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Austenland (Ilan Eshkeri; Emmy the Great)

August 15, 2013

Cover_austenlandAustenland

Ilan Eshkeri & Emmy the Great,
2013, Madison Gate Records,
11 tracks, 44:08

An Indie film about a woman obsessed with Mr Darcy. Ilan Eshkeri scores it like a romantic period piece and offers a beautiful, lyrical symphony, whilst singer-songwriter Emmy the Great provides a handful of quality tongue-in-cheek songs.

Review by Pete Simons

WINNER “Best Romantic/Dramatic Score”, 2013 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards.

What is it?

“Austenland” is about Jane (Keri Russell), a New York girl who is obsessed with the BBC production of “Pride & Prejudice”. She has an unexpected opportunity to travel to a Jane Austen theme-park in England where she hopes to find her very own Mr. Darcy. However, she gets herself caught between real and fictional loves. The film is based on a novel by Shannon Hale and has received mixed reviews. Director is debuting Jerusha Hess, who previously wrote screenplays for “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Nacho Libre”. For the music he turned to Ilan Eshkeri and singer-songwriter Emma-Lee Moss (aka Emmy the Great).

What does it sound like?

Songs by London-based Emmy the Great range from ‘cheesy fun’ to ‘actually quite good’. The songs are very well produced and Emmy has a great (pardon the pun) voice. “L.O.V.E.D.A.R.C.Y.” has a slight 80s feel through its heavy bass and it’s scatty chorus (also resembling a famous song by Noah and the Whale); whilst “What Up” is the sort of folksy guitar song you might more readily expect in an Indie drama. “Only You”, a cover of a Vince Clarke synthpop classic, combines acoustic guitar with retro beats and synths; as does “Austenland”, which is quite upbeat with its Pet Shop Boys-esque arrangement (including a pseudo-classical Trumpet solo). “Comic Books” is, dare I say, surprisingly beautiful and intimate; featuring piano, cello and Emmy’s voice at its most fragile.

The album closes with “Date Me”, co-written by Eshkeri and featuring the deep, slighty off-kilter voice of Gabriel Bruce. The lyrics are quite funny, provided this is your kind of humour (“Woman… I’m gonna date you so hard, you never gonna wanna date again”); its country-ballad arrangement only adds to the satire. It reminded me of “We’re gonna need a montage” from “Team America”! It is clear that the songs are deliberately satirical and humorous. Production values are high; yet in all honestly, their cheesiness may not be to everyone’s taste.

I’ll be honest and admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ilan Eshkeri’s contribution. With it being an Indie film, I was expecting some folksy guitar stuff. I’m pleasantly surprised that this is a rather lavish, if intimate orchestral score. When you consider that the story very much revolves around Jane Austen’s classic love stories, it starts to make sense why Eshkeri effectively scored it like a romantic period piece. Fans of his “Young Victoria” and “Retreat” are likely to love this score. And people who thought that “Centurion” and especially “Coriolanus” were too difficult a listen, will be pleased to know that his latest score is much more lyrical and accessible.

Eshkeri presents his score as a symphony, which seems appropriate considering the very classical nature of his music. The short “Prelude” introduces the main theme, which is expanded on during “Sonata”. It’s a chirpy little theme, build around a rising three-note motif. Performed primarily by strings and woodwinds, it also features accents by harpsichord, which adds to the ‘classical’ feel of the music. I’m not sure from which composer Eshkeri took his inspiration, but to my layman’s ears it sounds like it could come from Mozart’s era.

Make no mistake, the score is not some half-baked attempt at sounding pseudo-classical… this is a serious attempt at sounding pretty authentic. Only a few ‘cinematic’ touches reveal its true identity. The tone of the music is well-balanced though and certainly not too serious; the “Sonata” merrily dances along for over 6 minutes, with trumpets coming in near the end to create a satisfying finale to this cue. “Romanze” offers lush string writing, with notable solos for violin and cello. The long-lined theme is simply gorgeous; and I could only imagine someone like Michael Nyman or Craig Armstrong able to conjure up this kind of beauty. The title “Minuet & Waltz” more than accurately sums up its contents. As I’m personally not a big fan of waltzes, it is mercifully kept short at just under four minutes. By comparison, “Rondo” is quite a vigorous little piece, even if it’s still primarily performed by strings, with an emphasis on solo violin. The lively melody bounces back and forth between the strings and the woodwinds, with occasional timpani and brass accents. The orchestration (generally, but in this track particularly) is simply outstanding.

Is it any good?

Your enjoyment of the songs will depend on your mood and how well you respond to their quirky nature. All are well-written, catchy tunes that will have you tapping along. Eshkeri’s score is an absolute delight and technically astounding. A true gem. The only downside…I wish it was longer!

Rating [4.5/5]

Tracklisting

01. Prelude* (0.42)
02. L.O.V.E.D.A.R.C.Y (3.03)
03. What Up (3.57)
04. Only You (2.39)
05. Comic Books (3.35)
06. Austenland (4.36)
07. Symphony I: Sonata* (6.06)
08. Symphony II: Romanze* (6.04)
09. Symphony III: Minuet & Waltz* (3.54)
10. Symphony IV: Rondo* (3.37)
11. Date Me (Martin’s Theme) feat. Gabriel Bruce (5.55)

* Score by Ilan Eshkeri

Availability

Available digitally on iTunes.

Additional reading

Read about Emmy the Great’s experiences on Noisey.

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