Sunday, October 26, 2014

Music Review: Wonders (The Piano Guys)

Five months is definitely the longest I've ever neglected this blog. Unfortunately, I've not had a whole lot to say on any non-40K subject. However, the Piano Guys have given me something to write about with their new album Wonders.

I first heard about the Piano Guys when somebody linked to their video for "Cello Wars"; an entertaining take on John Williams' most famous Star Wars themes: "The Imperial March", the Force theme, and "Duel of the Fates". It wasn't until much later that I found out that the well-known pianist (at least in Utah) John Schmidt, who I had seen perform at BYU, was the group's piano player.

After seeing the videos for "Titanium/Pavane", "The Cello Song", and others, I was eager to buy their first album, The Piano Guys. They followed this up with another series of videos, including the fantastic "Rockelbel's Canon" (still one of my favorite videos), which ended up in their second album, The Piano Guys 2.

The Piano Guys are still going strong with their latest album The Piano Guys 3 Wonders, which was released earlier this month. The album includes:

"Story of My Life": The Piano Guys are apparently fans of One Direction, having done at least two versions of their songs (the other I'm aware of is "What Makes You Beautiful"). Most of the reason why I like this track is because, like so many of their other works, I can't help but to mentally associate it with their video, which was designed to be a tearjerker.

"Let It Go": Of course they did a cover of "Let It Go"; who didn't? What makes their version unique is how they've mixed it with a classical piece, specifically Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons: Winter".

"Ants Marching/Ode to Joy": I have to admit that I was completely unfamiliar with the Dave Matthew's Band's "Ants Marching" before hearing the Piano Guys' version. If it weren't for the Piano Guys or Weird Al, I would know practically nothing about popular songs or bands. Once again they've mixed it with a classical piece, "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's "9th Symphony".

"Father's Eyes": A rare song from the Piano Guys; the vast majority of their work is instrumental with occasional non-lyrical vocals in background. Although I like the track, the singer's voice is a bit too high for my tastes.

"Kung Fu Piano: Cello Ascends": This is another cover of a modern work that incorporates a  classical piece. In this case it's an arrangement of "Oogway Ascends" from Hans Zimmer's score for "Kung Fu Panda" (hey, something I recognize!), mixed with Chopin's Prelude No. 20, Op. 28. The video for this was actually filmed on the Great Wall of China.

"Summer Jam": I believe this may be one of the album's original pieces. It's upbeat and kind of fun, but rather forgettable.

"Batman Evolution": Definitely one of the highlights of the album. After opening with Danny Elfman's theme from Batman (1989), the Piano Guys sample music from the campy '60s Batman TV show, followed by another bit of Elfman's score, and then Hans Zimmer's and James Newton Howard's Batman theme from Batman Begins (2005)/The Dark Knight (2008). They finish off the track with a brilliant mix of Elfman's and Zimmer's/Howard's themes. The '60s theme is noticeably absent here, but it would almost certainly feel out of place if it had been included.

"Don't You Worry Child": Another actual song; this time it's a cover of one by Swedish House Mafia (no, I'd never heard of them). Interestingly, the Piano Guys have given the song an Indian-feel and have replaced the song's original words with Hindi lyrics. This may be one of my favorite pieces from the Piano Guys, probably because the singer, Shweta Subram, has a beautiful voice and because I'm a sucker for songs with foreign lyrics (most of my favorite Josh Groban songs are in Italian or Spanish).

"Home": This is a cover of Philip Philip's song (I haven't heard of this guy either, am I that out of touch with modern pop culture?). For people like myself, they've thrown in a bit of Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor ("New World Symphony"). This piece starts out a little slow after the energetic "Don't You Worry Child", but it picks up near the end. And anything with Dvořák has to be good.

"The Mission/How Great Thou Art": This is a mix of a theme from the film The Mission (1986) and the well-known hymn "How Great Thou Art". The music is beautiful, of course, but it's best heard while watching the video, which was filmed at Iguazu Falls and at the foot of the famous Cristo Redentor statue in Brazil.

"Because of You": After some Sunday afternoon music, the Piano Guys give us something more upbeat. I don't know if this is a cover of something or one of their original works.

"Pictures at an Exhibition": This is the Piano Guys' rendition of the "Promenade" melody, variations of which are repeated throughout Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition". It also happens to be one of my favorite classical works. While staying faithful to Mussorgky's original, it gives it a much more modern sound.

Although a fan of their previous two albums, I thought that Wonders was stronger than Piano Guys 2. It has more memorable tracks, a lot of variety, and some of their best songs.

By the way, it's always a good idea to watch the Piano Guys' videos. For several of their arrangements, the visuals are a lot of the fun (most particularly for "Rockelbel's Canon").


Related Posts with Thumbnails