Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Best Score Cues of 2013

by Travis Elder

Wondering where to begin your exploration of 2013's best in film, television, and video game scores?  Right here I feature some of the year's best original releases including everything from the thrill of the race, colliding orchestral space debris, spine-tingling horror, triumphs of the human spirit, and everything in between.  And you don't have to take my word for it.  Hear many of these pieces in full through my best of 2013 compilation playlist available on Spotify.

Composers Represented: 24
Number of Amazing Cues: 51

Clary's Theme by Atli Örvarsson from Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.  Beginning with tinkling mysteriousness, Clary's Theme is first introduced with a slightly eerie, twangy piano sound and plays like a slow-tempoed waltz.  Separating the first and second performances of the theme is a ghostly, female chanting chorus, first by itself, and then in counterpoint with a male chorus.  Strings then play the theme and are soon joined by the male chorus, as the orchestra continues to escalate.  However, the music quiets to highlight a tender piano performance of the theme before the entire orchestra launches in epic grandeur to play theme one last time accompanied by the powerful strains of the chorus singing to the theme's melody.  An excellent start to an album worth exploring further.       

Greatest Change by Jeremy Zuckerman from The Legend of Korra: Book One.  The erhu is such an elegant sounding string instrument particularly because it works so well at pulling on the heart strings with its beautiful, tragic sound.  The erhu's musical aura shines in Greatest Change and is particularly lovely when highlighted from from 2:14 to 2:50.  From 3:23 to 3:52 we are treated to an exciting and inspiring fanfare with the soulful erhu joined by exuberant percussion and orchestra.  Like Oogway Ascends before it, another great piece making nice use of the erhu.  

Setting Up the Lair, I Forgot Who I Was, Chasing the Hood, The Dark Archer / It Is I Who Failed the City, and Oliver Queen Suite by Blake Neely from Arrow.  A strong contender for overall best television score of the year, Neely weaves an impressive fusion of orchestra, percussion, and electronics.  Chasing the Hood notches up the adrenaline with its vigorous string rhythms, taiko drums, and synth blasts.  I forgot Who I Was treats us to a beautiful melody.  Setting Up the Lair and The Dark Archer give us some subtle heroism.  All of this and more is summarized nicely in the impressive Oliver Queen Suite.  Full Review.

Fall of the Colorado, Officer on Deck, The Peacock and the Crane, and Declaration by Robert Duncan from Last Resort.  Check out Fall of the Colorado for its gliding cello solo and moving string elegy; Officer on Deck for its pomp and circumstance; The Peacock and the Crane for a spiritually moving chorus; and Declaration for its inspiring piano and string rhythms.  Listen to some of these cues on the composer's website and read my full review.

Shenzou, Gravity, ISS, and Debris by Steven Price from Gravity.  In Gravity's 11-minute human spirit, shining finale made up of the cues Shenzou and Gravity the orchestra finale lets loose in chill-inducing harmony with exultant vocals.  This stellar finale is not to be missed.  The quiet, glassy tones of ISS offer meditative elegance with a gentle performance of Gravity's main theme.  Finally, Debris, while a challenging listen, amazes in the way it creates a musical debris field.  Full review.

Into the Cave and Soul Outside by Antonio Pinto from The Host.  Brazilian composer Antonio Pinto is another new voice for me this year, but one I look forward to hearing more from.  Into the Cave is a gently inspiring piece that plays when we see the amazing accomplishment of humans in hiding who have grown a giant field of wheat in a cave.  A great cue heralding human ingenuity.  Soul Outside is a beautiful, dreamy string elegy perfect as an accompaniment to gazing up at the stars on a cloudless night.

Stopwatch, Into the Red, Reign, & Lost But Won by Hans Zimmer from Rush.  Hans Zimmer's propulsive score to Rush features a number of excellent cues.  The duo Stopwatch and Into the Red deliver some satisfyingly good rock and roll race rhythms.  Reign explodes out of the gate with furious percussion and driving strings and doesn't look back.  Lost But Won features the best performance of the James Hunt theme with a rich cello that gradually escalates with inspiring intensity.

The Lane Family and Zombies In Coach by Marco Beltrami from World War Z. In World War Z the Lane family gets caught up in the worldwide zombie apocalypse with Gerry Lane desperately seeking clues to the pandemics origins while his family worriedly awaits his return on an air craft carrier.  Beltrami encapsulates their emotional journey in the highlight cue, The Lane Family.  Beltrami also takes us through a zombie ruckus at 30,000 feet with his propulsive Zombies in Coach.  Finally, do not miss the understated triumph of Like A River Around A Rock from 3:31 to the end.

Dream Violin by Craig Armstrong from The Great Gatsby.  Craig Armstrong's Dream Violin is in a word, exquisite. I could imagine Dream Violin on the playlist of music playing in the antechamber before one is ushered into heaven. The sublime violin penetrates the soul and leaves you with a pleasant feeling that lingers long afterwards. Truly music to ponder our hopes and dreams to.

Planes by Mark Mancina from Planes. Mancina opens the theme for Disney's latest animated show piece with Americana style noble, solo making you wonder if you are embarking on another epic historical drama.  The seriousness quickly fades as the the modern percussion and electric guitars join in with the brass continuing to play the theme.  Then it becomes easy to envision animated planes zip, roaring around in playful fun.  This cue soars!

Scaling the Ziggurat by Jason Graves from Tomb Raider.  For Laura Croft's epic climb up the Ziggurat in the video game Tomb Raider Jason Graves created a moody and percussive soundscape. The genius of this cue is the expert merging of the various percussion elements including the brawny taiko drums and metallic clangs from metal pipes. That Graves performed all the percussion makes it all the more remarkable.

By the Beach, Rivers and Falls, and River of Life by Sarah Class from Africa.  George Fenton isn't the only Brit creating beautiful music for nature documentaries.  Enter Sarah Class.  The ethereal beauty of her music makes it easy to imagine the sweeping vista of an African beach, the powerful flow of a river waterfall, or a dreamy, sonorously flowing fluid river.  Really a treat to hear!

Pacific Rim and Mako by Ramin Djawadi from Pacific Rim.  Djawadi's Pacific Rim really did not generate any interest for me because I expected another score like Iron Man, which I really did not like.  However, Pacific Rim is no Iron Man; it's ten times better!  The rock infused theme heard in Pacific Rim and the mellow Mako with its solo female vocals are some of this year's best.

Finale (William Tell Overture) by Geoff Zanelli from The Lone Ranger.  William Tell has been paired with The Lone Ranger before, but never in as exciting and rousing fashion as in Zanelli's Finale to the Lone Ranger.  The cue perfectly merges the classical origins of the piece with more modern film scoring techniques.  Even Rossini himself would be pleased.

Lucrezia Donati and Main Title Theme by Bear McCreary from Da Vinci's Demons.  McCreary's Lucrezia Donati is a sweet and peaceful lullaby that cycles several thematic variations with different instruments taking the spotlight.  A very romantic piece, but not sappy or too sugary.  McCreary's emmy-winning, sonorous main title is another no brainer.

If You Love These People, What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving The World, and Earth by Hans Zimmer from Man of SteelIf You Love These People is a perfect merging of guitar, rock band drums, and the chorus.  At its climax the cue recalls some of Zimmer's best choral action work from The Lion King.  The finale of the cue reprises the solo violin heard earlier in the score during the cataclysmic destruction  of Krypton with a beautiful solo violin.  Don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to hit the repeat button when you come to this cue!  What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World features the best performances of Zimmer's Humanity Theme and the Superman Anthem on album.  Earth is an excellent suite with several variations of Zimmer's Humanity Theme.

Main Title from Game of Thrones Season 3, A Lannister Always Pays His Debts, and Myhsa by Ramin Djawadi from Game of Thrones Season 3.  I'm definitely late to the Game of Thrones party and I admit that I've never seen an episode of the show.  That said Ramin Djawadi's music for Season Three of the popular television series doesn't need the visuals to be enjoyed.  The Main Title with its mesmerizing triplets, solo cello, and war drums, entices listen after listen.  As soon as A Lannister Always Pays His Debts begins with the cello I immediately wondered if Iwas listening to one of Bach's Cello Suites.  Soon the marching drums join with the cello weaving in and out with the violins.  Moving and subtly inspiring!  Myhsa features gorgeous female vocals reverently singing to the main theme.  At 1:40 the cue takes on a more pop sound and the chorus a more celebratory tone.  A luciously good cue cut from the same cloth as Jablonsky's My Name is Lincoln, Zimmer's Now We Are Free, Brian Tyler's Inama Mushif, and Klaus Badelt's Godspeed.

After Earth by James Newton Howard from After Earth.  I recently saw After Earth and I really didn't notice the score much until Kitai reaches a pinnacle of overcoming his personal fears through great adversity.  At this point Howard injects some inspiration to the score and what we have is a good overcoming the odds cue (The Tail on album).  A slightly expanded version of this is featured during the end credits and this provides an excellent close to the album.  If only it was longer.

Now You See Me by Brian Tyler from Now You See Me.  Brian Tyler is renowned for merging rock drums and the orchestra and Now You See Me is another fine example following up on Tyler's excellent Suite from Fast Five.  Tyler's obvious enthusiasm in personally performing on the drums makes cues like Now you See Me all the more fun.  Make sure to check out the official music video.

Terrorist Attack and Rebuilding the City / End Titles by Kevin Kliesch from Superman Unbound.  Despite direction not to employ themes, Kevin Kliesch manages to sneak some into his score for Superman Unbound, a recently released animated feature film.  The End Title suite surveys some of Kliesch's best work for the film including a soaring fanfare for Superman starting at 4:54 until 5:56.  Other satisfying performances of the theme can be found in the action cues Terrorist Attack and Brainiac Attacks Metropolis.

Chase Through Montmartre by Olivier Deriviere from Remember Me.  Remember Me is a video game with a score by Olivier Deriviere featuring some unique game play including rearranging the memories of a target.  The unique game play called for a unique score and Deriviere score delivers.  Chase Through Montmartre is a rollicking and creative action cue seamlessly merging the orchestra and electronics with the same success as Daft Punk's Tron Legacy.  

Sub Prime Directive and London Calling by Michael Giacchino from Star Trek Into Darkness.  My two favorite cues from J.J. Abrams latest Star Trek come pretty close together near the beginning of the movie.  Sub Prime Directive scores the climax of the introduction using both new and old Star Trek themes to support a heroic rescue.  The cue provides some satisfyingly good variations of the Trek theme with some especially cool, brawny percussion.  London Calling follows the title screen and provides flowing piano and strings that create an elegantly mysterious mood for the introduction of the film's antagonist (wink, nod, cough), John Harrison.  A different, but uniquely good cue in the Trek musical tapestry.   

Iron Man 3 by Brian Tyler from Iron Man 3.  Brian Tyler did what the scores for the prior entries in the Iron Man franchise failed to do: provide an memorable recurring motif giving Iron Man his own musical personality.  While not quite as good as Alan Silvestri's most excellent theme for The Avengers, the catchy, but simple theme, anvil crashes and just the right touch of choral enhancement make this one of the best super hero themes around.   

Jackie Robinson by Mark Isham from 42.  With all the big super hero movies and space sagas coming out this year I worry that this beautiful, intimate piece celebrating one of America's baseball legends will be passed over.  Well, it shouldn't!  Beginning subtly the piece weaves and wends its weigh until the brass fanfare begins at the 3:34 mark and continues until the end.  Truly inspiring like the story and man it supports.  So far this is my favorite piece of the year.  

Waking Up by M83 / Joseph Trapanese from Oblivion.  After listening to the score to Oblivion "Waking Up" instantly stood out to me as the highlight of the album.  Although a close cousin to scores like Transformers and the works of Hans Zimmer, the cue's simple melodic line, percussion, and repetitive electronic undulating merge perfectly together to create a hypnotic and addicting listen.  The build up to the three minute mark provides a satisfying climax.  

Goodbye Renegade by Joseph Trapanese from Tron: Uprising.  This cue really jumped out at me as the top piece on the album.  Unlike many of the other cues on the score that provide variations on material from Tron: Legacy, here I felt Trapanese provided his own unique high octane, multi-layered take on the Tron sound.  The merging of the main thematic line with the percussion, orchestrations, and electronics is really well done.  The energetic tempo and theme are addicting (especially at 1:28 to the end) and are sure to encourage many repeated listens.

Last Reel by Fernando Velazquez from Mama.  Horror is not a genre I particularly like because the music, while often effective for the film makes for a jarring and dissonant stand alone listen.  To some some extent that is the case with Velazquez' cue Last Reel from Mama.  That said Velazquez clearly has talent for scoring horror, fear and tension.  His use of haunting and sometimes beautiful vocals, of which their are several enchanting passages in this piece, help me to overlook some of the other hair raising, truly creepy sections.

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