Friday's End Note: Film Scores

I am first and foremost a moviegoer. I keep this blog because I have a great passion for music, but my first love will always go to film and the making of them. You've got a writer who writes a screenplay, who then shops it around until a director finds some interest, looking for a producer to help bring the screenplay to full reality and then going through a production schedule that's as hectic and painstaking but remarkably creative. It comes to post-production where the editing takes place and the sound is mixed, and once finalized it is marketed and screened in front of audiences the world over.

Of course I'm really simplifying the process, but you get the idea. You sit down in a crowded theater, the lights go down, and BOOM. A sweep of lush strings and brass surrounds you. Maybe some electronics kick it into high gear, or there's some very simple piano that pervades the credits over black. This music is film score, and it is so integral to the filmmaking process that it may easily fly over the heads of most moviegoers. It's what I consider a whole other experience in music listening that lets you understand the amount of mood or feeling and take you places you've only imagined or seen, well, on the big screen. Two composers stand out as my most loved film composers - not because they create great music, but because their music fully realizes the intent of the art to the point that your moods are as seamless with the events occurring on screen.

John Williams

Have you ever seen Star Wars? Indiana Jones? Jurassic Park? Anything made by film director Steven Spielberg? Then you've heard the grand spectacular work of John Williams. His 40+ years of work often consists of everything big and everything there, usually including themes that revolve around a particular character or setting. He's been nominated for so many Academy Awards I can't even tell you how many. In any event, he has opened up the world of film music to allow meaning and subtext that let the images speak for themselves instead of just being moving pictures. E.T., while still standing as one of Spielberg's best films, remains as poignant as ever with Williams' score, and it makes us soar on every listen.

John Williams - "E.T. - Flying Theme"

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman is simply fascinating. Like Williams, Newman allows the freedom to really connect with the subtext of the story and characters, but on a much more simplistic scale. Implements of vibraphones, small piano chords or swift strings really help to elevate the much more subtler moments in the films he scores, such as American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, Road to Perdition, and even Wall-E. He may not be as purely well-known as Williams either, but Newman has created such a distinctive sound for himself that he becomes very recognizable and very pure. He's a wonderfully talented individual that helps us dive into the lives of others often like ourselves and takes us into deeper territories one might not have pictured on first arrival.

Thomas Newman - "The Bright Young Man" from Revolutionary Road



Crash Thursday: Panda Bear - Tomboy

Genre: Experimental/Psychedelic Pop
Origin: Baltimore, Maryland

Panda Bear's Tomboy is without a doubt one of the most anticipated albums to come out this year. Panda Bear - whose alias is that of Noah Lennox - is high and mighty off the heels of the major success as a member of Animal Collective and their recent masterpiece Merriweather Post Pavilion, and he released one of the most intriguing and surprising debut solo albums of the last few years, Person Pitch. There's reason for us as listeners to be both excited and worried, for his new album is to be met with high expectation and possible scrutiny. In anticipation, we were given what he decided to do as he did with Person Pitch and release a number of singles that would later be featured on the album. Surely this satisfied the hunger of fans as it did myself, but by listening to more than half of the album before its release were we really going to feel the same or feel cheated come April?

The answer is both "yes" and "no." With the help of final mixing by Sonic Boom, the singles that are heard on the album not only sound different, but they also find the molding that makes the songs feel like the parts of a sum. I'm not really sure I could have expected any less from him, but rest assured that, given the now, more subdued instrumentals and upfront effects that sort of loft and bounce around, Panda Bear finds the right mental notes that get you swirling from start to finish. Having said that, Tomboy does not feel like the grand spectacle that Person Pitch had, and in essence the singles do not cross over as anything new. This doesn't exactly hurt what the album is thematically speaking, as Person Pitch was the fancifully free and childish album and Tomboy is the album of growth and change, but it does not take the opportunity in some spots to take a completely fresh approach and make it as powerful as it tries to sound.

"You Can Count On Me" doesn't let up in starting the album on a good note, with a very echo-y beat that maintains itself throughout. The title track is much more dramatic, forcing the sounds to penetrate the surface to become much more pronounced and murky. It's also what feels like the most repetitious on the album, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. "Slow Motion" was great as a single, but in it's final form here, the sounds are again pronounced yet it still feels as fresh as it did earlier. The beat is sweetly slow and Noah so reverberated that it takes you up to the point where you feel wrapped up in a comfy warm blanket, even if the sounds themselves aren't so pretty.

"Surfer's Hymn" provides something shimmery and light, almost like something that I would probably find on Person Pitch but without the same grandeur. It's at this point on the album (Track 4) that I begin to notice that I'm really loving the sounds, but nothing here actually stands out or comes off as epic as it makes it out to be. It's all nicely knit when it comes to "Last Night At The Jetty" which takes its time letting the sounds master themselves, but even then do I notice that being lofty doesn't fully make it swing. That goes for "Drone" as well, with ambience that could be taken as either meditative or downright annoying.

Don't think that these songs are bad, though. They are very well composed and beautifully constructed, as in the case of "Alsatian Darn" and "Scheherazade". They feel like the tracks that sort of take the album into a much subtler route, giving the album some breathing room in such a sound-heavy environment. It really isn't until the final third of the album that Panda Bear gives us a greater scale of approaches with songs "Friendship Bracelet" and "Afterburner". "Benfica" is also beautifully arranged, even though it may not particularly serve as an establishing closer.

There's no doubt that Panda Bear has had a lot up his sleeve and that the product that is Tomboy is clearly a directional path for the artist. It's only slightly disappointing that, having heard the first half of the album and having some expectation, that the entirety of the album then finds a kind of sameness to it. This should not be a hinderance, however, in that Panda Bear really does create wonderful soundscapes that turn us inside out and all over. It takes a certain number of listens to really try and appreciate the depths that Tomboy reaches, and it's within the finer moments of the album that will give you the sense of grandeur that Panda Bear can muster.


Panda Bear - "Slow Motion"

Panda Bear - "Alsatian Darn"

Tomboy is available on the Paw Tracks record label on April 12th.


Vid Break! Fleet Foxes - "Grown Ocean"

Seattle-based folk band Fleet Foxes have revealed a music video for the song "Grown Ocean" from their new sophomore effort, Helplessness Blues, dropping May 3rd. This isn't the first song that the band has released from the new LP (and apparently it's leaked), but upon hearing "Grown Ocean" and viewing the subsequent video that accompanies it, you know that you're going to be in for another stellar rush of excellent guitar work, beautiful vocal harmonies, and sweeping compositions. If Helplessness Blues is anything like their self-titled debut, I'll be keeping this record in my player for days-on-end.


Take 2 Tuesday: "Echo's Answer" by Broadcast

Broadcast was an electronic English band headed by vocalist Trish Keenan. I say "was" because the band was effectively finished when Trish died of pneumonia this past January at the age of 41. I had honestly not heard of any Broadcast's material before hearing of her untimely death, but from what I can tell you is that I had been sorely missing out on excellent electronic instrumentation and very melancholic sounds that I can tell were deep from Trish's heart. Of course any artist tries to make that so, but if any of Broadcast's songs were to contribute to really letting the artist speak for his/herself, it's "Echo's Answer". It deserves to be heard, along with the rest of Broadcast's catalogue.

Broadcast - "Echo's Answer"


In Case of the Mondays: Justice finds "Civilization"

That's right, folks! That big cross coming down upon us can only mean the French electro-house duo is back after a pretty sweet debut in 2007. The latest single called "Civilization" has been heard in a variety of ways through a new Adidas ad campaign, but it is now available in it's full form via iTunes. What more could we expect from these guys? We'll be finding out when they decide to release an LP in the near future, but for now we have an instant dance hit on our hands. Justice may be driving into familiar territory here, but in the case of the Mondays, this just might be the necessary drive to get out of your office chair and onto the dance floor. Thanks, Justice!

Justice - "Civilization"



The Benchwarmer: Discovering Now is Different Than Later?

I know that there are still bands I have yet to hear and I'm sure countless others have spent years listening to them, but does it really matter that I discover a band later than others?

Photo taken from news.cnet.com

I'm not saying I'm slow. I'm saying that I just haven't heard about this band until someone brought it up. I check them out, I like them, I listen to them, and now that artist has a new listener. I can feel ashamed for not having listened to them beforehand, but who cares? I'm enjoying their music now, right? According to others, though, I'm just another fan "joining the bandwagon" and now that artist isn't nearly as special to them.

Here's a more interesting scenario: Your best friend starts a band, and you've been his best friend for who knows how long, but now that the band has released what could be a huge single, EVERYONE knows who this band is. Do you feel that you have some higher authority because you were one of the "first" to listen to them, or now that everyone likes them and listens to them that you can't anymore? Is there any justification for this? I can't find any.

This is mostly in relation to this week's release of The Weeknd's mixtape release, which I reviewed on the last Crash Thursday. I've been reading numerous comments on Last.fm of people referring to the instant notoriety since the artist's appearance on Pitchfork and other music zines. Just because this artist was known to a certain few a couple weeks ago shouldn't mean that they have some sort of say, or at least calling new followers names that don't appear reasonable. Sure, Pitchfork is a site that reviews music and news, but I find joy in that I can discover artists that I've never heard of and bring them into my own consciousness. Isn't it better that your underground artist that only you knew about is finally getting his name out there? There's a reason why this person's music is appealing to people, and now that I'm aware of his talents, I feel I should embrace them, not keep them to myself.

Public awareness is something that shouldn't be shunned. Discovery is a unique part of the human mind, and it takes others more time to reach out and find new artists that appeal to them, and once those artists reach their consciousness then they've now made an impact on that listener. Why should it matter when you discover them? Why should others care that you discover them after they did? Think about it.