MP3: John Wick (2014)

February 19, 2015 | By


JohnWick_sScore: Very Good

Label: Varese Sarabande

Released:  October 27, 2014

Tracks / Album Length:  27 tracks / (67:13)

Composers: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard

Special Notes:  n/a




When Tyler Bates emerged in 2000 with his ground-breaking score for Get Carter – ground-breaking for its seamless marriage of jazz, electronica, rock, and sublime digital processing – he demonstrated his knack for underscoring the physical actions and psychological state of violent figures driven by rage, vengeance, and a need to subjugate humanistic emotions to complete a simple task: acquire the target.

That singular design mandated a score similarly driven by a specific tone which reflected that rage-under-pressure which, in the case of assassin John Wick, was steeped in deep personal tragedy. A man who lost his humanity as hired killer, briefly reacquired it through a tender relationship, and then dumped it in total when the puppy left by his dead wife was beaten to death by car thieves.

Bates and co-composer Joel J. Richard designed their score to work within the film’s use of jazz source cues, a few rock tracks, and heavy electronic pieces heard mostly during an extended nightclub slaughter, so most of the tracks fluctuate from heavy synth chords with sharp edges – a style reminiscent of Tangerine Dream’s own ode to lonely antiheroes, Thief (1981) – to a main theme with a clacking rhythmic motor, cycling and ticking its way towards the next brutal confrontation between Wick and his target(s).

The use of a wailing electric guitar is a genre cliché, but when done well or used alongside sonic effects and shifting percussion, it works as an aural depiction of a classic cinematic antihero whose violent lifestyle is slowly consuming him like a cancer.

“John Mourns” is typical of the introspective tracks where Wick is internally struggling with loss by subjugating it, resulting in a cue that can’t assemble or settle into something melodic or whole, even for a few bars. To the flipside, “Baba Yaga” reflects the wariness of Wick’s top nemesis who knows the depth of his deadly skills, and Bates & Richards use a threadbare theme rendition with pulsing textures and a hurdy-gurdy to accent Wick’s mythic skills at focusing and finishing off his target with exceptional deftness. A percussive eruption with feedback and a rock backbeat accents Wick’s revered status as the figure desperate clients use to kill “the fucking boogeyman.”

That gnarled combination of percussion and feedback is naturally developed into the score’s menacing tracks, like the bass-drenched “On the Hunt,” and especially the fast-action “Hotel Throw Down” with sections that wind up and down, perfectly in sync with Wick’s defensive maneuvers as he fends off and wipes out aggressors. While the source tracks work well alongside the nightclub massacre, this cue defines Wick’s acumen for defensive tactics – moving, assessing, reacting, and firing before progressing to a safe zone. Bats and Richard accent the electric guitar with distortion and organic percussion before winding down the cue with another deconstructed main theme variation, with chords and tones trailing off.

“Warehouse Smack Down” is more linear in the application of bass licks and hard drum hits, but there are plenty of ambient effects that spiral from guitar and drum hits. It’s ostensibly one bass groove, pulsing and pounding towards a sonically explosive wrap-up, but the variations within the track capture Wick’s progress instead of functioning as music wallpaper.

Lakeshore’s album features the score interpolated with source cues, and although several tracks have been re-ordered for flow rather than chronological film order, it doesn’t water down the album’s impact.

Bates has spent a good chunk of his career scoring a variety of genres – he’s often regarded as the go-to guy for horror, grungy fantasy, and sci-fi with mythological backstories – and yet it’s tales of loners, where morals are grey and blemished by chunks of dirt, that he’s arguably most at home, perhaps because he draws out the strengths of his instrumental palette for almost emotionally inert characters like Wick.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



Additional Links:
Editor’s Blog — Composers on IMDB: Tyler Bates / Joel J. Richards  —  Composer Filmographies: Tyler Bates / Joel J. Richards —  Soundtrack Album  —  Film Review

Select Merchants: — BSX — Intrada — Screen Archives Entertainment

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Category: Soundtrack Reviews

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