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Soundtrack Review: Brave

June 21, 2012

By Erin V.

Before I start, please note that while I’ve strayed from major plot elements, both track names listed herein and brief mentions may be considered spoilers to some, so just a heads up.

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In Brave, as the story takes us back and forth between locations, the score takes us back and forth between a celtic and more fantasy tale sound.  Several original songs were also written for the film and open the CD.  That being said, first off, I’ll profile the opening three songs quickly (which are worth their own mentions), and then work my way through the rest of the score in order.

First off, Touch the Sky is a nicely written and upbeat song with a celtic flair to open the soundtrack.  Sung by Julie Fowlis, it matches the main character Merida well and I found had good replay value outside of the film as well.

Into the Open Air, again a celtic sound sung by Fowlis follows suit profiling the relationship between Merida and her mother.  But what I love here is that neither song is literally about them, but rather evokes the emotions of these parts of the story.  The only note I have about this one, while I quite like it, is that the way it ends kind of trails off, and before hearing it on the disc I mistakenly thought when I saw the film that it was just faded out (read cut off) in editing.

The longest song on the soundtrack is Learn Me Right, sung by the British teenage singer Birdy, with the band Mumford & Sons.  Again, like the others it doesn’t feel like a dropped in song describing what the characters are doing, nor telling us who they are.  It actually feels like a classic Mumford & Sons. song which I quite like the sound of, but at the same time as though it belongs to the film.  All three of these songs that open the soundtrack very much match the film’s best moments in emotion and what they tell us.

After this 9 min. opening of songs, we get to the main body of the soundtrack, which is the score by Patrick Doyle.  Probably my favourite moment of the CD comes at the end of track 4 ‘Fate and Destiny,’ around 45 seconds to the end of the piece.  I don’t know why, but the way the piece, which changes tempo throughout, slows down into the string theme catches my attention every time.

Early on Scottish themes and rhythms are prevalent, such as in tracks 5, 6 and 7.  These set a good tone for the film, especially coupled with the visuals.  But while the elements are always there, the whole album is not entirely Scottish sounding.  In a piece like track 8, ‘Merida Rides Away,’ you can hear an example of this, as well as the fantasy elements.  This piece is quite interesting, with a mix of almost electronically produced sounds used to represent the ‘wisps’ (the part of the film this piece is scoring).  I didn’t think while watching the film that it was so much part of the music, but now I realize this piece blends right in with the sound effects.  Near the end of this piece the score gets a little darker for the first time, with a nice allusion to the beginning of the Dies Irae as well.  What is striking about this piece in the film, is that for the first time we deviate from the celtic sounds, which nicely mirrors the transformation turns the story is about to take.  Track 9 follows suit with this style, and introduces themes for incorporation later on as well, near the climax of the film.

Then we get another song on the CD – track 10, which is the drinking song in the film ‘Song of Mor’du.’  The lyrics don’t make too much sense, but that’s pretty much the essence of a drinking song, and in the film it reveals a little about King Fergus’ mindset on the ancient ‘bear’ he has been obsessed with for years.

As the score continues, it very much builds on itself through variation.  For example, tracks 11 and 12 use the same main theme in different keys.  This is an important theme for the transformed version of a character, (which reprises several times again in much later tracks).  12 – ‘Legends are Lessons’ is a slow track that blends several previous themes together one after another and works very well.  The interesting ‘wisp’ sounds from track 8 come back in track 13 – another track that often becomes more score than lyrical, but builds up a good deal of suspense.  That is what I like – it is a slow build up but not boring, and when it does kick in around a minute from the end, it works very well rather than sounding forced.  Track 14 also changes throughout, from a simple character theme to something more insistent.

Track 16 is the final song on the disc, entitled ‘Noble Maiden Fair (A Mhaighdean Bhan Uasal).’  It is a beautiful Scottish lullaby written for the film and sung in Gaelic by Emma Thompson and Peigi Barker.  It is written by Patrick Doyle with lyrics by his son Patrick Neil Doyle and Gaelic translation by Donald Macleod.  It’s placement on the disc is very nice I found, right after the slower track 15 ‘In Your Heart’ and before the action of the climax begins.

I like how the climax  incorporates previous themes (as the whole soundtrack does) without feeling repetitive as could easily happen after hearing them for a while already.  But it’s the way it’s handled.  For example, track 18 cycles through one theme several times, changing the key and creating a very driving force.  Then comes the longest track on the whole disc – track 19, which pretty much encompasses everything in the moment of the film from the final showdown to the re-transformation (of what or whom I won’t say).  As I like to hear in a score – just as I like to see story elements come together – the musical elements do here, taking us from action, into the lullaby theme.  This is another of my favourite tracks here, again really drawing me in in the latter half of the piece.  The final and twentieth track on the disc brings us to a clear version of Merida’s theme, with clear celtic undertones.  It has the distinct sounds of both a resolution and a new beginning.

I clearly can’t mention everything, but overall I found Patrick Doyle’s Brave to be very well written, incorporating Scottish dance rhythms and instrumentation throughout while still giving it fantasy elements when needed.  This was accomplished with a combination of such instruments as bagpipes, Uilleann pipes, Celtic harps, fiddles, percussion and whistles, to electronically produced sounds included for more fantasy moments of the film.  As I noted throughout, there are themes I noticed that recur for various parts of the story and characters, which are not overused.

Another important thing to note for those looking to buy this soundtrack is that the music holds up to repeated listens, and just as well both in and out of the film.  It is one of those rare scores that is both memorable, and doesn’t call too much attention to itself while played over the film.

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About the disc and packaging:  

The physical copy of the Brave soundtrack includes a booklet with pictures from the film and the words to all of the songs (including Gaelic and English translation for the lullaby).  The aesthetics of disc itself are also very nice.  The CD is gold with navy writing, and features the circular design of the intertwined bears that also appears in the film and behind the dust jacket of the ‘art of’ book.

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The soundtrack for Brave was released by Universal Music Canada on June 19th, 2012.

The soundtrack has 20 tracks and runs for 1 hour, 5 minutes, 31 seconds.  The original score is composed by Patrick Doyle.

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