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Tree of Life (Audiomachine)

July 28, 2013

Cover_treeoflife TREE OF LIFE

Audiomachine, 2013, Audiomachine
26 tracks, 61:29

A slick little album, “Tree of Life” is big, it’s bold and it’s epic without ever becoming overbearing. Strong emotional writing and a respectable level of restraint make this one of the most enjoyable trailer music albums available today.

Review by Pete Simons

WINNER “Best Trailer Album”, 2013 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards.

What is it?

Not one to shy away from stating the obvious: trailers are big business. And so is the music that accompanies them. The days that pre-existing soundtracks got tracked in (remember when Randy Edelman’s “Come See the Paradise” was all the rage?) are long behind us. Composers like John Beal, Immediate Music, Two Steps From Hell, E.S Posthumus and Audiomachine found fame by providing original music for film trailers.

Only a few years ago it would have been hard to believe that trailer music in and by itself would become as popular as it is today. One could argue that whilst trailer music started out mimicing film scores, nowadays it almost seems like it’s the other way around! Wikipedia lists well in excess of 200 music libraries. In that respect, Audiomachine may seem as only one of many. They are however arguably one of the more succesful, popular and best amongst the lot. Little can be found about them, but being founded in 2005 Audiomachine appears to consist of 6 composers (Paul Dinletir (who appears to be the founder), Danail Getz, Jeff Marsh, John A Graves, Kevin Rix, and S M Koch) and are based in Hollywood.

“Tree of Life” (largely based on one of their industry-only releases) is their fourth commercially available album after “Epica”, “Chronicles” and “Helios”. Where the previous three releases focused on balls-to-the-wall bombast, “Tree Of Life” does not.

What does it sound like?

You already know – in a way – and yet this album manages to surprise. It sounds like trailer music and has an deliberate familiarity about it. Some of it you may recognise from advertising campaigns. Yet, Audiomachine have done something really clever with “Tree of Life”. It’s a compilation of somewhat gentler, sometimes melancholy but mostly feel-good tracks. It’s still epic, make no mistake about it, but it stops short of going over the top and instead focuses on emotional content. At times it reminds me of Patrick Doyle, Marc Shaiman and Thomas Newman – that’s the kind of melodies and harmonies to expect from this album. And THEN there are drums and choirs…

The album kicks off with “Above and Beyond” one of the best tracks on this album and – as far as I’m concerned – in the history of trailer music. Piano and cello share a long-lined theme before strings and choir take over. As you’d expect the cue builds towards a finale with chanting choir and thunderous percussion. It doesn’t come much more epic than this. It is also a prime example of what this album is like. Melodies are arguably longer and more recognisable than their film score counterparts; and the mixing and production is very clean. Yes it gets loud, but never in a noisy way.

The title track “Tree of Life” is typical for the majority of themes on this album. Long-lined, as I said before, it appears to build up from blocks of three notes each. Da-da-dummmm, da-da-dummmm, etcetera. I guess this structure makes it quite easy to accentuate specific notes or sections, which is ideal for trailer purposes. It’s a style that returns throughout numerous tracks. “An Unfinished Life” has a slightly darker, melancholy edge to it; whilst “Breaking Through” (albeit it very short) is one of the most jubilant and exciting pieces I have heard in a long while! I fear this track alone may have got me a speeding fine…

“Equinox” combines a string ostinato with singing choir creating a joyous atmosphere. “The Fire Within” has an instant familiarity about it (more so than the other cues) and is equally instantly likeable. Again, the theme has this three-note structure. “Life Chronicles” is a quiet, hesitant little piece for strings and piece. It bares a fleeting resemblance to Blake Neely’s “Space Shuttle Columbia” and I keep willing it to segue in to Neely’s lush piano theme. “Solstice Sun” continues with a rising ostinato for strings, before choir takes over and brass provides a descending counterpoint motif.

The Truth” is said to be a fan-favorite with well over a million views on YouTube. It is absolutely gorgeous, combining dense string writing with a reflective piano melody and some electronic percussion. It is actually quite a sad piece, though it picks up towards the end. And while this one is exceptionally introspective, even by this album’s measures, it highlights why “Tree of Life” is the success that it is, as it dares to put emotion before volume. “Homecoming” is a personal favorite and puts a smile on my face, even within the first three notes. Quite cleverly, it starts off with a descending string line, but as the sound palette expands the melody is turned upside down and all of a sudden consists of ascending notes. Horns add scope before choir and percussion add majesty. It ends with a graceful rallentando.

“Apotheosis” is a fairly typical trailer cue with its staccato strings and chanting choir; though its low tempo again emphasises that this album dares to take it slower. “Turning Point” is another highlight, with a long-lined string theme and brass counterpoint. “Rebirth” starts off a bit sparse, but soon builds into an infectious march. It too has that 3-note thing going on; and ends with a series of stingers.  “Age of Innocence” feels oddly out-of-place and it’s taken me many listens to come to terms with it. Written for strings and singing choir it has a very solemn, hymn-like tone to it; and for better or worse keeps reminding me of Christmas!

“Hallowed Dawn”, “Hope and Glory” and “The New World” crank up the epicness again with strings, choir and percussion. “Ashes to Ashes” is another track that feels a little at odds with the rest of the album. It is pretty, but its use of echoing acoustic guitar feels a little out-of-place here. “Cry Freedom” is an Americana track in the style of 90s rom-coms and dramas. It contains hints of Marc Shaiman (“The American President” comes to mind) and a touch of Thomas Newman. It sounds very familiar and the string-and-horn counterpoint writing is admirable. It does feel as if it’s trying  very hard to sound familiar, but then places its notes differently so not to sound too familiar… the result is beautiful if a little jarring and takes a few listens to get used to.

“Day One” is almost entirely for strings, starts off softly and gradually builds towards a crescendo. The title apt, as it does convey the feeling of a new beginning. In comparison, the bass ostinato in “The Great Unknown” sounds very synthesised; one of the very few occasions where the music is clearly sampled. For the most part the album sounds very organic. Without a booklet I can’t be sure about the exact instrumentation, but I suspect that Audiomachine use both live and sampled orchestra. Most, if not all, of the percussion is definitely sampled.

“Remember the Titans” and “The Legend Begins” kick of with a similar string ostinato albeit in different registers. The latter has a more refined melody and is rather charming, whereas the former is fairly standard trailer fare. “Across the Horizon” effectively evokes images of travelling through a lovely melody, that wants to be reminded of something, but as with most of these cues I can’t quite work out what of. The melodic line of “Leaving the Nest” caught me off-guard a few times, but proves to be wonderfully dramatic. It’s one of the very few cues where I actually want the music to grow even bigger than it does. The only negative comment about this track is that the theme and its accompanying ostinato are both for strings and are both performed in high registers. This creates a jarring overlap of notes. “Final Hope” provides a heart-felt and noble finale to an outstanding album.

Is it any good?

“Tree of Life” may be big and epic, it is never overbearing. It manages to combine the obligatory percussion, ostinato strings and chanting choirs with charming melodies and warm harmonies; and packs an emotional punch. Each track is just about long enough to offer a well-rounded composition; and it is worth noting that each track does have proper ending either through a closing crescendo or rallentando. And though we are dealing with 26 individual tracks (which inevitable does have some impact on continuity) Audiomachine manage to bring them all together through uniform orchestrations and strong melodic writing. Whether intentionally or not, quite a few melodies bear a resemblance to each other (often build up in blocks of three notes), which does aid uniformity. Also I find that competing albums often open with their best tracks, after which they become either boring or overbearing. Not “Tree of Life”! Whilst the first half is better than the second, this is only marginally so. The album manages to engage the listener from start to finish. Considering the type of music, and considering Audiomachine is 6 composers at work, this is no small feat. The consistent level of quality (in writing, orchestration and production) throughout its one hour running time is commendable. And subsequently extremely recommendable.

Rating [4/5]

Tracklisting

1. Above and Beyond (Paul Dinletir) (2:53)
2. Tree of Life (Kevin Rix) (2:03)
3. An Unfinished Life (Danail Getz) (2:05)
4. Breaking Through (Jeff Marsh) (1:20)
5. Equinox (Paul Dinletir) (2:27)
6. The Fire Within (Kevin Rix) (2:27)
7. Life Chronicles (Kevin Rix) (2:26)
8. Solstice Sun (Danail Getz) (2:20)
9. The Truth (Paul Dinletir) (3:24)
10. Homecoming (Jeff Marsh) (3:14)
11. Apotheosis (Kevin Rix) (2:47)
12. Turning Point (John A Graves) (2:54)
13. Rebirth (Kevin Rix) (2:18)
14. Age of Innocence (Danail Getz) (2:30)
15. Hallowed (Dawn Kevin Rix) (1:59)
16. Hope and Glory (Paul Dinletir) (2:10)
17. The New World (Jeff Marsh) (2:03)
18. Ashes to Ashes (Kevin Rix) (1:41)
19. Cry Freedom (Jeff Marsh) (2:35)
20. Day One (S M Koch) (2:05)
21. The Great Unknown (Kevin Rix) (1:54)
22. Remember the Titans (John A Graves) (2:18)
23. Across the Horizon (John A Graves) (2:25)
24. The Legend Begins (S M Koch) (2:20)
25. Leaving the Nest (John A Graves) (2:13)
26. Final Hope (Paul Dinletir) (2:36)

Official Website

Visit Audiomachine.com

Availability

Digitally on all the usual sites (CDBaby, Amazon, Google, I-tunes)

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5 Comments
  1. Craig Richard Lysy permalink

    Nicely done. I must insist that you continue to review the scores I purchase with such precise timing! : )

    All the best!

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