Film scores

Soundtrack review: Westender (Rob Simonsen -2003)

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Ah nice, an origin story… Love those. Except this time it’s not a movie or a TV show, neither is this the origin story of a superhero or beloved character. No, this is the origin story of one of my favorite composers from the last couple of years and the guy who just recently wrote the first (for me) perfect score of 2015, “The age of Adaline”. “Westender” is the first feature film score of Rob Simonsen and was written for a movie in which he also acted. The good folks at Keepmoving Records sent me this score and I couldn’t wait to hear how it all started. The story focuses on the adventures of the knight Asbrey of Westender who had fallen from grace and became a mere shadow of his former self. In one moment of drunken stupor, Asbrey gambles and loses his ring, a trinket of great importance that represents his past and his future. He tracks down his wrongdoer and musters the courage and inspiration for a last fight.

I am trying to imagine how I would have reacted to this score if this was truly the first time I heard this composer. I feel instant joy from the first five minutes of the score as I listen to the tender and intense notes that Rob Simonsen brought to life. After warming up with some Celtic influences we get the first goose bump moment in “Laytha visits”, the theme for the female character I guess. This cue is quiet but powerful and it has that sensitivity Simonsen is best at. I always said he should be the heir to James Newton Howard and I stand by it. “Westender” has a very nice flow to it. The violin interludes link the cues between them and there’s a serious tone in there which only makes me want to hear more.

Strings also open the theme for our hero “Sir Albrey of Westender”. And what a true hero theme this is once the sweeping horns take over and build up. I don’t need more than that minute to be convinced. Strings dominate this score and I am fine with it because nothing is in excess and everything fits. I’ve noticed this often in Rob Simonsen’s compositions: there are no fillers. Many scores have cues I could do without or skip, but not his. I find something to enjoy or connect to in every single piece of music. Just listen to how beautiful and heartbreaking “Burnt at the stake” is. This is not even one of the main motifs in this score. It’s just a regular cue which I loved from the first listen.

If I try to compare this to some of my favorite scores I would say that “Westender” is the more serious and dramatic cousin of Marc Streitenfeld’s “Robin Hood”. Strip that score of the jolly Celtic moments and turn day into night and we get this one. It’s hard to believe that this score is the first one for Rob Simonsen because it shows a depth and maturity few composers reach even after a few years. I get lost in the dark and misty “Recognized” where the powerful strings act like guiding lighthouses. This cue could work as the end credits for any medieval drama if you ask me. It has that unforgiving sense of a sentence, of the point of no return, of a hero’s moment of decision. Then the Celtic fiddles take over and our hero acts on what he has decided. Listen to this cue and you will want to hear the whole score and everything Rob Simonsen has written. I am happy to realize that I would have loved this music from the beginning.

“Westender” is thick and rich. Listening to 20 minutes of this score is as rewarding as hearing one hour of many others. Beauty and darkness go hand in hand in this wonderful multi layered composition that has its own special place. You will not forget a perfectly woven cue like “On the road”, silky smooth and sweepingly beautiful. You will be moved by the unique “Angels will meet her” which might even bring tears to your eyes. The melodic line and the angelic voices in the background combine for a poignant piece of music.

The downside of such a magical string of cues is that the next two might seem pale in comparison even if they are not. But I am experiencing this strange sensation. But fear not. Simonsen changes the game again with the almost atmospheric “The frozen knight” and the aura of uniqueness of this score returns. The story continues… And how can a composer who’s scoring his first film pull a cue like the 9 minute long wonder “Finale”? I am in awe.

I will let you discover on your own the rest of the wonders in “Westender”. For me, this was a stunning score and one more proof of why Rob Simonsen is so why on my personal list. I must admit that there are very few composers I get more excited to hear new music from than him, and he’s still climbing. I am very happy to have discovered this gem that started it all and I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it. “Westender” is filled to the brim with orchestral elegance, darkness, beauty and emotions and the thematic variety makes this journey all the more interesting. Do yourselves a favor and get this one.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 50 / 71

Album excellence: 71%

Highlights:

Preamble

Loss At The Table

Laytha Visits

Sir Asbrey Of Westender

The Abandoned Bandit Camp

Burned At The Stake

Recognized

On The Road

Angels Will Meet Her

The Frozen Knight

A New Way

Follow The Sunrise Over The Top Of The Mountain

Wrestling With Demons

Resurrection

Finale

About the author

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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