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January round-up

If you cast your mind back five days, you will return to the month of January, traditionally occurring early in the year. Of course, this statement only holds true at the time I’m writing this post, and will not be true again until 6 January 2024, which just goes to show the fleeting nature of things. We did get some new film music during the month, and here I’ll be writing about music by Pinar Toprak, Emily Bear, Christopher Young and Will Bates.

Shotgun Wedding is an action comedy and fulfils absolutely all of the requirements of an action comedy apart from not being funny. It does have action though, as a wedding on a tropical island paradise is disrupted by people with guns, and Jennifer Lopez traverses an improbably long distance on a zipline. Pinar Toprak’s score is fun: she anchors it around a catchy main theme which crops up all over the place, usually presented in a bold and brassy arrangement – it’s a simple construction but a bit of an earworm, and nice to hear.

The score is actually dominated by a style usually associated with heist movies – sassy “creeping around” music with pizzicato strings, bass and percussion – it feels a bit samey after a while (the album lasts nearly an hour) but it’s done well. There are some action highlights – “Zipline” for example – and she does do her best to accentuate fun at all times, perhaps making up for the lack of any obvious attempt at comedy in the script. Surprisingly the score is light on romantic moments – there’s a bit of a hint at a love theme at times but it’s only really in the concluding “Beach Wedding” that things soar off in that direction. It’s all very slick and does precisely the job it needs to.

I absolutely love the fact that Dog Gone is a film about a dog that’s gone. You can just picture the writer pitching it – “dog gone – the dog is literally gone!” Stephen Herek’s film features a score by Emily Bear – who is only 21. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being 21 – I remember being 21 – I was particularly proficient at activities like drinking beer and spending as much time as possible being asleep. I cannot even comprehend having the confidence to pull off something like writing a full-scale film score at that age – but Bear, a child prodigy, has been performing on stages in front of large audiences for years now already. What an amazing achievement to have so much success at such a young age.

The film looks like one of those 1990s family adventure movies in which a family would set off into the great outdoors, usually backed by the music of somebody like John Debney or Joel McNeely – and that’s what the score sounds like, too. It’s uniformly warm and pleasant, an old-fashioned orchestral romp – the florid orchestration (particularly the effervescent winds) gives the whole thing a real touch of class. There’s traditional action and adventure music, all bright and breezy, some gentle comedy and heaps of sentimentality – it really is like taking a step back to when so much film music seemed to sound like this. Sadly one thing it lacks is a really memorable theme to bind it together – there is a theme (heard most fully in the titular fourth track) but it doesn’t really stick with me. Still, if you’re after a dose of sprightly Americana then you can’t go wrong.

Somewhat less family-friendly listening can be found in Christopher Young’s The Offering. Of course, Young has been a master of horror scoring for two EBLs now (“Emily Bear Lifespan”) and – while he’s always done plenty of other stuff as well – Young does always seem to find his way back to the genre in the end. He’s written every kind of horror music imaginable – from the grand and gothic through to the atonal and experimental. The Offering is towards the latter end of that scale, but remarkably he’s managed to find another way of tackling the genre which is fresh and (to my ears) new.

The album is a classic Young arrangement of his music into just four tracks. It’s as creepy as anything – a capella children’s vocals singing lullabies, leading into manipulated, jarring soundscapes designed with one thing in mind: to scare. It’s got twisted voices, hauntingly distant, then all of a sudden a much more present little chime or bang – so hugely effective in achieving its aims. You’d have to be brave to listen to this one with the lights off. Young is so good at these scores; I’m not sure I will want to listen to it very often though.

A younger composer tackling the horror genre is Will Bates in Mayfair Witches, a tv series. The main theme – “The Witching Hour” – takes inspiration from various classic horror styles (including some of Christopher Young’s) – it’s a good track, spooky in its way and with a driving energy behind it. Set in New Orleans, Bates tries to get to a sound that’s part-way identifiably of the bayou but at the same time retains some distant link to a family of Scottish widows of centuries before – as the main character of the show is. He does this with some flair, and there is some good, creative music on show here.

A key element are the vocals which feature in many cues, performed by Maiah Manser. Sometimes unsettling whispers, others more sweeping wordless singing, she gets through quite a range. As with the Young score, it’s all undeniably effective at doing what it sets out to do; and while it’s more conventional music, it’s very much in a style that you would really have to be in a certain mood to want to listen to on its own. I’m sure it works like gangbusters in the show. I’m not familiar with Bates’s past music but he’s clearly very talented – there is a lot to admire and an awful lot of different ideas packed into the 53-minute album.

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  1. Tom (Reply) on Sunday 5 February, 2023 at 16:00

    I really like this format! Would be really cool if you would do this every month. Greaf stuff!!!

  2. dominique (Reply) on Sunday 5 February, 2023 at 21:35

    great january round-up, james and thank you for your good and well appreciated work!!!

  3. Alexander S. (Reply) on Thursday 9 February, 2023 at 08:09

    Love this monthly round-up. A short selection of scores by someone who knows the genre is exactly what was needed. Thank you! If you can, please keep this up monthly or at least quarterly!