Film scores

Soundtrack review: A light beneath their feet (John Swihart – 2016)

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“A light beneath their feet” stars 2015 SAG Award-winning actress Taryn Manning as a young mother with bipolar disorder struggling with the looming departure of her daughter, the one force of stability in her life. Madison Davenport gives a breakout performance as a daughter struggling with the decision whether to stay local for college where she can remain the stable rock in her mother’s life, or to detach and go to her dream college across country. The score was written by John Swihart.

There are a number of directions a composer can go with a story like this; it depends on the tone of the movie and on the approach of the director. There have been a number of movies about coping with different diseases lately and the trend has been to give the music a lighter and more personal tone rather than go all dramatic and bring something heavy. There are short solo guitar motifs to express the thoughts of the characters, maybe to also express hope and finding the silver lining in this situation.

I am a big fan of ambient music and John Swihart must be as well because a find a few very charming atmospheric cues in this score. They make sense in context: a piece like “Promise me something” with its innocent tone makes me think of a very personal promise made to someone very close; a simple promise, no big words, but one that means the world to the person who receives it. “First drug store” is just as charming and minimalistic. 2015 has been the year of minimalism in film music and I welcomed it with open arms. This score fits right in.

Some cues are just echoes; they are under a minute long and work as flashes. Other moments combine the guitar with the ambient sound and we get “Beth wakes up” which is still a simple composition but very revealing in the way it expresses conflicting states of mind. I can hear the haze of a confused wake up, I can hear hope and I can even see smiles in this cue.

The composer put a lot of care into each cue as if he was planting fragile little flowers in a garden. “A light beneath their feet” reminds me of what attracted me so much to Rob Simonsen’s music in the past couple of years. The music is bare and stripped of anything other than pure emotion. Just listen to a cue like “Swingset” and to the wonderful sanctuary of loneliness it evokes. I will keep this one on my list for best cues of the year.

“A light beneath their feet” is quite the gem; it is a beautiful illusion, the afternoon sun gleaming on the surface of a warm sea with all the emotion and nostalgia this brings. The score’s ambient moments are so good that they made me think of Brian Eno’s music as well. Give this one a listen and you will not regret it.

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 24 / 32

Album excellence: 75%

Highlights:

Jeremy Goes To Dashula’s

Promise Me Something

Beth Wakes Up

First Drug Store

Swingset

Morning Song

Underground

Wrong Meds

Knives

Dashula With Dad

Mom In The Hospital

 

 

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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