”, the violins striking the strings with brute force. “Skydive” is instantly brooding, with the ballet-like strings wonderful in this highlight, the best cue of the score. A powerful array of horns huff and puff in unison, and the percussion transcends the territory to epic heights. Distorted electronics breathe life into this cue too. “Stanchion Collapse” send the listener into a wild frenzy, the strings scaling against the weighted horns, and the addition of shakuhachi flutes and tribal drum patterns are interesting in the middle of the cue. Discord is conveyed here admirably, that abrasive electronic synth screeching against the horns. “Plan B” is a cue that is given a depth of soul with the bleak strings and tonality overshadowing the low double basses. At 1:49, driving optimism is clear as the crescendo grinds to an ear-shattering pause, before grim electronics end the cue.

“Tsunami” continues to toy with post-modern Zimmer-like video game writing some high violins and choral grace present alongside the troubling brass section. Again, the frenetic writing is complemented by the shifts through the chord progressions. On a side note, it is refreshing to hear raw, powerful glissandos to accentuate tension. There is plenty of activity from the percussive front, the Taikos deserving a mention “Extinction” reuses the choral motif from the previous cue, with serenading strings and tubular bells serving as supporting forces of brief grandeur. A sense of intimacy is heard in “The Kiss”, flutes gorgeously bracketed along the strings, as the harp is plucked lushly. The thematic identity is fragmented further, with impressive interpretations from the choir. The direction of control upon the woodwinds remarkable in this fluttering cue, as the horns grow brave once more to overshadow the characters’ fears. The masculine driving rhythmic force is subdued with the romanticism, leading to some wild stomping from the percussion. “I’ll Bring Her Back” continues to flirt with the fusion of discord and melody, the chase-like feel conveyed superbly by the energetic vigour of the string section. Lockington blends romanticism and tension commendably well, and it is that strength that bolsters these final cues. Sinister strings rumble, much like the land that these people walk on. An old piano is used to create a grinding effect for the destruction of buildings, perhaps the most unusual element in this score.

In “I Love You Dad,” a warm piano couples against soothing synths to enunciate the paternal affection Johnson shows for Daddario onscreen- this infuses tenderness, before an unpredictable blast of timpani rumbling and dooming horns take over, the meter fluctuating akin to a crack in a fault line. The addition of tubular bells alongside synths is appropriately abrasive. “Resuscitation” is a choral delight, the main theme whispering breaths of life into the cue in synonymous fashion. At six minutes and thirty-eight seconds, this cue is oddly reminiscent of Zimmer’s Aurora tribute cue, the emotion flooding in admirably well. Parts of this cue does evoke “Chevaliers De Sangreal” to an extent, the influence being ostensibly clear by now. A sense of aftermath is definitely felt, the toning back of instrumentation a calmer presence that offers a good soothing piece to zone out to. Those horns sing valiantly with the strings towards the end, a fitting end to the cue. The hyperactive score ends with “San Andreas End Credits”, the subtheme being the main identity this time round, but thankfully, the romanticism is washed over the chopping strings, with ornamentation from the flutes and even the choir here and there. The chord progressions are sheer nostalgia, evoking some Horner scores from the 90s. Then there is, of course, the Sia song to contend with: “California Dreamin’ modernised power anthem with stomping bass drums and tinkling piano with the reverb of the haunting choir. While it adds no value to the overall score, it does serve as a relaxation point for the score’s ultimatum.

There isn’t any major criticism that can be flung towards this raw beast of a score. Though repeated listens are a must for one to fully acknowledge the multiple themes interwoven, the balance between styles of writing and scale are as perfect as any director for a film like this could ask for. Lockington has offered an intelligent score which employs the tool of rhythm well to sustain momentum. Certain sections in cues are examples of this, though the hyperactive cerebral writing wasn’t always necessary.  The romanticism has been well handled, and is pleasant in its softer portions. There are times when the music may raise questions for the application of scenes, but it’s rare for a film such as San Andreas to be bestowed with a fine workman score of high calibre, and its merely a pleasant reminder of how well the carefully structured balance of orchestration and electronics count for a final product.

Music in connection to the film: [****] 4/5
Music as a sole listening experience: [*****] 5/5

Overall Consensus: [*****]  5/5

***
Track Listing:
1)San Andreas Main Theme        (all cues 1-23 by Andrew Lockington)
2)Natalie’s Rescue
3)Caltech
4)Divorce Papers
5)Hoover Dam
6)San Francisco
7)Connecting The Dots
8)Emma’s Rescue
9)Escaping The Tower
10)Need A News Feed
11)Blake’s Trapped
12)Remembering Mallory
13)Coit Tower Destroyed
14)Skydive
15)Stanchion Collapse
16)Plan B
17)Tsunami
18)Extinction
19)The Kiss
20)I’ll Bring Her Back
21)I Love You Dad
22)Resuscitation
23)San Andreas End Credits
24)California Dreamin’            (song by Sia)

Woman In Gold- Score Review

Release Date: 1st April 2015 (DIGITAL RELEASE)
                        1st June 2015 (PHYSICAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Martin Phipps & Hans Zimmer
Length: 40:47 (36:19 as score alone)
Recorded At: By the London Sessions Orchestra
Label: Sony Music Classical

*

Why You Should…
Within this excruciatingly short but tempered soundtrack, therein lies an impactful contribution from Phipps, and some guest noteworthy performances by Zimmer.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If arthouse scores are venomous to the less stagnant mind, for this effort will instead serve as a gentle lullaby.

The obsession with art as a prized possession and/or personal belonging is an ancient concept when it comes to Hollywood. Still, yet deep, nuanced and layered, these timeless paintings serve as a quiet, subtle reflection of influence. Such is the case of Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee who had relocated to Los Angeles just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Aged, yet relentless in her familial pursuit, WOMAN IN GOLD is the biopic of how she fought with resilience to secure a series of paintings of her ancestors from the art restitution board in Austria. The eponymous title refers to her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, and the film’s narrative follows Helen Mirren(Tatiana Maslany in her younger years) in a bid to reclaim her rightful possession from the restitution, even escalating as far as the Supreme Court of the United States. Her victory is fondly remembered by officials and admirers as the Republic of Austria V Altmann 2004, and showcases a strong supporting performance by Ryan Reynolds as her persevering advocate. Directed by Simon Curtis, mixed reviews awaited the film.

As convention would have it, relatively obscure composer Martin Phipps, famed for his contributions to the BBC would collaborate with the ever-popular Hans Zimmer, to score this courthouse drama. Phipps, whose last noteworthy release was the cult TV program Peaky Blinders, would gain wider exposure with the scale of the cast and crew involved within the project, and for Zimmer, it was merely another prototypical day in the office, having scored the robotic dystopian film, CHAPPIE. The most interesting aspect to observe about their collaborative efforts is the unexpected, definite identification of their respective efforts on the score. With only two songs mildly interrupting the cohesive flow, the end result is a short soundtrack that garners intimate moments.

Ignoring the opening blues number ‘O Mary Don’t You Weep’ by Deren Johnson, Phipps’ contribution opens the score, with ‘Hotel Jazz’– a cue that lives up to its title, with warm piano playfully conveying the stereotypical hotel scenery, while subtly acknowledging Phipps’ sublime investment in the niche genre. Zimmer’s first chord appears after ‘Deh, Vieni Alla Finestra’ by Dawid Kimberg in ‘Restless’. The contrast of the piano writing between the two is evident, with Zimmer opting for an eerie echoing soundscape. It does, however convey the title’s meaning well, with haunting strings towards the end.
‘Maria Altmann’ is Phipps’ character suite for the protagonist, the melancholy, sorrowful atmosphere integrating with her age and internal emptiness in workmanlike fashion. The piano is the focus of the score, a tired but nevertheless effective technique applied by composers when scoring war-related films. There is a sense of mild beauty fragmented within the theme, and succeeds in reaching a lusher feel in the listener. Phipps continues with ‘The Beldevere’, the electronic manipulation for atmospheric finality more invasive yet effective with touch. The lonesome piano continues to sing in the darkness, but is thankfully backed by some interesting string writing, with the cello resounding emotively. Generic droning occupies the latter half of the cue, a shame considering the promise the opening showed within the cue.

‘Vienna’ marks Zimmer’s return. It is curious that Zimmer has only scored six of the cues, a refreshing change from his dominance in prior collaborations. It is, however, equally refreshing to hear him explore the piano further, a refection of his more raw tendencies. The cue does boast some of Zimmer’s more intelligent writing, abysmally downplayed by the abrupt ending. Phipps also handles the character suite for ‘Randy Schoenberg’, as well as co-writing the next cue ‘Open The Door’ with Zimmer. The former cue pulsates with electronica, a more rhythmic force driving the piano this time. The chord progression is a commendable area, having heard only tepid sequencing thus far. The latter cue opens with a nostalgic cello, and brooding (at last!) strings help further enunciate Altmann’s tragic past. The cello whines helplessly, and thirst for instrumental variation is satisfied adequately.  ‘Apotheke’ opts for a solemn brass/woodwind start, with Gladiator– like melodic development. The piano pervades the piece again, with discord effectively used. ‘Fleeing Vienna’ is the lengthiest cue at four minutes by Zimmer, as discordant piano and wavering warm pads(?) mature into string writing of a tense calibre. One of the better suspense cues in Zimmer’s illustrious career, the sinister horns are heard halfway into the cue, and harsh force is unleashed. The evacuation and resulting separation from family is well depicted in this cue, Zimmer’s minimal style painting the on-screen tension very well. He continues with ‘Flight 12 To Cologne’, the eerie moods more resonating this time. A low register, constant pounding is the backbone of the cue, and gives a sinking feeling. It is however, Zimmer’s weakest cue in terms of melody, though the brass work is subtly handled.

Phipps returns briefly in ‘First Hurdle Down’, the tonality differentiation a godsend in this otherwise troubled score. One of the better cues in this short effort. The growing promise on the strings and the pulsating electronics is complemented with warm piano.  ‘Art Theft’ is Zimmer’s last cue in this OST,  the descending piano sequences somewhat of a highlight against the distorted piano. The majority of his statements, particularly on the horns are evocative of Sherlock Holmes. Zimmer’s two note progressions are his calling card, this time opting for a more conventional, lighter, fleeting approach. The variation in tonality, more than compensates. Phipps takes responsibility for the remainder of the score, with ‘Statues’. The minimal strings and electronics contrast nicely, the raw cello against the brooding synths offering a brief highlight. ‘Final Testimony’ takes advantage of the lonely piano once more, with an appealing statement in the higher regions, mildly conveying a sense of finality. The score alone is simplistic, but adequately gives life to the presence on screen. A crescendo can be seen as a bit of a refreshment!
Slow horns and strings are heard in ‘The Language Of Our Future’, the clarinet/woodwinds in general taking control over the cellos and violins. A hint of refined classical elegance is what gives this cue some life, though at its own gradual pace. There is a sense of optimism layered within the cue, and supposedly, that does say something. The piano returns for the final cue, ‘I Lived Here’, as the cellos aid the soft piano in conveying nostalgia and finality. The strings are given resurrection for this final cue.

From an analytical point of view, it’s hard to assess this score in one single take, because the slow tempi and sole reliance on the piano alone will lull listeners to sleep. While Zimmer does make an impact in his contributions, with more refined and gentler exploration, Phipps is the composer who ultimately carries the voice of Altmann on his shoulders. Repeated listens are required to fully appreciate the work at hand, but deep within its brief pieces, there are melodious highlights to be sought. For a film like this, unfortunately, it inevitably deserves better. The lowering of expectations can prove key to your opinion on this score.

Music in connection to the film: [***] 3/5
Music as a sole listening experience: [**1/2] 2.5/5

Overall Consensus: [** 1/2] 2.5/5

***
Track Listing:
1) O Mary Don’t You Weep- Deren Johnson
2) Hotel Jazz (Phipps)
3) Deh, Vieni Alla Finestra – Dawid Kimberg
4) Restless (Zimmer)
5) Maria Altmann (Phipps)
6) The Beldevere (Phipps)
7) Vienna (Zimmer)
8) Randy Schoenberg (Phipps)
9) Open The Door (Zimmer, Phipps)
10) Apotheke (Phipps)
11) Fleeing Vienna (Zimmer)
12) Flight 12 To Cologne (Zimmer)
13) First Hurdle Down (Phipps)
14) Art Theft (Zimmer)
15) Statues (Phipps)
16) Final Testimony (Phipps)
17) The Language Of The Future (Phipps)
18) I Lived Here (Phipps)

Wolf Totem – Score Review

Release Date: 24th February 2015 (PHYSICAL RELEASE)
26th February 2015 (DIGITAL RELASE)
Composer(s): James Horner
Length: 58:57
Recorded At: recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes
Label: Milan Records

*

Why You Should…
The resurgence of Horner brings with him a swooning, nostalgic soundtrack, with a powerful theme and soothing highlights.

Why You Shouldn’t…
For Horner, as ever is never free from inclusions of his own works in the score at hand.

Cross-cultural films have a flair for captivating the audience in some format or the other. Anthropological protagonists (wolves, believe it or not) serves as the primary focus of the film WOLF TOTEM, or LE DERNIER LOUP in some countries. Directed by Jean-Jacques Arnaud, the film faced proverbial development hell as it struggled to find a home, and owner, with potential suitors including famed New Zealander Peter Jackson. Despite contrasting history with Arnaud’s prior offering, Seven Years In Tibet (unsurprisingly banned in China), Arnaud filled the role of director for the film. Based in turn upon a semi-autobiographical novel synonymously titled and released in 2004 by Lu Jiamin, the core of Wolf Totem’s narrative stems from the peak period within China’s Cultural Revolution in 1967 (two years prior to the film’s setting of the novel’s events). The student protagonist leaves home from Peking to work in Inner Mongolia, in an attempt to educate shepherds. There, however, the narrative’s focus veers off course, when he becomes fascinated by the wolves of the shepherds. The deep, empathic, mutual connection between the two touches him greatly, and becomes a form of plight when a government apparatchik is sent to threaten the co-habitual harmony. The novel’s storyline itself is based deeply on Jiamin’s own personal, rather somewhat frightening encounter with wolves in the wilderness.  An inadvertent decision, Jiamin found himself mesmerized by the fluid lifestyle of the wolves, and began to reflect more on them, amidst the persuasive calls of the local clan he was staying with.  Arnaud’s bleak, raw drama film was released in Chinese, even though the director had enjoyed the novel better in French. The film opened in limited release to mixed reviews.

One of the more positive mentions included James Horner’s score. The veteran, whose last release was the stellar The Amazing Spider Man, had retracted from Hollywood after personally becoming dissatisfied with the technical approach to film scoring. The harsher, minimal tendencies of modern-day interactions between the studio and the composer left Horner uncomfortable, and he reluctantly produced no work for three solid years. Wolf Totem serves as a more than satisfying return to the foray for him, but simultaneously carries with it the weight of his prior scores in tow. The composer’s output for this project will remind the more learned listener of John Barry’s Dancing With Wolves. Horner’s key advantage is the differentiation in ethnic focus, and as such, offers strong thematic material. This is the sort of output that would have graced The Karate Kid better, back in 2010.

 The album begins with “Leaving For The Country”, in which Horner introduces the main theme on horns with unrestrained majesty and grandeur in such a short time period, siphoning ethnic variations of the theme on different instruments. A wailing voice introduces the solemn, cold strings in A minor, before the horns resound in glorious fashion. The main theme itself sounds as an odd merging of his Amazing Spiderman theme and his other previous works, perhaps Wrath of Khan in some territories, and Braveheart in others. The sheer power that the theme evokes, however, is more than enough to overshadow the underlining similarities, and can be safely classed as one of the more fluid, evocative themes in films. Horner uses this theme in every opportunity awarded to him, an element that Barry’s Dancing With Wolves suffered in. An erhu/cello and mandolin accentuate the theme’s progression’s further, and wistful oboe and sparkling piano writing add beauty to the piece. The focus on the wolves is primarily exposed in “Wolves Stalking Gazelles”, Horner providing the necessary ambiguous tension on the shakuhachi flute to signify the cunning methods that wolves use to hunt their prey. The cold strings fade and reappear with precision, and tension starts to grow near the two minute mark. A steady percussion riff gives way to unclear string writing, and brute rhythmic force is unleashed at 2:26, a wild frenzy of strings prevalent in the crescendos. The dooming horns and fast sliding strings collide further in, and a melancholy, subtle soundscape is reached. One of the most admirable distinguishable traits about Horner is his uncanny ability to write for extended periods, his lengthier suites more rewarding over the years. The same can be said about “An Offering To Tengger/ Chen Saves The Last Wolf Pup”, with tinkling piano and eerie woodwinds. The varying in meter of his piano writing harnesses emotional depth and tranquillity, perfectly appropriate for this assignment. Interestingly enough, the flowing of water is evoked well within the piece, perhaps an indirect call to the motif of nature. Thematic references are welcome. Oddly enough, at the 2:26 mark, the same rhythm reappears from the prior track. Horner showcases growing tension well, and a mild flute at the 3 minute mark is a gorgeous contrast. Those high strings of his are in the field, but he opts for a more serenading approach towards the end of the third minute, fragmenting the theme in serendipitous fashion.This motif is carried well into the fifth minute, and the nostalgic identity of the film returns in the sixth, wonderfully conveying animosity and the innocence of the wolf pups. The later half toys with the theme further, and an ethnic flute is complemented beautifully by Horner’s glistening strings, closing out with a coy horn.
Horner’s subthemes aren’t enormously memorable, but induce a powerful air of animalistic rawness. In “Wolves Attack The Horses,” a careful, uneasy series of strings villainously provoke danger in the scene set. A cunning cello reminds one of Hans Zimmer-like technique, an odd element to hear in Horner’s scores. A second wolf motif is crafted early on in the piece, with sinister horns and tapping snares giving way to a series of rising and falling strings. Crashing piano is a brilliant change of pace, with vicious strings and cymbalic flourishes to marvel while listening to. One would be forgiven if the latter half of the piece reminded them of Danny Elfman’s Batman to an extent. The infamous four-note motif is prevalent here too, and screeching violins in a higher range are present throughout. “A Red Ribbon” starts off softer, with harp and weightless strings. Thematic variations are poignant on the woodwinds and horns, and nostalgia is well and truly evoked. The mandolin is picked lightly, and the more intimate approach is refreshing.

Restless strings open “The Frozen Lake”, giving one the feeling of treading on thin ice. Growing horns and muffled timpani work very well here too.  The majestic horns sound out against the fluid flute, but the repetition of the ostinato heard at the beginning becomes irritant. Thankfully, Horner changes key and pace with a sequencing of the main theme and frantic strings.  Weighted strikes on the anvil add terror effectively, and the louder portion draws to a close. The villainous motif from Avatar is also here; sadly, Horner is unable to escape the attraction of his own works. “Discovering Hidden Dangers” is a steady tension cue, with discordant reprisals of the main theme proving effective. The solemn horns are wonderfully applied for the majority of the soundtrack, and the woodwind portions recall many a vintage Horner score. The bubbly optimism is replaced by timpani rolling and horns of a threatening structure. “Little Wolf” is a showcase of the thematic identity and its variants, that four note motif sneaking its way here too. You have to admire the way Horner stays faithful to that aforementioned identity, and decorates it with lush strings fit for a romantic art-house drama. Cute pizzicato effects sound curious, perhaps conveying the innocence of the little wolf and some humorous situations. The woodwinds are on fine form here.

“Scaling The Walls” employs low notes on brass, and tremolo strings dictate tension well. Horner’s chord progressions serve as a delightful throwback to the scores of the Golden Age, but do little to deviate from his existing material. Still, the curiosity he crafts in this cue is intelligently handled. Oboes are used in lyrical ostinatos, and minimal sliding on the strings convey the wolves’ pursuit upon land. Another brief cue is “Suicide Pact”– here, Horner strays into more tragic territory appropriately, the layered string writing heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. The theme is spun from different angles, and adds for a more bleak listening experience. The two note motif for the wolves ends the piece. “Hunting The Wolves” creates terror for the wolves, as they and their habitat are duly threatened by the apparatchik. The scratching on the strings is an innovative use of timbre, reminding of Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes. The horns rise and fall steadily. A constant rhythm in the strings and woodwinds emulates the wolves’ hurried movement. At the 4 minute mark, the strings become relaxed, more tender. Low, octave piano crashing give way to a soulful rendition of the theme once more, its poignancy everlasting in beautiful swoons. The final two cues are the shortest and longest, respectively. “Death Of A’ba” turns grim, as the opening strings heard first in the main theme are followed by sorrowful vocals, lamenting the theme with whining violins gorgeously, in this brief but tragic cue. “Return To The Wild” is a calling card for those who have enjoyed Horner’s lengthy ending suites in the past.  Solemn horns coo the theme helplessly, a sense of finality awaiting the listener. The theme is sequenced quite wonderfully in its concise statements, ranging from sadness to peace. The A minor sections are downright beautiful, and wondrous, as the final scenes play, depicting Chen embracing his interactions with the wolves in his life. A wild timpani roll flourishes, before eerie strings take precedence. The theme is unforgettable by this point, and the soaring, glistening statement plays over the credits perfectly, each section of the four bar melody extended to increase emotional weight. The higher strings are lush as the more poignant trumpets sound out unashamedly.  The cello is fluid, and free moving in this last cue. Crescendos in major keys help build towards a required, glorious, triumphant end. The two note motif is here too, and serves as a fitting end to any cue.

Wolf Totem is somewhat of a godsend. For the people, because his nostalgic, melodramatic tendencies are as always, a refreshing deviation from the more wilder norm. Horner’s powerful theme is one that will linger in the mind for a while, its intelligent, layered concoctions garnished over strong subthemes. It’s unfortunate  that this brilliant work suffers from references to his prior scores, several motifs and themes clearly lifted and sticking out like a sore thumb. In the end, one has to overshadow these tendencies, because we are all truly grateful to have heard his voice. Wolf Totem was James Horner’s final score released before his untimely passing, and there are still two more works that await us. Until then, the listener can relish this score for its epic moments.

Music in connection to the film: [*****] 5/5
Music as a sole listening experience: [**** 1/2]  4.5./5

Overall Consensus: [*****] 5/5

***

Track Listing:
1)Leaving For The Country                                               (all cues by Horner)
2)Wolves Stalking Gazelles
3)An Offering To Tengger/Chen Saves The Last Wolf Pup
4)Wolves Attack The Horses
5)A Red Ribbon
6)The Frozen Lake
7)Discovering Hidden Dangers
8)Little Wolf
9)Scaling The Walls
10)Suicide Pact
11)Hunting The Wolves
12)Death Of A’ba
13)Return To The Wild

James Horner- A Celebration.

By now, we in the film scoring community will have helplessly, quietly acknowledged the untimely passing of James Roy Horner. The effect his soulful, thematic, grandiose style of melodramatic writing left on us is an impression of immense weight.
The first score of his that brought my attention was 2009’s Avatar. The film was easy to de-construct for me, with its plot borrowed from a multitude of films, and was yet another example of James Cameron’s compensation of style through visual effects over substance. However, the greatest decision Cameron made, was to ultimately reunite with Horner, 12 years after their stupendous Titanic. Horner added a voice to the film that Cameron could not have imagined, nor we as the audience could contemplate. The gorgeous, intimate yet simplistic, stirring theme was the first to raise my heart and give it the simulation of soaring.  The intricate layers of fusion percussion, coupled with chanting and serenading woodwinds was everything that solidified my respect for the film as a whole. Even after 6 years, it remains a favourite.
Then, there’s the other recent commercial effort to contend with:The Amazing Spider Man. I had to applaud Horner for bringing back the 90s feel to a superhero film set in contemporary times, and admired how his romantic, thematic sensibilities embodied the eponymous webslinger’s return to the big screen. After many years, I could connect with the emotional side of a superhero again, and it flooded me with nostalgia. As much as I like the masculinity of Zimmer, the intimacy of Horner served as a truly refreshing change, a wonderful deviation for the norm.
Other examples that captivated me are A Beautiful Mind (‘A Kaleidoscope Of Mathematics‘ is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most beautiful cues written), Apollo 13, Glory and so forth. One of the most powerful capabilities that a composer has at his fingertips is to transcend the film itself and envelop the audience within the music, in an attempt to mask the overall product’s flaws. Someone like James Horner was a man that wrote deep, melodic spells with that power. He created soulful, memorable themes (no better example of this is the infamous Titanic), but a more intelligent example would be his stunning, lush theme for Legends Of The Fall– a film that came before my time, but one that I could grow to appreciate because of the stirring motifs.
Others will have personal favourites that differ to my own, and I respect that- it’s those differences that set apart that layers to a piece of music, and convey to a lesser extent the multiple angles from which it can be adored. Sadly, Wolf Totem was his last release before death, but also his return to the industry after a somewhat quiet period, two posthumous offerings in the form of Southpaw and The 33 yet to come and captivate us once more. We all miss his voice, but will treasure his scores for the years to come. There’s no denying he has earned his place among the greats (Rozsa, Rota, Hermann, Goldsmith, etc), but we have a legacy to remember him by.

Thank you, Sir. For all the memories.

James Roy Horner 
August 14th 1953- June 22nd 2015

Into The Storm- Score Review

Release Date: August 8th 2014 (DIGITAL)
August 19th 2014 (PHYSICAL)
Composer(s): Brian Tyler
Length: 00:47:32
Recorded At: […]* with the help of The Hollywood Studio Symphony                                                      *unknown
Label: Varese Sarabande/ Colosseum VSD

*


Why You Should…
Into The Storm possesses some strong action material, with innovation and force propelling the cues with momentum to keep action aficionados entertained for almost fifty minutes straight.

Why You Shouldn’t…
The repetition of previous material, particularly TMNT, or the severe exhaustion resulting from the lack of subtlety as whole, despite some strong highlights to be showcased within.

The sustained public interest in disaster films is one that will perplex many. Rarely do we receive a film in the genre worthy of merit or similar high calibre response, instead resulting in thinly written, unevenly fleshed characters and implausible storylines with only the weight of the groundbreaking special effects to steer it home on its haphazard course. Steven Quale’s 2014 attempt, INTO THE STORM is by no means any different. It too succumbs to the tired, tested formulaic approach to disaster films, but one can begin to see where that appeal lies. Perhaps it’s the sense of fear, the ever growing paranoia that alluringly invites the viewer in, to accepting a CGI overload as substitute for the humans at hand as easy entertainment. The film follows the found footage format (remember the Paranormal Activity films?), where the events unfold as such that an amateurish, childlike handling of an ordinary camera somehow managed to conveniently capture an impending catastrophic event.
Here, a series of storms threaten to ravage the lives of those in Silverton, Oklahoma, and follows the events of two school teachers (Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies respectively) in their subliminal efforts to put up a seemingly impossible stand against Mother Nature, and defend the ones they love from her wrath. The film opened to a response from little to no avail, however, some critics agree that there were traces of thrills within the hampered screenplay.

Brian Tyler is no stranger to these assignments; he has built himself from being able to provide these kinds of services. In an awkward way, Into The Storm is somewhat of a familial homecoming for him, having previously resurrected the infamous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to bombastic heights in Jonathan Liebesmann’s effort earlier that year. Tyler continues with the intense, raw orchestral power that he employed for the MARVEL realm, but felicitates the brooding Hans Zimmer sound well. Make no mistake, all comparisons made, this is well and truly a Tyler score.
The album begins with the title track, ‘Into The Storm’, that introduces the main theme in a succinct manner of presentation. It’s hard not to appreciate how Tyler does this with each of his scores, and his reliability on packaging a powerful theme into a likewise cohesive soundscape remains as strong as ever. A series of uneasy, eerie puffs from a Shakuhachi flute add a stereotypical air of tension, before the rumbling string ostinatos collide with the percussion patterns. A brief break is heard, before Tyler states the main theme in solemn fashion, conveying the gut-wrenching, sinking feeling well. Though quite simplistic in regard to his recent offerings, it’s exactly the type of music that accompanies the footage well. Slapping percussion, cymbal flourishes and choir add depth and soul to the piece, before a key change to a turbulent D minor brings it full circle, the horns opting to blast the main melody louder than before.
‘Atonement’ begins with the rumbling of dooming percussion, and a horn chorus abrasively rings out against a tense, A minor string section. Trumpets fluctuate between hope and despair, and the meter varies persistently, with colours of dramatic tension washing through. Wild, stomping brass makes a powerful, resonant statement. Again, similarities to his TMNT score are heard, however. Low, sinister E minor celli and strings accentuate the brooding complexity of the meteorological monster at work, and the track ends on a surprisingly high note.

Then, solemn piano is heard in ‘Fate’, as tingling guitars and slow, fleeting strings carry a variation on the main theme, and in a way, a reminiscence of James Horner’s sweeping melodramatic motifs are evoked, before firm, absolute percussive slaps signify the territory as his. There is little melodic development, as the same familial four chord sequence is used, but there is emotion within. An eerie, distorted effect is employed to avail, and some beautiful, sorrowful violin renditions of the theme are heard. A nice contrast to a brooding start enunciates Tyler’s versatility, and one is left wishing that Tyler’s body of work can boast some deeper, emotional films too. ‘Titus Versus The Tornado’ pushes around a C minor barrage of strings and taiko drums, and trumpets and brass convey the necessary heightened scope here. Dissonance is aplenty, and several string bends echo throughout. The horns continue to root the theme in, and the strings wrestle uncomfortably against the snares, a menacing brass section dominating over the rest of the orchestra. A sudden fast rhythmic movement gives way to a high string melody. Tyler also employs a gong, and thundering percussion complement a tense, unstable series of ostinatos. There is a somewhat cohesive sense of fragility and desolation punctuated by the strings in the higher region that are unfortunately overshadowed by the monstrous percussion at work here, and the piece ends on a low D held note.
    ‘Humanity Arising’ opens with the main theme on piano with a faint, distorted electronic background, and some percussion synonymous with that of a heartbeat. It’s sparse, and some delicate strings are also present, a pleasant change from the ruckus of the percussion. Bittersweet cellos forge minimal emotive response in an otherwise quick piece. The track is somewhat of a lilting lullaby in a conventional sense, but despite the toning down of the instrumentation, the air of unrest is very much evident. It’s that gentle touch, however, that will strangely spark a desire within the listener to revisit the piece once more. Alas, the mayhem returns in ‘Culmination’. Frantic strings slide under the weight of the mighty bombast of the percussion, and a noble horn bellows the theme, before augmenting it to a trumpet. A strong, appealing action statement is made near the 1 minute mark, as the thundering Taiko drums storm their way (pun intended), and clapping drums provide a rhythmically wondrous contrast. The brass section does justice in this particular track, alternating from a noble tone to that of a violent, abrasive accompaniment.  A desolate, empty piano doubles against the cello whilst cooing the main theme to an incomplete ending. You definitely can’t say there is little to no thematic reference whatsoever in this soundtrack.

‘Prelude To Phenomenon’ boasts more than an interesting title. The tonality has changed, and precocious strings and a reed pipe (?) give way to a tense chase on the cello. Major-minor alteration is evident, and controlled use of synthesised background and bass drum add a touch of awakening, an infusion of life into the cue. Soft piano tapping is interrupted by more intense puffing on the shakuhachi flute, and the cellos return. Another brief but enjoyable cue to add to Tyler’s ever-growing, expanding collection.
‘Providence’ however, adds a bleak instilment of hope into the equation, with whining violins, and the theme carried yet again on distorted piano. The higher renditions on a whittling violin, however, is what makes the thematic reference palatable this time. Chords on the piano deliver some solid backing to string despair, and those bittersweet cellos come back for another emotional cue, along with the steady but pounding drums. It’s surprisingly good to hear a composer keep reinstating his theme, but the inclusion of it in almost (if not) every track does seem like an earful.Here, treading the line carefully with balance contributes to an overall better listening experience.
The lengthiest cue comes in the form of ‘The Fire Tornado’, at 4 and a half minutes. A vicious staccato cello and string section open the piece with tumbling percussion, prior to the entry of the horns. Simultaneous key change along with subsequent meter variation flourishes in a somewhat colourful atmosphere, despite the tone requiring it to be brooding and perpetual as required. The violins slip through anvil strikes and crescendo horns to strike terror on-screen, and the strings start exploring higher regions. The brass then puffs courageously in a set of brief but effective ostinatos, and a section from ‘Atonement’ is transported to this cue. The relentless charge of the percussion draws to a close with the horns and strings dying out in unison.

‘Evacuation and Interception’ begins sombrely, with a minor major contrast coupled with a growing crescendo. Stiff, choppy string movement glides against the horns, and sinister horns take precedence this time round. A generic string glissando gives way to a statement of ‘Culmination’, and while it’s pleasant to hear these references, the gaps between these aforementioned tracks are far too short too separate the melodies apart. Ticking snare and sudden cello bursts finish things off. A tense, eerie atmosphere is cast in ‘Last Words’, those tingling guitars accompanying the now full embodiment of the introduction to the theme. The cue is akin to a frantic timebomb, ticking electronics sparsely complementing variation on the strings. There is some promising development in each and every piece, but sadly these are too short to be fully appreciated.
‘We Stand Together’ emphasises the unison of the residents in the dire situation well, the cello predominant along with a solo piano (reverbed electronically to harness hopelessness, bleak moods perfectly), and such gentler touches are refreshing amidst the chaos of the orchestra. A cunning shakuhachi flute rises to signal the storm’s arrival, and the theme’s build-up is once more evident. ‘Titus’ employs the percussive mold more innovatively, receding the brute force and optimistic military snare rhythms are very much welcomed against uplifting, heroic work from the trumpet and staccato strings.(In the film, Titus is the name of a car that the protagonists use throughout). It’s a cute moment that humbly epitomises the importance of the beloved vehicle, but Tyler maintains focus well. Another highlight.
 ‘Multiple Vortices’ is more or less a reinstatement of the tension at hand. This time, it is played out to the fore, with bleak, quiet held notes on strings and puffs on that flute. Tremolo violins and brooding cello emerge with a triumphant horn in tow. The action returns, but admittedly, some of the material for the drumming echoes his TMNT score too often. Given that the latter contained energetic bursts of orchestral force stylised with Goldsmithian traditions, one can visualise the stem of his interest in such banality!

‘Remembrance and Regret’ conveys the solemnity of the aftermath and casualties associated with bleak resonance, those hopeful strings desperately fighting for this cue to remain with interest, and to not become a ‘filler cue’, devoid of such presence. ‘Readying For Incoming Storm’, however finally drenches the cue in optimism,with steady strings and an electronic, clock-like accompaniment keeping pace. Hope is conveyed well, and the electronics surprisingly sound refreshing to the previous barrage of the orchestral dominance. The horns sing the main theme well, in a minor key but with more added romanticism. This comprises of a much better cue, despite the decrease in complexity(I could sing praises). A distorted wail cuts against the bleak puffing of the shakuhachi , to compose the latter half to an end.
‘The Power Of Nature’ opens with horn statement and sliding strings- by now they have become weary. They still manage to illustrate the theme well with expansion and triumphance, albeit the brief running time for the penultimate push. The storm then grows weaker, its final ravage presented in the last cue, ‘Aurora’. Aftermath is conveyed in bittersweet strings, and the softer tone is appropriate for a finale as such. Piano collides with victorious horn and Man Of Steel– like percussion. The cue is light, fleeting and a homecoming in its own. The melodies are more prevalent, and Tyler’s trademark guitar finishes are enjoyable in every aspect, contributing to a lusher feel, that warms the listener’s ears. Those warm, romantic strings are a highlight in this otherwise turbulent, laborious score.

Tyler has shown development in his more artistic, softer sensibilities, while the action material serves as merely an expansion of previous ideas, despite some innovation in the reworking of parts in the proverbial machine. The thematic references are the selling point, but can also act as a push factor for those seeking a bit more nourishment in their scores of choice. At the very least, Into The Storm is more than functionally appropriate, applicable in context and savours some highlights that stand out proudly.  The average listener will find a cohesive series of cues that blend together without effort, however the uneven pacing and self-referencing will offput more familiar, experienced ears. Exhaustion awaits those who invest in this score. All said and considered, Tyler’s packaging offers some worthy moments that deliver promise and then some.

Music in connection to the film: [*****] 5/5
Music as a sole listening experience: [***1/2]   3.5/5

Overall Consensus: [***1/2]   3.5/5

***

Track Listing:
1) Into The Storm                                (all cues by Tyler)
2) Atonement
3) Fate
4) Titus Versus The Storm
5) Humanity Arising
6) Culmination
7) Prelude To Phenomenon
8) Providence
9) The Fire Tornado
10) Evacuation & Interception
11) Last Words
12) We Stand Together
13) Titus
14) Multiple Vortices
15) Remembrance & Regret
16) Readying For Incoming Storm
17) The Power Of Nature
18) Aurora

Avengers: Age Of Ultron – Score Review

Title: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Release Date(s)
: April 28th 2015 (DIGITAL)
May 19th 2015 (PHYSICAL)
Composer(s):      Brian Tyler & Danny Elfman
Length:                1:17:26
Recorded At:       Abbey Road Studios & Air Studios
Label:                   Hollywood/ Marvel Music
                                                                                                *
Why You Should…
For Tyler’s continued investment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe felicitates well with the rise of the superhero genre, and Elfman’s magical, arguably superior input elevates the soundtrack to new heights.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If you are becoming all too familiar with Tyler’s mannerisms for scoring action blockbusters, or if the lack of subtlety in this monumental effort exhausts you. 

The MARVEL juggernaut continues with Joss Whedon’s follow-up to 2012’s biggest success, The Avengers, with the duly and aggressive AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, the 11th film in the MARVEL Cinematic Universe. When the first film opened to positive reception, it not only helped further solidify the place of superhero films within the film industry, but also opened a new door: the idea of creating a shared universe that paid off in the third most successful film of all time. For over fifty years, these larger than life characters have entertained and held a place dear in the hearts of many, and the ever-increasing public interest should float for the following years to come.
During a raid on a compound hidden deep within the foliage of fictional province Sokovia, Iron Man encounters a sentient, highly intelligent yet sinister artificial intelligence, with which he convinces Bruce Banner to reactivate their failed desire of creating Ultron. The plan backfires on an increasingly wild, exponential level when Ultron claims that in order for justice to come to fruition, all humans must be eradicated.
Ultron soon takes advantage of the desolate Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and as he begins plotting aforementioned global domination, the men and women Nick Fury believes in must raise their game if they are to win the fight against what could be their end.  The film opened (to no surprise) to positive reviews, though mild criticism has been offered for inconsistent flow.
The most interesting thing about the infamous MARVEL cinematic canon is the soundtracks. The music behind the muscle, the heroism, and the inevitable danger that it tags along was this time yielded by Marvel favourite Brian Tyler, who has quickly risen to be a calling card (his previous efforts for TMNT, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3 were bombastic surprises), but with additional input from veteran composer Danny Elfman.  The resulting amalgamations calls for some solid, praiseworthy moments, and as is the case for ANY superhero score, singular individual highlights help elevate the score. The score itself was recorded  with the aid of the Philharmonia Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios.

Tyler’s new title theme is brooding and polyphonic, and frenetic strings flourish in a grandeur ending, toying with the 4 note theme for Ultron. Then, Elfman resurrects his power in the superhero genre with ‘Heroes’, a rousing, unabashedly heroic piece that stomps the new stunning main theme, but also integrating Alan Silvestri’s uplifting 5-note theme into it.  Propulsive celli, metallic clanging and a march like rhythm helps this theme linger on in the mind. One can safely assume, however, as it isn’t featured within the film itself, it served better for the charlatan studio executives to pick and mix ideas from.
And just when you think the orchestral majesty stops, Tyler’s piece,entitled ‘Rise Together’ evokes a sentimental, Williams-like feel to the listener. The serenading strings are a highlight, and major-minor changes are another given welcome. Here, the meter varies, and the choir begin to explore treble regions. Woodwind trills truly make you feel as if you’re taking flight, contributing to some of the more intelligent, finer moments in Tyler’s promising career.

Breaking and Entering’ is where, however, the minimal negatives begin. The tense violins slide their ostinatos, but the piano towards the end is clichéd (and sounds vaguely reminiscent of his ‘Brake’ theme). Tyler does, however provide thematic references aplenty, and the addition of Taiko drums contrast well with the somewhat milder mid-section. Harps are heard, and an eerie atmosphere is cast.  Elfman continues with ‘It Begins’, reinstating his new theme with choppy movement and staccato strings, and trumpet semiquavers too. A bass drum resounds with a thud, and Elfman takes us back to his old days, with flutes huffing and puffing (akin to his surprisingly dismal effort for Ang Lee’s Hulk). In the film, however, this is the first track heard, playing over the Marvel logo, and occupying the scenes where Wanda and Pietro Maximoff escape a damaged Sokovia.
Where Tyler excels, however, is his identity for Ultron: ‘Birth of Ultron.’  A cold, tingling piano motif is better applied here. It’s solemn, curious, and even hints at Iron Man’s own power anthem- perhaps an indicative reference for its hatred towards its creator.  Electronic manipulation, a five note string motif that bubbles until it hits boiling point and a sudden finish enunciate Ultron’s escape.  One can begin to realise that Tyler’s previous mannerisms are heard here too, but no composer is free from this, especially when veterans are capable of doing so, thus there is no reason to ostracize Tyler.
Ultron Twins’ benefits from some European influences. Tubular bells and choir are imminent (much like another superhero we all love), but there’s also poignancy, and alas, emotion results. This is what Elfman is known for, what he does best. He creates a vacuum using delicate strings and sucks the tears from your eyes.
(How about that for an expression?)
A solo cello helps reflect their innocence before siding with Ultron (in the film, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff are angry with Stark for the deaths of their parents that resulted from usage of his weapons), but the poignancy slowly deteriorates. That 4-note motif creeps its way back in and high strings and even an old favourite: the la-la choir are heard, the cellos carving sorrow into the piece, and it’s bittersweet.

HULKBUSTER!

Tyler’s brute force of orchestral mayhem returns.  But it’s not a bad thing, especially when you consider how he’s utilised it the past; in the Marvel franchise thus far, he (and to a lesser extent, Silvestri) have finally slapped some sense of thematic continuity into the directors’ heads. Iron Man’s theme is stated midway in, and it times perfectly with the closing and sealing of the Hulkbuster armour. Or, Veronica, for short. An unclear motif for Hulk is heard, and there’s definitely some menace. Light, clanging, box-like percussion, a myriad of effective suspense and terror, and some abrasive percussive rhythms keep Zimmer enthusiasts entertained. Ethnic instrumentation felicitates the foreign locale well, and the snare rips the cat right out of the hat, gentlemen. The only truly disappointing thing about the track (and the films so far) is the complete lack of abandonment for Craig Armstrong’s theme for Hulk; Armstrong having provided a definite identity for the raging monster, so it’s a shame that Tyler nor Elfman (or Silvestri for that part) have integrated it in.

Elfman takes centre stage with three continuous tracks; ‘Can You Stop This Thing?’ (A gothic start and some ostinatos propel this), ‘Sacrifice’ and ‘Farmhouse’. Whilst the former prevails in colours of sorrow, and anguish, as well as a bittersweet statement of the Maximoff Twin’s theme, the latter induces soft guitar, an amalgamation of his more subtle, tender methods for Real Steel and the Spiderman films. In an age where everything sounds all too familiar, throwbacks are the hidden guilty pleasures indeed.

Tyler returns. (How about that for a cue title?)

The Vault’ makes use of his fast-paced, delirious bravado, and the pounding percussion, whining strings, brooding lower range of celli, mild brass, tense tremolo strings give way to an eerie silence, before the barrage resurfaces.  Not much can be said for ‘The Mission’, but cleverly counteracting against those ostinatos is a sense of duty, a noble soundscape.  Tyler hits full swing in ‘Seoul Searching’ (10 points to Gryffindor for that pun) and he gets straight to the point; clanging metallic percussion, tense semiquavers, brass echoing terror, some slippery strings, harp and woodwind ornamentation and slapping percussion give weight to the ground the Avengers stand on.
Inevitability-One Good Eye’ hints at some Goldsmith/ Star Wars style-mannerisms, Elfman taking control once more, the flute adding mild tension, and thematic cohesion is prevalent. Brutal, military style-snare rhythm and valiant heroism erupts at 2:30, to emphasise Nick Fury’s belief in a shaken team. It actually starts off with faint, ticking electronics that grow to suit the dramatic tension on screen, but ends with a tense string slide.
‘Ultron Wakes’ hands the villainous responsibility over to Elfman, with a suspense-filled start, as a solemn horn plays the main theme, albeit fragmented… the Ultron theme hits at about 1:20 and terror brass punctuates this well.
‘Vision’ is somewhat of a highlight. Tyler intelligently conveys the animosity of the synthesised life-form, who ends up being a pivotal member of the Avengers’ fight against Ultron.  Gliding harp movements give way to a tense, string statement that combines treble and bass regions well. The combination of the harp and the eerie strings help better enunciate Vision’s childlike curiosity, yet minimally conveys his subtle power too. The strings have never truly come into play until this track, and it serves well. A four note motif is heard from the horns in the third motif, and concludes in a cymbalic finish.
Tyler continues with ‘The Battle’, a piece that opens with John Barry-like mannerisms. Slow  phrasing of semiquavers and harsh brass statements are followed by tense, choppy staccato movements from all areas of the orchestra. At the 1-minute mark, things turn slightly heroic, before things calm down approximately 30 seconds later. A sense of hopelessness and desperation is once again conveyed here, a crescendo giving way to a brief statement of Silvestri’s own theme. Then, the meter varies, and timpani rolls flourish in a troubled statement of Thor’s new theme from The Dark World. Light snare and strings slide under the orchestral weight. There are several generic string crescendos that accentuate that piece, before ending in a monumental C minor finish.
‘Wish You Were Here’ scales the drama down to a more wistful, melancholy feel, though somewhat optimistic in its rendering. Percussion of a stiff calibre and staccato celli build the heroism up further.

Elfman extends his farmhouse motif in ‘The Farm’. Lush guitars twang, and high romantic strings are beautiful and are duly needed after all the crashing and bashing. The woodwind section puff along with the new hybrid main theme, and this too is a brief highlight, the downside being its short length. Tyler’s ‘Darkest of Intentions’ lives up to its title, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. Tense strings again give away to a thunderous statement of the main title theme, but sorrowful celli and high violins contrast this perfectly, emphasising the growing bond between Romanoff and Banner. ‘Fighting Back’ begins eerily, with the motif from ‘Rise Together’ being reassembled for good measure, and an extract of Stark’s anthem is heard once more. Zimmer-like percussion rumbles underneath strings and brass, and snares tap mischievously. Some fast-paced brass riffs are heard, and Ultron’s theme comes back in full-bodied flow, more antagonizing than ever.

Brilliance is finally achieved to the maximum in ‘Avengers Unite’. It’s a cue that Tyler could have composed in his sleep, but Elfman’s ingenious handling of the theme and the interpolation of multiple, pounding percussive layers is remarkable. By far, this is the highlight of the whole album. The theme is more victorious as ever, as the new Avengers defend the core from Ultron and his likeness army in a slow-motion fight scene worthy of multiple jaw drops, though the jaw-dropping is entirely due to the track. Delirious bravado and fast strings lace action into the scene, and Silvestri’s own theme is stated quite wondrously towards the end. The track deserves multiple hearings.
‘Keys to the Past’ is handled by Tyler, with Ultron’s 4-note motif resonating at the start. Solemn horns and uneasy strings are added to the equation, with low, rambling piano octaves plodding along in unison. A mild timpani rumble helps the piano become more prevalent, before brass accentuates the growing terror. ‘Uprising’ is an ambitious extension of Tyler’s action material, with Williams-like march and snare tapping complementing the coy horns and strings. Staccato movements serve as a better embodiment for the tension in the 1 minute mark, before bittersweet material for Romanoff and Hulk is heard nearing the two-minute mark. ‘Outlook’ continues this, as the strings are resonant and melodious in their approach, and several motif are reinstated here. When Tyler said he used Star Wars as an influence, he wasn’t lying; parts of this soundtrack could have very well influenced his output. Halfway through the piece, another victorious build-up statement of the theme appears, and the serenading strings from ‘Rise Together’ appear here too. The piece then finishes in yet another grand orchestral flourish. Tyler finally plays his last cue in ‘The Last One’, presumably the music accompanying the scenes where Vision confronts and eliminates the last Ultron AI. The strings have become weary, and a sense of finality is signified. Yet another bittersweet statement of the love theme is present, only this time it’s more sad, as a devastated Hulk leaves a broken-hearted Black Widow behind. Vision’s motif then rings in, the high, bleak strings backed by the ever-brooding cello, as Ultron and his plans finally come to an end.

Elfman takes responsibility for the final two cues; the first of which is ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’. His trademark, melancholy style of writing emphasises the aftermath well. A noble, slow horn statement of the theme is accompanied by curious strings, and some life is given into the piece. Silvestri’s theme reverberates throughout the staccato strings, and the harp gently whispers as the 5 note motif rounds things off. At last, we come to an end in ‘New Avengers- Avengers: Age Of Ultron’. An oboe softly coos Captain America’s theme, before hopeful strings double the motif. The strings then build, as hope is heard, and the theme is finally played in complete glorious fashion, in E minor, as the new Avengers stand before Rogers. The B minor rendition that it leads up to is gripping, with snare, soulful choir and brass powerfully standing out. The choppy celli movements are prevalent here, and the horn sings the main anthemic theme proudly. A softer interlude serves as a reminder of the tragic material that Elfman is well and truly capable of writing, and the theme gets sequenced into two more keys. The theme then comes to a stunning close, and all is said and done.

Not much else can be said about this powerhouse of an effort. While it certainly contains bravado, heroism, danger and grandeur, one may find themselves wishing for more delicate, softer parts to the puzzle. Tyler’s action material is starting to become synonymous with one another, but his ingenuity in raw, organic composition compensates for that. The Age of Elfman, however continues, with magic. There is delight in his material, and Tyler’s too, for it helps better enunciate the powers these heroes carry under their name, but the irony is that power results in some mild exhaustion. Perhaps a better dose of subtlety in a similar effort would bear well, but they have done just fine. The most important thing to note, is that while there are two composers at play, Tyler and Elfman never interspersed their own territories, instead subtly acknowledging each other’s material whilst creating a synthesis of anthemic, resonating music. There lie typical mannerisms akin to both composers in Age of Ultron, but that can be interpreted in both ways. What is impossible to deny however, that in the result of their labour, fruit has born; Avengers: Age of Ultron is a powerful, masculine score that can be safely added to this year’s highlights. 2015 seems to be a strong year of film music, and with The Force Awakens looming closer on the proverbial horizon, the remainder of the year seems promising enough.

Music in connection to the film:   [*****] 5/5
Music as a sole listening experience:  
[****] 4/5

Overall Consensus: [****] 4/5

***

Track Listing:
1) Avengers: Age of Ultron – Main Title   (Tyler)
2) Heroes (not featured in the film)         (Elfman)
3) Rise Together                                     (Tyler)
4) Breaking and Entering                        (Tyler)
5) It Begins                                             (Elfman)
6) Birth of Ultron                                     (Tyler)
7) Ultron Twins                                       (Elfman)
8) Hulkbuster                                          (Tyler)
9) Can You Stop This Thing?                 (Elfman)
10) Sacrifice                                           (Elfman)
11) Farmhouse                                      (Elfman)
12) The Vault                                         (Tyler)
13) The Mission                                     (Tyler)
14) Seoul Searching                              (Tyler)
15) Inevitability- One Good Eye             (Elfman)
16) Ultron Wakes                                   (Elfman)
17) Vision                                               (Tyler)
18) The Battle                                        (Tyler)
19) Wish You Were Here                       (Tyler)
20) The Farm                                        (Elfman)
21) Darkest of Intentions                       (Tyler)
22) Fighting Back                                  (Tyler)
23) Avengers Unite                               (Elfman)
24) Keys To The Past                           (Tyler)
25) Uprising                                          (Tyler)
26) Outlook                                           (Tyler)
27) The Last One                                 (Tyler)
28) Nothing Lasts Forever                   (Elfman)
29) New Avengers- Age Of Ultron        (Elfman)