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Soundtrack review: Maps to the stars (Howard Shore, 2014)

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Soundtrack review: Maps to the stars (Howard Shore, 2014)

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Howard Shore is a genius composer and definitely one of my favorites. He is also a very peculiar composer. I never know what to expect from him. I mean, I know that when he’s great, he’s amazing and few can match him. But there are also times when I can’t understand the way his craft manifests itself. David Cronenberg is a strange movie maker, one of the strangest in the business, and the two of them have been collaborating since the year I was born. In 35 years, Shore has had time to understand the director’s vision, thoughts, wishes, and I have no doubt that David Cronenberg wanted “Maps to the stars” to sound exactly the way it did. It’s an indie film, so it has to sound differently.
And, yes, it sounds weird. At first listen, this is the word that comes to mind. It’s a weird, twisted, minimalist score that makes me think of a cross between an experimental Radiohead album, a David Lynch composition and a Trent Reznor movie score.  Separately, I might like any of these (being a fan of all three and their strange ways), but “Maps to the stars” sounds too experimental, too out of synch with me, and I just can’t click with it.  
Cues like “Asylum corridor”, “Burn out” or “I’m sorry” are just…noise to me, unintelligible background sounds. I think I could name “I’m sorry” the weirdest of the bunch; I have no idea what this track wants to say. It doesn’t communicate anything to me. These are the lowest points of the score. Most of the other cues though aren’t that disturbing. I gave the vast majority of them three stars, because there is a glimmer of light there, and they are fun to listen to once.  
The Howard Shore I know and love shows his true colors in tracks like “Stolen waters”, and the final three pieces of the album: “I write your name”, “Liberty” and “Blanket of stars”. I connected with all of them straight away and they show heart. I am a sucker for solo strings, and “Stolen waters” and “I write your name” feed my vice, they are somber in mood, deep, and I absolutely love them. ”Liberty” uses a different kind of strings and makes me thing of Gustavo Santaolalla’s Babel score. It’s an intriguing and magnetic cue, and it leads into the last composition of the score, a beautiful minimalist and atmospheric track, a true light at the end of a twisted tunnel.
And then there’s the real star of this unexpected score, “Love is stronger than death”. This is a truly brilliant track, deep, engaging, touching, a duet of violin and cello that gives me goose bumps. Tracks like this one are the reasons I sometimes sit through scores I don’t necessarily like: the chance that I might stumble upon a gem buried somewhere in the mud.
But The Hobbit is coming soon. The score for the second movie was the score of 2013 for me, above even the mighty Man of Steel, so I have very high hopes for Shore’s “The battle of the five armies”. It will surely remind me why Howard Shore is one of my favorite composers.
If you want to read a rather different review of a Shore score, check this out…
My ratings:
Cue rating: 63.5 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 15 / 39
Album excellence: 39%
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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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