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Soundtrack Listening: ‘Colossal’

Original Music by Bear McCreary

Whether or not you know Bear McCreary’s name, you’ve almost certainly heard his music. The gifted Composer has spent the last decade crafting striking original music for some of the better genre fiction around. That includes sci-fi films like Europa Report (2013) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). And yes, it includes his iconic work on Battlestar Gallactica (2004 – 2009) and The Walking Dead (2010 – present).

Like I said, you’ve likely heard McCreary’s music before. You’ll have a chance to hear a little more this week when Nacho Vigalondo unleashes Colossal on the world. The film stars Anne Hathaway as a hapless, hard-partying young woman on the verge of a breakdown when she finds herself newly unemployed and single. Her life gets a little more complicated when she discovers she may have a connection to recent Kaiju attacks on the other side of the world. You read that last bit correctly. But by all accounts, Colossal is full of surprises. That means the less you know about it the more fun it’ll be. I have no intention of spoiling anybody’s good time, so I shall say no more. But I can tell you that Bear McCreary’s music matches the film in its epic aspirations, its catastrophic campiness and its ardent intimacy.

That’s no easy feat. Part Kaiju actioner and part psychological drama, Colossal is nothing if not an ambitious piece of work … a daring anti-genre film that shifts tone with near reckless abandon. McCreary’s score unfurls with an equally schizophrenic feel, often shifting between classical orchestration and indie-folk noodling within the space of a single song. His compositions stalk through the film’s shifting narrative with the kinetic energy of a perpetual mood swing. McCreary achieved that effect by taking an unorthodox approach to Colossal‘s music … he scored the final minutes of the film first, then worked his way backwards.

By that standard, he actually sets the tone for the album in its closing tracks, ‘The Colossal Finale Part 1’ and ‘The Colossal Finale Part 2’. As expected, the songs are very different animals. But they’re both built around the same three chord strumming that ultimately becomes Colossal‘s central theme. ‘Part 1’ uses that strumming to build an ominous opera of heroism from its dense layers of guitars and strings and horns. ‘Part 2’ strips away all those layers and finds a sense of peace in its gentle interplay of guitar and violin. Back to back, the songs harken to a certain sense of duality. And that thematic conflict carries through every song that McCreary crafted in their wake.

Of course, with any album you should always start at the beginning. And you will hear that conflict in the album’s opening track ‘Colossal Prologue’ – a two-and-a-half minute tease of madness to come that shifts between the grandiose and the intimate with uncommon ease. It’s the intimate that dominates the opening moments of ‘Prologue’ follower ‘A Monster Hypothesis’. Madly tinkling pianos and sporadic strings lend the song an air of intense internal conflict. McCreary builds on that intensity throughout the track, dropping in percussion and guitars along the way,  building towards a crescendo that doesn’t arrive until the final 20 seconds.

From there, McCreary shakes loose, shifting between the orchestral and the indie rock at a feverish bent. Throughout Colossal he finds as much pathos in a guitar as he does in a violin. Along the way, he crafts maudlin, introspective laments like ‘A Walk In The Park’ and ‘The Birth Of A Monster’ as easily as the boozy sleaze of ‘The Most Irresponsible Thing’ or the pulsing intrigue of ‘Confronting Oliver’. Whatever the style, every track seems ever on the edge of erupting into action movie bombast. But they never quite do. Nor does McCreary ever give his music over to the film’s darker tones or campy corners. Rather, McCreary walks his music through the spaces in between. He navigates each shift and turn with the skill of a Composer who excels on the fringe control. His songs feel like they’re on the edge of collapsing. And that frantic, melodic energy gives a pulse to beasts and burdens that populate Colossal.

Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal arrives in theaters this Friday. That’s April 7 if you don’t have a calendar in front of you. Lakeshore Records will release Bear McCreary’s Original Score in conjunction with Mondo this week as well. The album will hit digital platforms the same day the movie is released. And yes, Mondo will be releasing the soundtrack on vinyl with all the requisite Mondo extras. That disc won’t be in stores until May 26. But you can pre-order your very own copy today at www.mondotees.com. See that you do.

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Patrick Phillips is a Staff Writer for CutPrintFilm and geekinsider.com. He spends his time drinking coffee, buying records, writing stories and wondering why he never started a band. Follow him on Twitter at Patrick Phillips @savagedetectiv