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Broken Horses (John Debney)

April 24, 2015

????????????????????????????????????BROKEN HORSES

John Debney, 2015, Lakeshore Records
32 tracks, 62:16

Don’t worry horse lovers, this is not a film about our equine companions, though it does feature a horse. And a score. By John Debney. And it’s good.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Having left town as a child after the death of his father, young music prodigy Jacob Heckum (Anton Yelchin), returns to his desolate hometown after years, only to discover that Buddy (Chris Marquette), the child-like elder brother he left behind, now works for a notorious drug gang. The gang’s ruthless boss has twisted Buddy’s simple mind and manipulated him into a killer, who blindly does as he is told. Drowned in guilt for having abandoned him, Jacob realizes the only way to save Buddy is from the inside out. “Broken Horses” was written, produced and directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra; and features a solemn score by John Debney.

What does it sound like?

“Main Theme” opens the album and it’s a wonderful, melancholy tune performed here on a solo cello, with subtle synths and guitar in the background. It’s a sparse theme, nothing fancy. It’s very solemn and uncomplicated. It reminds me a little of Michael Kamen’s “Open Range” or Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven”, especially when performed on piano or guitar.

It returns a few times throughout the score in cues like “Coming Home” (clarinet and cello), “Brothers” (guitar), “Troubled Children” (wordless vocals), “Fateful Decisions” (piano), “Waltz 1” (violin and vocals) and, of course, closing track “Theme from Broken Horses”. All are equally mesmerising.

Debney says of his collaboration with the director: “Having been a huge fan of Mr. Chopra’s work, I was absolutely thrilled when asked to do the score for “Broken Horses”. Working with Vinod Chopra was one of the highlights of my career.”

The “Love Theme” (and later “Victoria’s Theme”) is as sparse and yet as lyrical as the main theme. The performance for guitar, clarinet and strings reminds me of Gabriel Yared. Elsewhere (“The Memory”) Debney utilises a classic children’s tune to create a tense atmosphere. There are quite a few cues that are dominated by unnerving sound design, mostly in the form of slowly evolving synth pads. And though they’re not obtrusive, they also add very little to the album experience. Losing some 20 minutes of these brooding cues would’ve made for a tighter and more appealing album.

Is it any good?

John Debney’s “Broken Horses” is a score of two halves. There are a lot of slow brooding cues that, whilst adequately executed, add little to the listening experience. They may be effective in creating tension on-screen, but they are rather dull away from that screen.

The other half of the score features some wonderful melodies that, in my mind, harken back to the 90s, perhaps even 80s. The “Main Theme” and the “Love Theme” are both lyrical and passionate, yet very restraint, which is particularly noticeable when performed on a solo instrument such as the cello, piano or guitar. Those cues are simply gorgeous, and luckily there are quite a few of them too!

Rating [3.5/5]

Tracklisting

1. Main Theme (2.29)
2. The Killing (1.52)
3. The Funeral (1.18)
4. Coming Home (1.32)
5. Tense Standoff (2.58)
6. Love Theme (1.28)
7. The Homestead (1.04)
8. Brothers (0.55)
9. The Memory (1.44)
10. Garza Appears (1.43)
11. Dead Zone (1.13)
12. Tense Moments (3.08)
13. Choices (2.20)
14. Victoria Rides (1.26)
15. Troubled Children (1.04)
16. Killing My Brother (2.14)
17. Midnight Wait (1.34)
18. Blood Moon (1.28)
19. The Last Stand (1.34)
20. Into Mexico (1.37)
21. Psychopath (1.20)
22. Buddy Goes Nuts (5.19)
23. Stare Down (1.09)
24. Victoria’s Theme (1.21)
25. Tell Me Everything (3.26)
26. Fateful Decisions (3.56)
27. The Waiting (1.28)
28. Heart Beats (2.35)
29. Blind Killing (1.11)
30. The Escape (3.06)
31. Waltz (0.58)
32. Theme From: Broken Horses (1.46)

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