Pusher - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
2012's Pusher, directed by Luis Prieto, a remake of Nicolas Winding Refn's film of the same name (his directorial debut), came and went when it was released in cinemas late last year. I seem to remember it getting a bit of minor buzz prior to its release and being based on a fairly well-known world cinema title from a now quite famous director, I expected it to be big, but I can't remember it showing anywhere. Well, I never did see it, so I can't comment on how this soundtrack by Orbital fits with the film, but I've seen the original at least.
I was quite excited when I was offered a chance to preview this soundtrack. My friends at university used to listen to a lot of Orbital, so I was exposed to them a great deal back in the early 2000's and I'd heard their 2012 album Wonky was a return to form after disappearing from the scene for a number of years.
Well, maybe my tastes have changed over the years, but I was a bit disappointed with the soundtrack to Pusher. The album opens promisingly with "Pusher Theme", which has a bit of a retro 90's sound but pulls it off with a head-bopping bass riff and catchy melodic hook. A brief ambient interlude follows with "Pay Me the Money", then we get the rap-vocal infused "Driving and Clubbing" which is a pumping track that grabs the attention, even if it isn't usually my kind of music.
After that however the album pulls back to a practical standstill. The following 18 tracks are mostly very ambient cues which make you think you're listening to a different album. Of course some ambient tracks were to be expected, but there are a lot more than I imagined and are all dumped in the middle after the punchier opening and closing sections. I generally like ambient music so this wouldn't normally bother me, but the tracks here are so short and sparse they're hard to really get into.
When bigger dance tracks do emerge they're not as exciting or as impressive as I'd have liked either. Orbital's "Go With the Flow" and "Guns and Party" are pretty decent, but the following three more dance-influenced tracks from Lloyd Perrin, Marcus Marr and Austra, which finish off the album, didn't do much for me. I'm not really into dance music to be honest, I'm more of an IDM or ambient kind of guy so it was always going to be a tough sell.
Overall it's quite a moody and cool soundtrack but it isn't engaging enough to love. It's the clunky big shifts from faster paced tracks to ambient to bigger tracks that didn't work for me. I'd have preferred them to be mixed together more evenly throughout the album. The brevity of much of the cues make them hard to care about too.
Pusher - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is out now on CD and digital download.
Listen to a track from the album below:
Cloud Atlas - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Like with Pusher, I've not seen Cloud Atlas the film, but I'm familiar with the source material. To prepare for the film, which I thought looked very interesting from the trailers and descriptions, I read David Mitchell's novel of the same name. The film still hasn't been released over in the UK, but I'm quite intrigued by it after finding the novel fascinating, even if I didn't love it.
The novel and film (from what I gather) have a peculiar structure in that they are made up of six individual stories. Each is told in a distinctly different style and is set in a different period and location (the stories in the book play out the first halves forward in chronological order then backwards once they reach the peak). There are links between each story, but ultimately they are quite unique and could work on their own quite successfully.
So, in making the film a cohesive whole yet keep successful variations there is a delicate balancing act to be made. The same goes for the music. You don't want the score to change wildly between segments, but you still want to make that distinction between them. Luckily, the composing team of Tom Tykwer (also co-director of the film), Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil have done a great job.
Even without seeing the film I can visualise which music goes to which story from the book. The cues are suitably varied, matching the genres that fit the individual stories. The Luisa Rey sections for instance have a nice thriller vibe to them, the Sonmi sections have a cool modern sci-fi edge and the Timothy Cavendish farce has a vibrant comic score, especially in the lightly bombastic "Cavendish in Distress" track.
To tie things together there are hints of the other scores hidden throughout. In the book, Luisa Rey listens to Frobisher's Cloud Atlas Sextet and elements of this are used occasionally in the score, culminating in a full performance, providing a show-stopping climax to the soundtrack with "Cloud Atlas Sextet for Orchestra". This is wonderfully lush and emotionally captivating, providing a fitting portrayal of the piece as it is described in the book.
So overall, the soundtrack to Cloud Atlas is a rich and varied score which ties together the threads without losing their individual characters. I'm surprised it didn't get nominated for best score at this year's Oscars (it got nominated for a Golden Globe), but the film itself received mixed reviews and hasn't seen any Oscar love, so it's no big shock I guess.
Cloud Atlas - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is out now on CD and digital download (US only).
To buy the soundtrack in the UK click here to get the CD version at Amazon.
You can preview the soundtrack here.
Argo - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Speaking of Oscar love, Argo is a film that has been picking up a multitude of awards, including Best Motion Picture (Drama) and Director at the Golden Globes. Controversially, director Ben Affleck didn't get an Oscar nomination for his work though, which has been the biggest discussion surrounding the awards. What Oscar didn't forget though was its excellent score.
I must admit I didn't love the soundtrack to Argo on my first listen. I wasn't particularly paying it much attention to be honest, but I think the second it opened with that typical Middle Eastern violin sound and moved on to more seemingly stereotypical guitar work from the region on the second track, "A Spy in Tehran", I kind of dismissed it as lazy scene-setting music.
After another listen or two though, the album really grew on me. Yes, elements are quite 'obvious' in keeping with the Iranian setting, but what soundtrack doesn't borrow tropes from other sources to fit with the mood or location. What also became apparent after more listens was how pacey and tense it is. Using a mix of hand drums and lots of well-implemented vocal percussion on tracks like "Scent of Death" and "Hotel Messages", the music is often edgy and driven, making it quite an exciting listen.
Like Cloud Atlas, Argo has tonal shifts to contend with. The story mixes thriller aspects with comedy as the film moves between the plight of the American diplomats hiding from the revolutionaries in Iran to the mission dreamt up in the US to free them by putting together a fake movie shoot. Affleck controls these shifts beautifully and composer Alexadre Desplat pulls off a similarly effective job, keeping a clear difference between the Middle Eastern mood for the scenes in Iran and a more classic-Hollywood sound for the Western-set sequences.
I think the two sounds might have seemed a little bland on their own, but fused together it's an interesting mix and they complement each other nicely, much like the aspects of the film itself. As the soundtrack goes on the two styles start to fuse a bit more within tracks too, with tracks like "Held Up By Guards" containing clearly Hollywood thriller elements, but retaining the Iranian instrumentation too.
The album ends with "Hace Tuto Guagua", which plays over the end credits if I remember correctly. This starts with a simple hum, which repeats throughout most of the song, with further elements adding to it then effectively dying away for the end. This creates a powerful build and a satisfyingly moving end to the soundtrack.
With no less than 8 feature film scores in 2012 alone, Alexadre Desplat is the hardest working composer in Hollywood at the minute, yet the quality of his scores never falters. Going back to Oscar talk, he's had five nominations in the last seven years to show for his talents. Let's hope this year he finally wins it.
Argo - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is out now on CD (US only) and digital download.
To buy the soundtrack in the UK click here to get the MP3 version at Amazon.
You can preview the soundtrack here.