Latest reviews of new albums:
  • Composed by Austin Wintory
  • Sony / 58m

An “interactive cinematic game”, Erica is essentially a film that the player controls. I can’t help but think of those books I had as a kid where I got to choose what happened next. Holly Earl plays Erica, a girl confronting the death of her father in an occult ritual, and she (and you) explore various supernatural goings-on as she investigates.

The score was a real challenge for Austin Wintory, who had to write film score-style music that could adapt seamlessly to the player’s choices, meaning he ended up with multiple versions of cues (so I imagine preparing the album as a cohesive listening experience was also a challenge). I’ve been singing the composer’s praises for many years now – one of the things that always hits me about his music is how personal it always sounds. He seems to put a lot of himself in there. In the interests of full disclosure I should say that I’ve “known” him online for almost as long as I’ve been online, going back to the earliest days of film music discussion – from that I know how much he loves film music, but it’s from listening to his own music that I feel like I’ve somehow come to know him despite having never met.

Austin Wintory

That very much holds true in Erica. From the gorgeous strains of the opening “Know Thyself” it’s obvious that once again he has conjured up something very special: twenty years ago someone told me that using the adjective “haunting” when writing about music made me sound like a cretin, but truly there is no better description for the piece. The gorgeous cello solo masks a profound sorrow running underneath, an emotional tour de force full of melancholy.

The second piece couldn’t be more different: “Aria for Delphi” is a source song, a kind of doo-wop which is actually very beautiful. At first it’s just a song, but Wintory cleverly works elements of it into his score as it progresses, linking the narrative back to it.

As the score gets going afterwards in “Into the Fire”, another side is revealed: it’s a dark, smoky, noirish affair with real dreamlike qualities. “Delivery” has these strained string sounds floating above dissonance, perfectly illustrating what I mean: it feels like you’re not quite there, a kind of out of body experience. That continues in “A Lost Home”, here the melodic fragments coming and going, streaming into and out of consciousness – but then in “Apparitions” those very same sounds suddenly take on a more sinister feel, with increasing tension underneath taking on a raspy, almost primal feel.

Fragments of the “Aria for Delphi” melody play through “She’s just like you”, sandwiching a passionate sequence as the full string section is heard for the first time, atonality taking over later in the cue and reminding me a little bit of some of the more experimental music of the great Elliot Goldenthal. The dreamlike feel really comes to the fore in “It’s always been you”, little clusters of music coming together. “Wife, mother and dearest friend” is really haunting – there, I’ve said it again – but has nothing on “A gift”, which treads so carefully over the line between harmony and disharmony before descending into a cacophony of chaos, it really is a joy to behold.

We move into pure horror score territory in “They’re going to lie to you” – the use of tenor sax as part of the sound palette makes it so interesting and adds an extra dimension, and it’s a chilling piece of music. “Is that her” is also chilling, but this time it’s more in the sense of anticipation – it’s a psychological onslaught which continues in “The key to everything”, a ghostly vocal appearing over the orhcestral turbulence here.

That distinctive Wintory string sound is back to the fore in “Another world, beneath” – the different textures once again sometimes in alignment, sometimes not quite to produce the unsettling sound – but then the score for the first time goes into more conventional action/suspense music territory, taking on a real sense of forward momentum. The main theme is never far away, even here. “Respect the Oracle” sends chills straight to the bone – the sax, the off-kilter strings, the vocal – it’s truly unsettling. But just when you think the intensity can’t get any greater, along comes “Grieve for no one” with its searingly sharp, grand orchestral gestures of tragedy.

There’s an electronic pulse under “Monsters” which adds another layer of tension, tension which could be cut with a knife when the vocals return. You just know that the eerie calm which opens “Can’t be in here” isn’t going to last – and of course it doesn’t, with “What’s real” ratcheting the tension right back up again, the music once again getting towards fever pitch. The dreamy textures dominate the opening of “Butterfly” along with a different kind of vocal, which (I realise how daft this sounds) has a more human, less supernatural feel – and as the piece moves to its end, all of a sudden harmonies are resolved, we start getting some musical closure to the story. The concluding “In death, be without sorrow” is inevitably outstanding, bringing various fragments together including the song, spluttering into and out of the orchestra.

I’ve said before that I think Austin Wintory is a special composer. He seems unusually thoughtful and open to new things, and Erica represents a new thing for him while retaining his highly-distinctive musical voice. It’s dark and challenging, don’t have any illusions that it is anything else – while his masterpiece Journey was itself highly contemplative, it gave its pleasures in a more obvious way – what the scores have in common is their total immersion, and in album form their total and unwavering execution of a singular musical vision. Don’t expect easy pickings – it’s one of those albums that you have to put as much as yourself into as you can expect to take out – if you do, the rewards are extraordinary.

Rating: ***** | |

Tags: ,

  1. It‘s quiet in here! Why not leave a response?