LUV or Learning Uncle Vincent is a 2012 Baltimore set crime-drama directed by Sheldon Candis, recounting the story of an 11-year-old boy Woody who gets a crash course in what it means to be a man when he spends a day with the ex-convict uncle he idolizes and is taught a lesson in gangster-hood. The score is written by a Portuguese composer Nuno Malo, whose elegant score for No God No Master first caught my attention. No less elegant is LUV although in a completely different way.
Malo musically addresses the gangster element and the harsh realities of the Baltimore set story with what one could classify as modern or urban approach. That to say that he throughout most of the score combines almost sound design-like synths so popular in countless urban dramas with subtle orchestral textures a la Thomas Newman. The composer has also chosen to incorporate the electric guitar as the prominent solo voice of the score that functions as the emotional commentator of the story and gives an additional doze of “urban” sound to the music.
A good sample of the tone of the score comes with the opening track ‘Woody’s Coming of Age’ that gradually develops into an electric guitar led elegy of sorts, at the onset presenting the poignantly rising main theme to the listener. The tone of the guitar is not anthemic or energizing but rather abrasive almost harsh as it ghosts the main melody, a stylistic counterpoint to the elegant orchestral backing, bringing an interesting contrasting dissonant element into play that still sounds at home in the soundscape of the score. ‘A Family the Prays Together’ is a Thomas Newman-esque piece of mood painting with an echoing wandering piano melody wafting through a haze of orchestral and strummed string sounds. The same piano motif is later reprised in more focused form in ‘Suited and Booted’ over synth backing and is one of the lighter touches of this rather sombre score. ‘Money on Monday’ again taps into the Newman-like synth work with a nervous dotted rhythmic keyboard pattern.
The composer captures a very modern urban atmosphere with his ‘Stop Crying/Into the Darknes’s where pulsing synth tracks combine with an expansive reading of the fateful main theme, while ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ achieves a ghostly beatific sound with synthesized choir that is brief but moving. Another fine example of the subtle yet melodic use of synths comes with the meditative ‘Never Show Weakness’ where Malo creates dramatic feel of inevitability through very simple means.
‘The Death of Vincent/Find Her’ is one of the highlights of the album, a beautiful pathos filled string elegy where the serenity of the orchestral writing is combined with the raw tones of the electric guitar and expertly used to accentuate the tragedy of the moment. All comes to an moving resolution with tracks the ‘Visions of a Better Life’ that offers the appearance of a new redemptive theme and \End Credits/Main Theme Reprise’ where Malo is allowed to write a lengthy exploration of his main idea in a classic end title suite fashion. Here also the electric guitar is used wonderfully for a visceral emotional effect.
The whole score for LUV is fashioned with similar care as the examples above and the music’s appeal lies in its relative simplicity and the emotional honesty that is tied to these simple yet poignant structures. The end result is strangely compelling, the music oftentimes straightforward, conjuring emotion through the barest chord progressions and at others impressing by its ability to create effective atmospheres while surprising the listener with the dramatic acuity when weaving together all its elements in different combinations. While the mood and sound painting are central to this score the composer never forgets the main melodic and thematic content as an emotional anchor for the whole soundtrack. Thus even when separated from the images the music retains its dramatic arc that stands as a strong self-contained experience on album. This is a prime example of modern atmospheric score done right.
Luv is out now from Lakeshore Records