M83 and Joseph Trapanese

Oblivion: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(Back Lot Music)

Apr 25, 2013 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Listening to the M83-penned soundtrack for the new Tom Cruise sci-fi flick, Oblivion, one can't help but recall M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez's recent interview with Pitchfork, lamenting the amount of interference by film studio Universal. He pondered the missed opportunity to make a truly singular and creative film score on the level of Jerry Goldsmith or Ennio Morricone, the kind that are rare these days and hardly ever attached to the kind of preordained blockbuster that an actor of Cruise's caliber leads.

It's true: the art of the film score won't be resurrected by the Oblivion OST. And yet it's a very good album in its own right, and at least good enough to listen to on its own. Oblivion is directed by Joseph Kosinski, whose Tron: Legacy featured a score written by Daft Punk and arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese. Trapanese, who also worked on M83's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, returns here. The score works best when the syrupy Hollywood strings are designed to interact meaningfully with M83's chunky John Carpenter-style synth work, as on "Waking Up" or "Canyon Battle," both of which are dramatic and startlingly well-arranged. Where the soundtrack fails is in finding a diversity of tone. Pieces such as "Ashes of Our Fathers" begin with minimalist, detuned synth bleeps, seeming to give a breather from the orchestral density, only to resolve in complete orchestral density.

The tracks here are also quite long for film cues, which usually range from 30 seconds to three or four minutes, rarely longer. Nearly every track on here is in the three- to six-minute range. That makes sense, as modern action sci-fi tends to be saturated with aural emotional manipulation rather than the occasional thoughtful silence. But that duration leads to a degree of filler in the score, with every piece running the gamut, creating a kind of homogeneity of emotions. Everything ends up epic: epically sad, epically triumphant, or epically exciting. Film scores work because of specificity of emotion via simple and memorable melodic themes put through multiple variations over the course of a film's duration.

M83's audience knows they could nail this and are probably excited for this score for that very reason. But instead of a whole homemade M83 cake, we get an M83 glaze atop the sheet cake of a standard Hollywood film soundtrack. One can't help but wonder what an M83 film score that wasn't forced to play it safe could be. Here's hoping they get another chance, because there's a lot of promise here. (www.ilovem83.com)

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