For some reason, I’ve really been into film scores this year (probably because pop music has been soooo boring).
Naturally, I’m getting pumped up for the Academy Awards and this year I’m really cued into the Best Original Score category.
Up for the big award are Thomas Newman for “Bridge of Spies,” Carter Burwell for “Carol,” Ennio Morricone for “The Hateful Eight,” Johann Johannsson for “Sicario” and John Williams for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
I’ve listened to all the scores, watched some of the films, and here is my breakdown of what to expect come award night.
“Bridge of Spies”
You could say music runs in the Newman family. The son of legendary Hollywood composer Alfred Newman and cousin to multiple Oscar winner Randy Newman, Thomas more than holds his own.
Newman has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including original scores for “Skyfall” (2012), “American Beauty” (1999) and “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994).
Despite working on some of the best films in recent memory, Newman has never won an Academy Award.
Newman’s score for “Bridge of Spies” does a good job capturing the suspense and spirit of the Cold War by mixing both classic American and Russian orchestral themes, resulting in genuine tension that is carried through the entire score.
“Bridge of Spies” is a fine score, but it never seems to reach the emotional heights of “Carol,” nor is it as memorable as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
I’m afraid it’s another fruitless nomination for Newman.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
John Williams is the man. Nominated for 50 Academy Awards and with five wins to his name, Williams literally has nothing to prove.
Williams’ credits go on and on: “E.T.” (1982), “Jaws” (1975), “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1982), “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001) and “Home Alone” (1990).
Oh, yeah ... he also did the music for a little film called “Star Wars” (1977).
Listen, the new “Star Wars” is great. I loved it and, let’s face it, Williams’ score helps elevate the movie, but he already won for basically the same score back in 1977.
There are better scores this year, not as legendary as “Star Wars,” but better.
Relative newcomer to the scene is Johann Johannsson, previously nominated for his brilliant work on “The Theory of Everything” — the Icelandic man is so nice, they named him twice — gets his second nomination for “Sicario.”
Now, let’s get this out of the way: Johannsson has no chance of winning. His score for “Sicario,” however, is straight up terrifying. Without knowing anything about the movie one might guess this is the score to a Stanley Kubrick-esque horror film.
Johannsson riffs off the inherently violent nature of the film, scoring tracks that march purposefully to a dreadful resolution.
The entire score is wicked and relentless, and while this is not his year, I suspect Johannsson will be a regular at future award ceremonies.
Few films have headed into the Academy Awards with more buzz and acclaim than “Carol,” the story of two women romantically attracted to each other in 1950s America.
Composer and first-time nominee Carter Burwell crafted an elegant and touching score of original work and jazz standards from the era.
The result is a work that, as Burwell says, gives Carol and Therese (played brilliantly by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) “the ability to express and relieve emotional tensions that can’t be put into words.”
The main theme of Burwell’s score is both romantic and tragic. It’s optimistic but holds a tinge of sadness. Burwell has portrayed the emotions of forbidden love into a winning score.
Of the nominees, this is the score that works perfectly with the film and as a stand-alone composition. However, it is not the winner.
“The Hateful Eight”
If indeed Ennio Morricone wins, and I suspect he will, this will be an apology of sorts by the Academy for largely ignoring a prolific body of work that reaches back to the 1960s.
Morricone is legend who scored “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” (1966), “Once Upon A Time in the West” (1968), “The Untouchables” (1986) and “Bugsy” (1991).
Ironically, the score for “The Hateful Eight” doesn’t quite live up to his past masterpieces, but it does have its moments.
Similar to “Sicario,” the score for “The Hateful Eight” is a foreboding climb, this time to yet another bloody crescendo orchestrated by Quentin Tarantino.
If anything, “The Hateful Eight” again highlights Morricone’s mastery as a minimalist. With just a few notes he is able to capture moods that other composers could only dream of.
The added bonus of a Morricone win is the unpredictable nature of Tarantino. He most definitely will do something crazy. Guaranteed.
In the past I’ve railed against the Grammy Awards calling them “soul-sucking, over-hyped, bloated, and music’s biggest fraud.”
With age though comes new-found maturity, and I’m now willing to admit the entire production has some merit.
The Grammys can profoundly change career arcs for under-appreciated musicians. Last year, for example, more than 25 million people watched the Grammy Award broadcast. Surprise Album of the Year winner Beck saw album sales for “Morning Phase” jump 36 percent thanks to the television broadcast. More people now know Beck’s genius thanks in large part to the show.
With the 2016 show right around the corner (Sunday, February 15), there are plenty of story lines worth following. Maybe someone such as Leon Bridges gets the breakthrough he deserves via music’s biggest night.
Instead of delving into those stories and the inevitable controversy that comes with the award show, let’s try something different this year.
With a marathon run time, the Grammy broadcast, sometimes entertaining, sometimes boring beyond belief, needs a little boost to remain watch-able. Instead of hate-watching the show, I propose turning the Grammy broadcast into a drinking game because let’s face it, 2015 was a pretty boring year for music. Taylor Swift is going to win every award, and the only real shock of the ceremony will come from which starlet can remain taped into her dress the longest.
■ Every time you see Taylor Swift.
Swift, Grammy darling, savior of the entire music industry and local hero, is going to be on camera a lot. She is nominated for seven awards including Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. She’ll probably win them all because all the songs on “1989” are catchy as hell, and Swift’s good for business.
Remember, this is an entertainment TV show, and people love them some Swifty.
■ Every time someone makes a political joke/statement.
■ Any time you see someone wearing something you wouldn’t be caught dead in.
■ Every time host LL Cool J does the kiss into a peace sign hand gesture.
■ Any time someone shamelessly plugs their new album/song.
■ Any time a presenter flubs a line.
■ When someone you’ve never heard of wins an award.
■ When Kendrick Lamar name drops President Barack Obama and/or Drake.
Lamar, who earlier this year was invited to the Oval Office to chill with Obama, found himself square in the middle of a rap battle with Drizzy, aka Drake, thanks in large part to the president himself.
Obama, going way off message, said that Lamar would beat Drake in a rap battle. In classic rap fashion, Drake responded, calling out the president with a diss track “Summer Sixteen.”
Lamar somehow managed 11 nominations, including Album of the Year and Rap Album of the Year for “To Pimp A Butterfly,” and a couple additional nominations thanks to his collaboration on Swift’s hit single “Bad Blood.”
The Compton rapper also is scheduled to perform at the Grammys. If he uses any of his TV time to shout out POTUS or Drake, you must chug ... because this rap feud is as ridiculous as it gets and legitimizing it on national TV would push it completely over the top.
■ Every time you see a forced duet/group performance.
The Grammys love to pair random musicians together for award night performances. Ranging from truly terrible to occasionally great, these duets are headed your way whether you like it or not.
Already scheduled to perform together are singer/songwriters James Bay and Tori Kelly, pop artists Andra Day and Ellie Goulding, and country superstars Sam Hunt and Carrie Underwood.
While these duets sound mildly interesting, don’t count out the Recording Academy forcing something truly terrible down your throat. Maybe The Weeknd and Tony Bennett? Ed Sheeran and The Chemical Brothers? Slipknot and Lee Ann Womack?
The sky is the limit on awfulness here.
■ If a male country presenter/performer/nominee is not wearing a cowboy hat.
■ Any time an official Recording Academy representative derails the show with a boring speech.
Finish Your Drink ...
When Meghan Trainor wins Best New Artist.
Trainor is neither the best nor is she a “new” artist. Her debut single “All About That Bass” charted June 2014 and was even nominated for a Grammy last year. If she steals this award from say, Courtney Barnett, a fresh young talent truly deserving of the award, then slam your drink with the hopes of whitewashing this debacle from your memory.
■ If you start crying during Adele’s performance (I mean, come on).
If the history of music has taught us anything, it’s that music will not be contained.
Music breaks free, it expands to new territories, it crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously. But it always finds a way through to our hearts and to our heads, to reapply a quote by Dr. Ian Malcolm in the movie “Jurassic Park.”
Music lives and survives in the most unlikely places. Think about a place like CBGB. Nobody could have predicted that the notoriously disgusting hell-hole in East Village Manhattan would be the epicenter for new wave punk and the home to legendary bands such as The Ramones, Pattie Smith, Talking Heads and Blondie.
No. This, like any hole-in-the-wall dive bar, would have been overlooked and a fleeting afterthought for most New Yorkers.
Nonetheless, the music eventually found a way through to the greater masses.
This example is not unique to New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or any other music hotbed that might come to mind. Every town in the United States, no matter how big or how small, has its own unlikely bar, club, whatever, where music somehow, against the odds, thrives.
For our area that place might just be the Copper Club. We all know Fruita as a biking destination with good pizza. However, the Copper Club changes that narrative.
A 20-minute drive from downtown Grand Junction, the Copper Club is not so much a dive bar as a respectable craft brewery. But for all its charm and quality, it’s relatively unknown to most of Mesa County.
On face value the Copper Club is nothing more than a cozy space of mix and match furniture with a small bar in the far corner. A small batch, craft brewery known as “Fruita’s living room” is not exactly what one would picture as a hopping music venue.
But somehow, organically, it’s working.
The Copper Club has turned into one of the few, consistent places to catch a live show in Fruita.
Primarily showcasing the areas best singer/songwriter musicians, its space off of East Aspen Street has turned into a local hot spot.
Both bands are perfect examples of the type of music that suits the Copper Clubs’ space. Neither overpower the room. They embrace the smaller space by playing mostly acoustic instruments.
Tim+Richard offer a different take on the traditional guitar/percussion duo. Richard (percussionist) plays a Meinl cajon, a traditional Peruvian, box-shaped hand drum, that offers a crisper, Earthier tone than a traditional drum kit.
We Speak Imaginese might as well be the house band at the Copper Club. The band has played numerous shows there including its recent album release party.
Featuring mandolin, double bass, piano and acoustic guitar, We Speak Imaginese captures the vibe of the Copper Club as close as anyone.
The club’s three-year anniversary may grab your attention, but don’t overlook the events before and after that Saturday celebration.
Just a few days earlier, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, Fruita guitarist Kyle Harvey will share the Copper Club stage with long-time friend and fellow troubadour Justin Lamoureux for a sneaky good show.
Lamoureux, who has been touring both State side and through Europe with folk outfit Midwest Dilemma, blends rich storytelling and layered instrumentation in an incredibly personal way.
On “Timelines & Tragedies,” Lamoureux climbs the family tree, tracing his ancestral roots from French Canadian fur trading, through the Great Depression, and eventually to his current life in Omaha, Nebraska.
Harvey and Lamoureux is the type of show the Copper Club has become known for. The club’s laid back, laissez-faire vibe makes you feel like you are kicked back in the safety of your home.
Once just a place to get a stout beer, the Copper Club is now a lively spot to catch a live show.
In the past, I’ve spent plenty of time discussing music from a fan’s perspective and from the creator’s perspective.
I’ve sprinkled in stories here and there about recording engineers and concert promoters, but for the most part I’ve overlooked the people working behind the scenes.
As it is a new year, I made a resolution to focus on these unheralded members of our music community.
When writing about music, the glory always goes to the musician, but the music community is filled with unsung heroes.
For this column let’s turn our focus to sound engineers and one specifically: Conner Ivie.
Owner of Concert Design Innovations, Ivie has worked as a professional sound engineer for 11 years, however, he has been around the industry virtually his entire life.
“I grew up backstage,” Ivie said. “My dad worked in the production industry, although he was more theatrical oriented. He worked concerts as well, so I have been around (the industry) since I was 4 or 5.”
Ivie’s work takes him all across the country. From big festival stages such as Lollapalooza and Riot Fest to small local events like the Fruita Fall Fest and KAFM Zombie Prom, Ivie is omnipresent, dialing in audio for national headliners and local bands alike.
Ivie and his crew at Concert Design Innovations are the people working behind the scenes engineering the acoustics for live sound. As a fan, you probably don’t notice them but their work is vital to your concert experience.
They are the ones running cables, adjusting speakers and tuning the room for the show. A good sound engineer’s work elevates a band, making them sound better than they probably are, but a bad sound engineer can single-handedly ruin a concert with a poor mix.
“The one thing I wish people knew about audio engineering is that when it comes to the finished product, it is more of an art than a science,” Ivie said. “What you hear at any given show is simply that engineer’s interpretation of what all the individual noises he is given to work with should sound like mixed together, or what we think the majority of people will find most pleasing.”
For an engineer like Ivie, details are everything when starting production for a show. Elements such as temperature, humidity, elevation and wind play just as important of a role as speaker and microphone placement.
When recording an album, sound engineers spend hours or even days controlling the atmosphere to get everything sounding right. For live sound, engineers they try to do the same thing, only in real time.
“Acoustically every show is different from the soundcheck,” Ivie said. “Many of the micro adjustments we make go unnoticed, but enough of them together can be the difference between good sound and great sound.”
The work of a sound engineer often is thankless. It starts when a band loads in and it doesn’t stop until the band plays its final notes. The work also is physically and mentally grueling.
Not only are engineers constantly lugging around sound equipment, they are expected to know the science behind sound and acoustics in order to get the best results from their gear. And finally, on top of all that, they need to have an experienced and tuned ear to make the whole environment harmonious for the fan.
“You can own an amazing sound system, but if you don’t know how to set it up properly then it won’t sound good,” Ivie said. “On the other hand, if you don’t have a good ear, then you are going to make an amazing sound system sound awful.”
Ultimately, sound engineers help facilitate that critical connection between the musician and fans.
As a band showing up to a new venue, there is nothing more comforting than knowing a proper sound engineer is there to put you in the best possible situation to sound great.
As a fan, you should be thankful that someone such as Ivie is sitting behind a mixing board engineering the set. A great-sounding set resonates just as well with the band and fans as it does on the engineer.
Anyone who has spent time around Zolopht, whether that be at one of their shows or just on the patio at Roasted coffee shop or any number of their favorite local hangouts, knows the band’s key to success.
It’s not their musical chops or their engaging live shows (though they’ve got both covered) that make Zolopht one of Grand Junction’s favorites.
It basically boils down to this: It is fun hanging out with these guys.
“Each of them has a great sense of humor, and I often found us all feeding off of it,” said Taylor Riley, Fusion Audio Solutions sound engineer.
Riley recorded Zolopht on its last two records, including its newest, “Flexor,” which will be out later this month. He sees what everyone else sees in Zolopht: a light-hearted group of musicians who make music that genuinely matches their personalities.
“A producer can only be so lucky as to work with such groups,” Riley said.
To his credit, Riley, who has become the go-to sound engineer for many local bands, helped capture Zolopht’s playful and positive moods in the studio, making the new record just about as fun as the band itself.
“We love Taylor,” said Zolopht rhythm guitarist and vocalist Zac Grant. “He’s easy to work with, professional, and best of all, a musician. He’s patient with us and our process, which really helps.”
Pulling the best sound out of a seasoned band such as Zolopht is getting easier and easier.
Between the band’s first record, “pH Balanced,” and the new record, Zolopht has gotten better not only as musicians but as songwriters.
For “Flexor” the band added Daniel “2 Chainz” Ohlson on trumpet and Cody Krieger on saxophone. The expanded horn section brings new depth to not only to the band’s songwriting, but helped rounded out their overall sound.
“The songs on this album are a bit more in-depth, perhaps more progressive than their previous release,” Riley said. “It’s an album made to hear from start to finish, over and over again.”
“Flexor” shows off a band that is starting to figure things out and settle in as a group. Playing and recording with eight other musicians is undoubtedly a challenge, but listening through the album you can hear everyone’s contributions and you really get a sense of where the band is headed creatively.
“When we released ‘pH Balanced,’ we were new to the studio atmosphere as a full band,” Grant said. “We had toured a good amount, but we were pretty new. (With the second album) we were more prepared and had a clear idea of what we wanted this album to express.”
Fans of the first album will find the dynamic sound Zolopht has become known for on “Flexor.” The band pulls influences from all musical styles ranging from reggae to bluegrass and makes the sound its own with vocal harmonies and an accompanying horn section.
Already a favorite live act, Zolopht proves with “Flexor” it is seriously pursuing music on terms that work for all the band members.
Music is more than an identity for these eight musicians. It’s a powerful channel to connect with their fans. “Flexor” shows off the band’s easygoing style and gives you a sense of who these people are.
They love making music, and they love sharing it with their friends and fans.
To promote the new album, Zolopht will play a number of shows this December.
On Friday, Dec. 11, the band is playing the Tap House in Steamboat Springs.
Then Zolopht will head back to Grand Junction for a show with Audic Empire and Coral Thief on Friday, Dec. 18, at Barons.
Finally, on Saturday, Dec. 26, the band will officially release “Flexor” at an album release party at Sabrosa.