Soundtrack Picks: “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT” is the top soundtrack to own for AUGUST, 2018
Also worth picking up: BLACKkKLANSMAN, BLACK MIRROR: ARKANGEL, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, DAMSEL, THE MEG, ROCKET GIBRALTAR, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, WILSON’S HEART and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE COWBOYS: THE DELUXE EDITION
What Is It?: By 1960’s end John Williams was making the evolution from such wacky comedy scores as “Penelope” and creator of fantastical TV music for “Lost in Space” into more high-minded subjects. Not only would he drop the ‘ny’ from his first name, but also getting his first true major “adult” score from “The Reivers,” filmmaker Mark Rydell’s tender look at a bunch of kids starstruck by Steve McQueen’s hellraising grifter. But it was with the young’uns thrall to The Duke that Rydell truly unleashed Williams’ full-blown Americana for 1972’s “The Cowboys.”
Why Should You Buy It?: While this wasn’t the composer’s first round up in the genre after his score for “The Rare Breed” and episodes of “Wagon Train,” “The Cowboys” truly revealed his sweeping, orchestral expertise for iconic themes and emotion, especially given an actor who was the west. Drawing on the swaggering, dance-like sagebrush evocations of Aaron Copland and Jerome Moross, then fashioning them into his own distinctive voice for the American outback, Williams’ landmark score starts off with a gloriously exhilarating theme that’s the visual epitome of galloping through the range, music that’s cattle driving joy itself. Like “The Reivers,” the score is full of comic incidence for a pack of greenhorns, with the great harmonica playing of “Midnight Cowboy’s” Tommy Morgan’s harmonica, tack piano, guitar, the groaning sound of a Brazilian cuica bass harmonica for Bruce Dern’s villainous Longhair and a bunch of outrightly gawky rhythm for learning the cattle wrangling ropes. It’s an authenticity that evokes the landscape as William’s soon-to-be iconic, beyond lush orchestrations soar with widescreen grandeur. With the score’s initial sense of fun, “The Cowboys” presages Williams’ scores to come with an Irish-flavored round-up that would go full land grab in “Far and Away,” or windswept beauty that presaged the going away son—mother hug of “Superman.” But with one of the great shock deaths of cinema, “The Cowboys” gets considerably more dramatic to show these kids the real violence of the old west they’ve been sheltered from. Rattlesnake percussion and ominous strings bring an impactful darkness to the score, the militaristic drums of adolescents turning into righteous executioners met with furious, cunning rhythm – even if the score still doesn’t lose a youthfully melodic twinkle in these heroes’ eyes with their musical rebirth into men of the west.
Extra Special: A once in-demand bootleg LP before lawfully riding the CD as a thirty minute album with Varese Sarabande, “The Cowboys” now revels in its full glory for the label’s 40th anniversary, “The Cowboys,” courtesy of producer Robert Townson and William’s expert sound restorationist and liner noter Mike Matessino that not only gorgeously remasters the sound, but also round up the running time with atmospheric alternates and its overture and intermission for the 70mm version into 75 thrilling minutes that show a maestro now truly ready to ride the Hollywood range like never before.
2) MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT / GENIUS: PICASSO
What Is It?: Lorne Balfe has definitely accepted the mission of becoming one of Hollywood’s busier composers, often picking up the rhythmic mantle from his mentor, and collaborator Hans Zimmer, with a stylistic range that jumps boldly into multiplex action with the likes of “12 Strong,” “The Hurricane Height” “Geostorm” and the more proper Netflix series “The Crown,” – all leading to two of his most impactful scores for adventurers who physically, and artistically save the world.
Why Should You Buy It?: Steadily trying his hand at franchises from The Terminator to Pacific Rim, Balfe now steps into the shoes of a series that’s kept running in such distinguished shoes as Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Michael Giacchino and Joe Kraemer. With his own voice, as always intertwined with Lalo Schifrin’s iconic TV themes, Balfe lets the fuse fly for a dynamic score for a movie that counts as the best of the bunch. Giving Schifrin’s jazz-action and military motifs a brass punchiness worthy of John Barry, Balfe skillfully modulates the score from simmering tension to pounding chases. The villainous new world order is given piercing, skin-crawling string sustains, while the hinted romance between Ethan Hunt and his MI-6 counterpart is played with long, somber regret, melody that says there’s no happily ever after in their business. But it’s the film’s numerous stealth and escape sequences in which Balfe’s exceptionally well-plotted music shines (and is frequently solo’d on the soundtrack), bringing on unusually exotic drum percussion during a prisoner breakout. Piano solo suspense that brings to mind Michael Small conspiratorial scores like “The Parallax View” effortlessly dashes to dynamic, full-throttle orchestral action. With nuclear destruction to be averted, Balfe ingeniously brings in a wrath of God chorus at vital junctures for all of it’s stirringly apocalyptic worth. But the highlight is just how well Balfe handles the seemingly impossible three way climax that goes on for the film’s final thirty minutes, jetting from helicopter-like rhythm to bomb defusing tension and farewell-to-thee tenderness, climaxing in the triumph of the singers picking up the Schifrin theme as civilization is saved once more. It’s exhilarating, suspenseful work that’s all about can-do team spirit where Balfe hits the big Hollywood bull’s eye like never before, matching the elegant sophistication and gloss of a series that impossibly hits new, jaw-dropping heights with each entry, and score.
Extra Special: Having received an Emmy nomination with Hans Zimmer for their main title music to the Albert Einstein-centric score of last season’s “Genius,” Balfe returns to hear the brilliance of a world-changing iconoclast – in the case an artist whose fantastical brain was reflected in brushstrokes as well as self-destructive passion. There were as many sides to Pablo Picasso as his styles evolve, a headstrong determination of beauty and bullheadedness that Balfe captures with no small amount of his own genius. Singing with orchestra and jazz at its start, Balfe reflects how Picasso was determined to shatter both the old artistic guard and its Puritan tastes, bringing contemporary musical vitality to Picasso’s life through his concentration on melody and interesting, often playful electronic atmospheres for a man who relished in devilish provocation. Yet buried in his bravado is the wounded, small boy that Balfe captures with tender strings and piano. Just as he expressed Einstein’s Germanic heritage, Picasso’s ethnicity is played with lyrical Spanish guitar, harmonica and accordion as an often joyous, humorous dance, while also being sure to capture the tragedy that drives Picasso. But for the most part, there’s even more exuberance to this season’s scoring, with mystical, atmospheric work that builds with to a heaven-sent fever pitch to capture the creative process, cues that end with that “voila!” reveal of one of many masterpieces. At points recalling the symphonic storminess of Beethoven if he had a Spanish spring to his step as well as the modernism of Philip Glass and the clarinet whimsy of James Horner in his score for “Sneakers,” Balfe is as modern as can be while reflecting the classically-minded old Europe that Picasso helped to forever change. This “Genius” soundtrack shows us the mesmerizing, myriad sides to an revolutionary as Balfe paints another captivating musical portrait worthy of his show’s title.
3) THE VALLEY OF GWANGI
What Is it?: Next to such gunslinging composers as Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone, perhaps no musician made his mark on the movie sound of the American west like Jerome Moross. Practically exploding onto the scene with his swaggeringly thematic, Oscar-nominated score for “The Big Country” in 1958 (a year that would also see his rousingly evocative scores for “The Proud Rebel” and “The Jayhawkers!”). Moross took a balletic, Aaron Copland aesthetic to the mountains and prairies, his brass-driven themes singing for both the vast landscapes and their hard men. It was a style symphonically packed with both heroism and danger that shaped the genre’s landscape, even if by 1969 he hadn’t scored a western in some years. But given his credentials, it was positively inspired for Ray Harryhausen and company to have Moross score a cross between a western-dinosaur hybrid that lay within “The Valley of Gwangi,” a score that epically demonstrated that Moross could stylistically lasso a steer as well as he could a snapping allosaurus.
Why Should You Buy It?: Harryhausen’s stop-motion mentor Willis O’Brien had been hoping to realize his dream project of dinos vs. cowpokes for decades. And though the creator of “King Kong” might not have lived to see it (though did a sort of variation with giant ape vs. cowboys that Harryhausen helped animated with “Mighty Joe Young”), “Gwangi’s” unusual genre mash ended up being one of the stop motion maestro’s most enjoyable films. That’s because this was a story, and score that was determined to play it straight, even while acknowledging the incredibility of roping a seemingly extinct carnivore. Given that Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer had often turned to Bernard Herrmann for such monster-filled classics as “Jason and the Argonauts” and “Mysterious Island,” it seemed only natural that Moross would bring out a similar, rhythmically jagged style to personify the titular beast, as well a magical sense of discovery for the film’s equally charming miniature horse. But if anything, “Gwangi” is memorable as an evolution of Moross’ “Big Country” sound, a grandly thematic, sometimes romantic score whose sweeping charge-ahead rhythms immediately conjure images of cattle drives, hoedowns and romance – with an extra emphasis on snapping, shrill brass to give the score the angry weight of a round-up unlike any other. Moross thematically balances the melodically scenic with animalistic danger as he rides into the forbidden valley, with Gwangi’s motif a mix of bucking percussion and trumpeting rage that delineates white hats with blue, scaly skin, as well as giving Spanish flavor to the film’s setting. Like his friend Herrmann, Moross hears stop motion as a dance of sorts to match his own original compositions in that field, his rhythm giving real punch to some of Harryhausen’s best sequences, especially during the thematic interplay for Gwangi’s capture, music that treats what could have been ludicrous and condescending with all the sweepingly melodic passion he gave to Gregory Peck when he rode the high country.
Extra Special: Intrada has gone into the hidden valley to bring forth the missing link among the memorable scores that Harryhausen’s creations inspired. “The Valley of Gwangi” is certainly one of the grail soundtracks in the bunch, and it doesn’t show much age with this album’s robust sound that, not only containing the entire original score, but numerous alternate takes and plentiful P.T. Barnum-worthy marching band music that capture the disastrous hubris of James Franciscus’ hornswoggling antihero.
4) WESTWORLD: SEASON 2
What is it?: Amidst the dark, fantastical worlds that Ramin Djawadi has helped construct for cable with his series scores for the likes of “Game of Thrones” and “The Strain,” none is more musically mind-boggling than “Westworld,” which only manages to be more tantalizingly confounding as each season goes by. After the first run’s time warping introduction of the androids and their eventual rebellion, the new edition concentrated on their attempted breakout, a quest for liberation that not only journeyed to new territories, but went further into the characters’ minds to impossibly blur the difference between human and mechanoid.
Why Should You Buy It?: Ramin Djawadi’s styles are as diverse as the realms that make up the seemingly continent-sized Delos, as lush, classically attuned strings and poignant melody give far more emotion to these creations than their masters. Cues often building with a profound sense of realization, while the sound of technology run murderously amuck is heard through distorted synths and sampling. Djawadi effortlessly jumps about with iconic genre sounds, whether it be the ominous drumming of war painted Native Americans, the strumming of Spaghetti westerns or player piano that convey the show’s mix of authenticity and cruel artifice. But of all of the environments that Djawadi rides to, none offer more exotic, and heartbreaking opportunity than Shogun World. With the setting of feudal Japan coming alive through traditional wind and percussion instruments like the shamisen, shakuhachi and taiko, it’s a delicate cello that paints a portrait of the robots confronting their mirror Asian images and storylines – with a full orchestra reflecting a heart literally ripped asunder for all of its emotional devastation. It’s a massive sonic landscape almost makes “Throne’s” Westros seem small,
Extra Special: From “Westworld’s” introduction with the stunning chamber use of The Rolling Stone’s “Paint It Black,” Djawadi’s subversion of popular music has been a highlight. Not only does the Stones’ devilish tune show up again, but Djawadi offers unplugged variations that include, Mozart, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” and Radiohead’s “Codex” as played with piano and strings. The height of irony over usually violent scenes just might be The White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army,” whose melody Djawadi plays on a Sitar as we’re introduced to Delos’ India subdivision as a prelude to a tiger hunt where the humans become prey – which is usually par for the course in the world’s most lethal, and ineffectively guarded amusement park.
What Is it?: Where such westerns as “Little Big Man,” “A Man Called Horse” and “Dances With Wolves” strove to show an authentic Native American existence as seen through the eyes of a white character, 1980’s “Windwalker” was essentially the first sound movie to be completely about Indians – even if it headlined the decidedly British Trevor Howard for box office necessity. But then, it can be said that it’s the spirit of the intent that’s most important of all in paying respect to a vanished civilization. So where the score by Merrill Jenson might not be solely comprised of chants and indigenous instruments, the gorgeous music, as conveyed by The National Philharmonic Orchestra, most certainly captures the pride and emotion of the Cheyenne that “Windwalker” salutes through its final life-spanning tale of a great warrior.
Why Should You Buy It?: A prolific, often faith-based composer, Jenson was certainly put in good stead for this film by scoring “Indian” and “Three Warriors” for “Windwalker” director Kieth Merrill. Using vast string landscapes, noble brass and soaring melodies to connote a land only touched by those who’d been there for millennia, Merrill’s gorgeously thematic score immediately connects the character to circa 1797 Utah, a land filled with both string poetry and the darker threat of Crow raiding parties and ravenous wolves. While it’s very much a “Hollywood” approach honed through decades of film scores, Merill invests his sweeping orchestral approach with unmistakable Indian rhythms, adding to a scoring approach created by Hollywood’s Eastern European settlers with a true Indian flute, drums and, French horns. It’s a seamless integration that comes across as believable to both the reality of the people, and the very nature of storytelling that serves as “Windwalker’s” narrative framework.
Extra Special: “Windwalker’s” music reflects an ancient culture whose music comes from the woods themselves, with a “celestial” echoing flute and the kind of bigger imagination an orchestra captures. As finally released on CD by the archival soundtrack specialist label Dragon’s Domain, “Windwalker” stands tall as a major, spiritually moving discovery in the annals of western scoring.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BASIL POLEOURIS COLLECTION: VOLUME 3
Before, and even after Basil Poledouris captured the ocean’s creatures with a symphonic power as vast as the sea itself in scores like “The Blue Lagoon” and “Big Wednesday,” the water-loving composer was dipping his toes into a way smaller ensemble of synth, pop and acoustical music. Now two of Poledouris’ similarly themed works (but for fish and mammals of vastly differing temperaments) are unleashed in all of their grooviness with Dragon’s Domain’s double header CD of 1977’s “Tintorera: Killer Shark” and 1979’s “Dolphin.” Both sound nothing like the Poledouris of “Wind” given their dominant use of electronics, which swims between eerie tonality and disco / jazz fusion for the “Jaws” rip-off, of “Tintorera,” in which Brit ladies Susan George and Fiona Lewis get chum mixed in their hedonistic waters while vacationing on “the island of women.” Realizing that to go for a John Williams approach would be as foolish as skinny-dipping in man-eating waters, Poledouris uses mesmerizing washes of electronic melodies for the shark stuff, hits of metallic percussion blending with sampled howls and piercing sustains. It’s a synth sound very much of the period, coming across for this Mexican production like an Italian horror score where a slasher is menacing a sexed-up disco. Poledouris hits up that dance floor with boogying grooves, sexy keyboards, sax, and romantic flute and guitar for the movie’s real focus on bikini babes – the music on the prowl with lust and romance. Adding to the score’s retro fun are its catchy disco songs. But the straight up “Together Until Goodbye” (written by Carol Connors, who’d next pen and sing “My Love, We Are One” for “Orca the Killer Whale”) has a sensually lush, string and guitar backing with a memorable melody that could have easily played as a James Bond end title song. Though Poledouris’ made a way more respectful breakthrough right after “Tintorera” with the epically symphonic “Big Wednesday,” it was no doubt the far more noble aims of 1979’s factual “Dolphin” that had him return to lower budgeted music waters, again in a far different voice. With a sound that recalls a more pleasant version of Mike Oldfeld’s “Tubular Bells,” Poledouris mixes an acoustical approach with pop-friendly synths to reflect these naturally empathetic animals, music that’s about empathy as oppose to fear. It’s a tenderness reflected in piano, guitar and gentle pop percussion that continues his exploration of jazz fusion in a way that’s far more poignant. Though stylistically different than his orchestral voice, “Dolphin” truly reflects Poledouris’ innate love of the ocean that filled both his professional and personal lives, as accompanied by the documentarians’ pleasant message songs. Certainly of interest to the composer’s fans who want to hear him in a completely different medium, every bit of breathing space has been filled on these discs with the scores’ intended, unreleased albums, alternate takes and songs for a voyage into much bigger things that’s well chronicled as always by score oceanographer Randall D. Larson.
Since his first score, and Spike Lee Joint for 1991’s “Jungle Fever,” jazzman Terence Banchard has impressively grown through such soundtracks as “Malcolm X,” “Summer of Sam,” “Clockers” and “She Hate Me” to not only bring Aaron Copland-esque Americana to a uniquely African American musical form, but also the far funkier vibes of its pop evolution. It’s a sound that’s played both dramatic importance and socially biting humor, a duality that now comes home to roost at an especially vital time for Lee’s especially pertinent “Blackkklansman.” Satirically waving the Confederate flag at “Dixie” with full, drum-beating Confederate pride is only the start of this rousing, Afro power fist in a white hooded face as Blanchard goes Klan hunting with determination and retro soul brother humor to stick it to the worst Man of all. Using electric guitar licks that channel Eric Clapton alongside lush strings and vibes, Blanchard’s uses two themes – an orchestral one that socks home the solemn determination of its undercover cop, and one given to retro rhythm for his often humorous infiltration. The composer’s uniquely rousing brass sound conveys conflicted patriotic nobility and danger that gets across the as well as the very real menace of the film’s somewhat overt Klan buffoonery, music with a real sense of empathy for a detective discovering his racial identity in service of a force that often brutalizes his people. At his score’s most entertaining 70’s groove, Blanchard goes into a throwback vibe worthy of John Shaft. Both musician and director build steam with a growing sense of outrage, until finally going for the gut punch with its documentary ending as Blanchard’s serious theme roars with its all of its full, smashing brass and string weight to express how the racist past has never changed at all in the present. It’s devastatingly, tearfully indignant music as the militaristic drums of the cute opening cue now serve as both a call to action for the audience, and a cross burning march for emboldened, murderous racists who now don’t need to hide behind masks. Like Lee’s film, Blanchard’s end music is agitprop that’s needed more now than ever.
. BLACK MIRROR: ARKANGEL
Mark Isham at first created a magical score for Jodie Foster’s angel of the backwoods in “Nell” before accompanying her behind the camera with the jazzy scores of “Little Man Tate” and “Home for the Holidays,” But if those works ranged from the spiritually dramatic to often humorous character studies, their new director-filmmaker collaboration for “Black Mirror” takes a more darkly potent turn into tragedy. With this series’ “Twilight Zone”-esque spins on modern technology and its usually terrible effects, “Arkangel’s” finger-wagging goes towards surveillance run amuck with smothering mother love as a monitoring device is implanted a child who grows to violently resent it. Isham takes an eerie approach that recalls his murderously suspenseful tones for “Kiss the Girls” and “Don’t Say a Word,” with the attacker being good intentions, and the victim privacy. “Arkangel” begins with a rhythmically pensive theme for piano and cello for more innocent times between mother and daughter. Yet we can tell something’s off as he nightmarishly dives into a life-changing, near-death accident. Isham’s use of sampling has often had a sci-fi atmosphere in such scores as “Fire in the Sky” and “Next,” here taking on an especially chilling tone for a seemingly benevolent device. Gentle bird cries and keyboards might give us a sense of Zen-like comfort, but as the years pass, the haunting, often piercing use of cello becomes increasingly melancholy with its thematic cry for help, a teen’s anger growing as the instrument’s organic sound turns to gnarled, electronic emulation. But as opposed to slamming home the final irony that’s a trademark of “Back Mirror,” both Foster and Isham take a subtly haunting approach that makes perhaps this season’s best episode all the more emotionally devastating. Their “Arkangel” is a thoughtful, melodically chilling and heartbreaking work in the next, rewarding chapter of a collaboration that’s been a long time coming, paying off with haunting, mesmerizing results worthy of the best future shock on television.
. CALL THE MIDWIFE
A hit BBC series about the joys and sometimes sorrows of nurses n’ nuns doing the rounds of the poverty-stricken, baby-popping East End has created no end of pleasant music from Italian composer Maurizio Malagnini, who’s been helping from the womb for this popular BBC series since Season 4. His choice selections are now brought forth via Silva Screen Records’ charming, tunefully packed album. Malagnini has certainly done his orchestral practice on the BBC with such series as “Muddle Earth,” “The Body Farm” and “The Paradise.” And like fellow Italian composer made good in Britain Dario Marianelli, Malangnini has a real talent for sumptuous orchestral music. But while repeated spoonfuls of sugar can turn the listener to Scrooge instead of Florence Nightingale, Malangnini is exceptionally skilled with dispensing richly emotional music in a way that avoids treacle. Given a top notch orchestral performance, the composer’s character-accented love of strings, piano and flowing melody make his “Midwife” shine as a pure listen apart from a show Americans might not be familiar with, even if the emotions of child delivery are translatable to any ear and social standing. While this show’s neighborhood might be the dumps, there’s a gorgeous richness that shines forth on just about every cue, whether Malagnini is capturing resplendent joy, tenderly expressing tragedy or going for poignant nostalgia. What his “Midwife” brings forth in its numerous selections is unabashed, quite lovely melody that makes each newborn’s cry special indeed, no matter how many musical babies he’s delivered on the show.
. CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
It’s a boon-Pooh time for movies to be looking with wistful nostalgia to A.A. Milne’s stuffed, sweet animal creations and their effects on the boy who played with them, Last year’s “Goodbye Christopher Robin” revealed the author as an absentee dad who gives his son no small amount of psychological baggage to carry, his regret played with bucolic drama by Carter Burwell. Those same themes of being an bearly-there father now carry forth with the imagined, adult life of “Christopher Robin,” who’s matured from a charming kid having tea with his little buddies into a rueful salaryman to whom memories of gently fantastical fun are barely a blip – of course until Pooh and pals suddenly show up in his “real” life. It’s a theme about rediscovering one’s inner kid that’s been heard in every movie from “Drop Dead Fred” to “Hook,” but one that’s still provides catnip to composers who are young at heart – no more notably so than with Geoff Zanelli and John Brion. With both composers having heard childhood enchantment before with “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” and “ParaNorman,” a trip to via tree trunk to Milne’s 100-Acre Wood certainly proves inspirational. Gamboling in the forest with enchanted bells, soothing bucolic melodies and just a bit of melancholy for innocence lost, but eventually regained. Zanelli and Brion’s score is a comforting, emotional blanket that’s especially fun when hearing talking, marvelously realized animals intruding on an utterly repressed England. Rubbed wine glass, loopy brass and children’s voices seamlessly give life to the notion of stuffed playthings in the flesh as honey-sweet themes for a dad rediscovering himself meet the clever, bouncy Klezmer music of a Tigger on the loose. There’s lovely, fairy tale stuff at work throughout “Christopher Robin’s” score that hears the stuff of enchantment and family reconciliation, resolving in a charming, sweeping orchestra that understands the utterly gentle attraction of Winnie the Pooh. Some of the Sherman Brothers’ songs from Pooh’s animated adventures also appear here for an album that basks in the timeless company of these beloved characters for truly magical score that will make you believe a bear can talk, let alone sing.
. COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT
By 1970, evil, or at least seriously over-thinking computers were beginning to rule over sci-fi cinema. But perhaps the ultimate achievement in creating a non-nuked dystopian society belongs to that year’s “Colossus: The Forbin Project.” An quite great unsung movie directed by Joseph Sergeant (who’d inspire an equally innovative score for “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”), “Colossus” had a canyon-sized Big Brother machine show its superiority over its cocksure egghead creator, steadily forcing humanity to accede to its every whim under pain of atomic annihilation. Much like the calculating circuits, French composer Michelle Legrand (best known later for his erotic grooves for “Purple Rain” and “Against All Odds”) created a prescient score out of the Hollywood gate that could stand proudly with the Avant garde likes of Jerry Goldsmith’s “Planet of the Apes” and Gil Melle’s “The Andromeda Strain.” Routed in modern classical composers like Igor Stravinsky than the more experimental electronic realms that immediately leap at the listener as being “sci fi” as such, Legrand uses organically rhythmic movements befitting “Rites of Spring,” along with exotic, ethnic percussion to emulate the sound of electronic music. But here the tabla drums and tribal percussion are the ever-calculating mind of a child evolving into super genius with the of a Russian computer compatriot. There’s plenty of experimental jazz-like riffs happening as well, with a cool, baroque harpsichord theme that connotes a straight, sinister line of thought as joined by panicked gestures – much like a bunker full of freaking technicians realizing they, and the human race, are no longer the masters of their planet. “Colossus” is a continually agitated score for the most part as Colombier captures a swirling sense of desperation, the plucking strings and violin strokes becoming increasingly sinister to laugh in the face of militaristic music. Imagine “The Hunt” from “Planet of the Apes” extended to just about an entire score, and you’ll get an idea of the unnerving energy that Colombier achieves – though to be fair there is a humorous bit of va-va-voom as the theme becomes sensuously resplendent for Colossus to observe the mating habits of lesser life forms. Long a cult movie, and score for those in the know, La La Land now unleashes this brilliant, feverishly chilling score through their exciting new collaboration with Universal that promises to unearth other longed-for scores in the studio vault, which “Colossus” finally grants access to. Liner note writer and “Colossus” uber-expert Jeff Bond is just the right person to calmly detail this fascinating, and still vibrant score that showed just how ingeniously music could capture the permutations of a well-meaning monsters that movie science delighted in creating during perhaps its most creative era.
The Austin-based Zellner Brothers detune the archetypical western idea of a gallant man out to rescue a comely maiden from the land’s worst varmits into a wonderfully off-kilter dramedy. And who better to bring along on a seeming savior’s quest than the filmmakers’ neighboring band The Octopus Project? This four musician indie darling collective first with the Zellers on the ironic “Fargo”-inspired “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter.” First attracting notice at Coachella over a decade ago for their eccentric way of pairing electronica with acoustic instruments, the Austin-based Octopus’ tentacles truly capture the impossibly diverse landscapes that “Damsel” and its adorable miniature horse travel over, from beach to desert to prairie to the wild forests and back again. It’s the kind of west that can only live in an increasingly deranged rescuer’s imagination, a musical landscape of beautiful, lyrical insanity. Using such expected acoustical instruments like the guitar and banjo in completely unexpected and hallucinogenic ways, the band brings in surreal electronics and subtle acid rock grooves in a way that seems at once to be absolutely authentic and absurd for the period. There likely hasn’t been such a weirdly spellbinding trip across a no man’s land since Pink Floyd dropped acid at “Zabriskie Point,” let alone the Sonic Youth soundtrack of “Made in USA” or the airy guitar work of Explosions in the Sky (it’s no wonder that Octopus Project opened for them). No matter how far out “Damsel” might get, there’s a rustic quality that keeps the score grounded in the dust and sand, the strumming, with the spooky feeling of a seemingly improvised score being created before our ears. Certainly one of the more beguilingly innovative films and soundtracks to hit this year, The Octopus Project shows they can howl like a coyote, have a flute and water bowls commune with Indian sprits (as eye-rolling as they get towards these white people) or trickle like a mountain brook in their captivating fusion of the organic and electronic – even as Robert Pattison serenades us with the love ballad “Honeybun” among the soundtrack’s many bemused delights.
. DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT
From their first wackily murderous teaming with 1995’s “To Die For,” Danny Elfman and Gus Van Sant are an eccentric match made in misfit composer-director heaven. It’s an originality that especially shines to Oscar-nominated effect when playing outsiders trying to fit their ideas into a disapproving society with such films as “Good Will Hunting” and “Milk.” But perhaps no subject has had a more difficult time finding themselves in body and soul than John Callahan, who’s driven into a wheelchair by alcoholism, only to find redemption though self-help meetings and a gift for outrageous cartooning. Given Van Sant’s typically surreal and unsentimental approach to what could’ve been a straight-line biopic, Elfman starts his wacked-out drawing with a jazzy hand, his score filled with that musical form’s improvisatory, hip quality. Grooving with the humor and anger that flows from Callahan’s alkie mind from one moment to the next, Elfman is interestingly all over the place with a rhythmic approach that at times seems to be in the Twilight Zone between Miles Davis and John Adams, let alone a warped Peanuts special. Voices and deceptively sweet bells percussion get across Callahan’s quality of being a devilish kid and motorized wheelchair Evil Knievel, gifting the score with both a sardonic attitude and real poignancy. As “Foot’s” themes reveal themselves, we hear Callahan’s soul coming together with every psychological movement he takes through a 12-step program. “Worry” is ultimately the sound of redemption and sweet, internal piece, a poignant view of a misanthrope that’s one of Elfman’s most unique efforts, in a long string of them with Van Sant as they go rolling merrily along with a true sense of discovery. Even Callahan’s own tune “Texas When You Go” shows up here to humorously strum along.
JURASSIC PARK: FALLEN KINGDOM
Though he’s played with retro superheroes, soaring starships and primal man-apes, no hit franchise affords mega-composer Michael Giacchino the sandbox to monstrously romp in like Jurassic Park, even if the place he first gloriously attacked for “World” gets incinerated with “Fallen Kingdom.” If anything, segueing from a volcanic island to mansion opens up even more opportunities for Giacchino to roar like a big monster kid, especially when in the brassily snarling company of the new mutant raptor Indominus Rex. Its cunningly dark theme is among the many notable melodies that Giacchino unleashes here, beginning of course with John Williams’ noble trumpet motif. Giacchino swiftly goes his own with child-like wonder, biblical choruses, evil military marches and symphonically throttling chases in tow, all of which transition to a house haunted by very much alive extinct animals. Treating the doomed Isla Nubar with a sense of majestic reverence and melancholy for the many species that aren’t going to get off it before the big volcanic boom, “Fallen Kingdom’s” soon goes for wickedly fun action as the dino-bidders are turned to mincemeat, even playing the stalking with overt comedy for one bit. But with all of the orchestral weight that Giacchino brings to the score, there’s a brightness to the fear, and more importantly, a real melodic empathy that goes out to these poor reptilian captives, music that makes us root for their escape while simultaneously making us pray that the Indominus doesn’t. Giacchino holds back until the very end to gloriously let loose with Williams’ full “Jurassic Park” theme in a way that brings the series full circle to a world where dinosaurs will likely rule again, let alone provide this wonderfully enthusiastic composer with plenty of new thematic opportunity for a series that’s far from extinct.
. THE MEG
Sure it might make you want to think about 1975’s “Jaws” with its poster of an open-mouthed super shark. But “Meg” is actually way more of a glorious throwback to the awesomely silly, if well-made 90’s days of “Deep Blue Sea” (not to mention “Deep Rising”), especially when it comes to the era’s rhythmic brand of synth-orchestra scoring, a decade that Harry Gregson-Williams cut his teeth abetting Hans Zimmer on the likes o “Broken Arrow” and “The Rock,” as well as his own “The Replacement Killers” and “Enemy of the State.” It’s a fun, pulsing spirit of good vs. evil that surfaces in “The Meg” with a souped-up vengeance. With one racing musical setpiece after the other, his “Meg”” score is in furiously dangerous and heroic pursuit with its wash of synths, strings and voice, all with a very keen sense of the environment. Pinging to the deepest recesses of the ocean with sonar-like cries, Williams also lets us know we’re in Asian waters with ethnic winds and percussion. While a sense of rapturous, twinkling wonder greets his exploration, doom-ridden voices soon tell us that we should’ve stayed the hell out. Strong themes play throughout “Meg,” as heroic motifs do battle with brassily rampaging melodies, nicely emotional music saluting one fallen cast member after the next as the music accelerating between rocketing suspense. Yet like the film, there’s a wink to the score that tells us not to take all of this too seriously. It’s a sense of beat-heavy futuristic electro-string fun and excitement that makes “The Meg” vintage Harry Gregson-Williams, while showing us just how much he’s evolved in the multiplex game, even if its shark remains defiantly stuck in the prehistoric age.
. LEAVE NO TRACE
There’s often a yearning rustic quality to English composer Dickon Hinchliffe, a way of using guitar and eerie keyboards to tap into a lost America in such films as “Texas Killing Fields,” “Out of the Furnace” and “At Any Price.” His acoustic heavy voyage down the rustic indie back roads of poor, spiritually lost citizens impressively began with 2010’s “Winter’s Bone,” a critically acclaimed look at a young woman’s hardscrabble Ozark existence that introduced Hollywood to both actress Jennifer Lawrence and filmmaker Debra Granik. While her star has certainly been prolific in the years since that’s also seen Hinchliffe take on such stylistically diverse work as “Locke” and “Peaky Blinders,” it’s taken nearly a decade for Granik to take another walk through the backwoods of psychologically wounded characters. But finally with “Leave No Trace,” she’s back on track with a father and daughter who have zero desire to be on society’s radar. Beyond sharing “Winter’s Bone” deceptively bucolic vision of an verdant existence on the edge of civilization, it’s also a film told with utmost naturalism, here with no hero, villain or any melodrama. Keeping to an ensemble of folk instruments and electronics, Hinchliffe creates an entrancing mood piece that steadily journeys through country grooves and gently plucked strings in a way that’s unmistakably woodsy. It’s music that’s both spiritual and haunted with dark, sometimes nightmarish metallic and guitar effects, conveying the uneasy peace that a gravely wounded veteran finds in his rootless existence, with sadly ethereal passages hinting of the awful experience in the desert war that have silently broken him. It’s also a score of immense, subtle tenderness for the relationship with a teenage girl who’s reached the end of wandering down rootless paths with him, the score finally coming to a fiddle parting of the ways. Haunting in its subtle impact, “Leave No Trace” show a director and composer who most definitely know the realistically emotional path they’re taking through a backwoods that’s as much a physical place as it is a psychological one.
. NO WAY OUT
Along with such symphonically trained masters as Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry, Maurice Jarre jumped at the chance to use electronics in the 1980’s – creating a distinctive synth sound with the mesmerizing likes of “The Mosquito Coast,” “Apology,” “Jacob’s Ladder” and the Oscar-winning “Witness.” The result took his sound in unexpected, somewhat experimental directions while losing none of his melodic signature. Jarre’s approach turned what might have been a more conventional thriller sound into something even more dangerous especially when it came to the murderous town of Washington D.C., and the halls of The Pentagon in particular for 1987’s “No Way Out.” With a forebodingly rhythmic theme driving the suspense, Jarre gets Kevin Costner’s lust-struck military officer in way over his head for a lethal cover-up that finds him as the prime suspect of a Russian spy hunt before that sort of thing was acceptably out in the open. Jarre’s motif-filled score is especially atmospheric with his wash of electronic tonalities, a sound that’s almost sci-fi in its mesmerizing reverberations. But while there’s an almost ethereal quality to “No Way Out,” Jarre is just as quick to jump from spy sneakiness into ferocious percussion, the chases becomes ever more breathlessly relentless as our hero becomes a rat dashing about the Pentagon’s cage. Jarre accentuates the action with militaristic drum rolls, making the synths especially emotional with doom-tolling tension, regret and jazzy romantic irony for love / lust gone very wrong. Much like the wall of sound that “No Way Out” and Jarre’s companion scores conjured, there’s a feeling of discovery and energy of a musician hearing all the possibilities of his new synth medium, then high-tech meeting with old school compositional ability with his most exciting textural score. Note for Note, a label with a lot of 80’s electronic love through their releases of Hans Zimmer’s “Thelma and Louis” and “Rain Man,” treats “No Way Out” with relevance, putting the compete score on one CD, then reprising Varese Sarabande’s original vinyl program on the second platter, which also includes numerous alternates from Jarre’s most stylistic decade.
From the gentle indie rock of “Still Crazy” to the classical yearning of “Breath In” and the Oscar-nominated parental quest of “Lion,” Dustin O’Halloran has a poignant, often soft-spoken way of having characters break through their shells to discover new truths about themselves. It’s a talent for putting the emotional pieces together that reaches a new level of impactful subtlety as it assembles a picture of a seemingly ordinary housewife discovering an extraordinary ability with “Puzzle.” It’s a journey of yearning discovery that O’Halloran steadily collects with a chamber approach, layering piano, intimate strings and harp, his small-scale palette developing for a portrait of meek dignity, melody that lets us hear long forgotten life goals. Gradually developing this lovely little score with the rhythm and joy of puzzle making and new, hesitant romance, O’Halloran’s reflective theme gains a sense of hope and twinkling magic, a flute also serving to acknowledge what our heroine might be leaving behind as a result. As the seemingly meek character’s talent grows along her with her suddenly salty voice, O’Halloran brings on nice, near-jazzy rhythms at points. “Puzzle” is a score of affecting, sometimes haunting emotional contemplation that helps turn a mouse into a lion, as complemented by Ane Brun’s affecting song “Horizons.”
. ROCKET GIBRALTAR
One of the more hotly contested soundtracks of the 1980’s was “Ladyhawke,” which paired a traditionally symphonic fantasy approach with the prog-rock grooviness of The Alan Parsons Project, as personified by their arranger Andrew Powell. But buried in that score’s enduring debate is his other, emotionally soaring soundtrack for 1988’s “Rocket Gibraltar,” a sweet family reconciliation film that gave an emotionally resonant Viking funeral send off to Burt Lancaster and the endearing star power he represented. Powell’s rapturously thematic score is as broad and romantic as the Hollywood icon he’s playing, his gorgeous strings playing to the heavens, at times as exuberantly as a dangerous, crazed dream sequence that Michael Kamen might have conjured for “Brazil. At others, the melody is far more lyrically embodied for flute and violin before bombastic Wagnerian brass takes over for the titular, flaming boat that his young admirers send him off in. There’s a sprightly, kid at heart sprit to Powell’s work that isn’t afraid to go for trilling innocence amidst the emotions his music proudly wears on its shoulder. But if his romantic exuberance is sporting horned helmets on its way to Valhalla, the Alan Parsons spirit also shows up in an inoffensively fun pop way to remind you that this was indeed the guy who did “Ladyhawke.” However, listening to this oft-gorgeous, practically unheard score leaves you with the impression that “Rocket Gibraltar” is the one that Parsons wants you to remember him for. Thankfully, the wedded team of soundtrack producer Peter Hackman and composer Edwin Wendler didn’t forget this charming score, persevering to get it a very nice release on Intrada that’s the definition of a score you’ve never heard of, but one very much worth getting for this exuberant, star-powered blaze of glory from a worthy composer I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing rise again.
. WILSON’S HEART
Christopher Young has always been on the cutting edge of experimental horror scoring with the nightmarish likes of “Invaders From Mars,” “Hellraiser,” “The Vagrant” and “Species.” It’s a talent for merging melody with dissonance and unholy beds of ambience that makes him perfect to capturing the eye-encompassing medium of virtual reality, now given one of its most ambitious games yet for Twisted Pixel’s vision-filling effort for the Oculus Rift console with “Wilson’s Heart.” For this quest of a man trying to find his ticker in a surreal, monster-filled nuthouse, Young unleashes a wild array of styles that truly give the game its fourth, fiendish dimension, especially given the film’s black and white vision that hearkens back to the kind of classic creature features that Young so obviously loves. Franz Waxman and Hans Salter would surely dig the electrifying use of a Grand Guignol orchestra. Given the mad science in both the gaming console and the story at literal hand, Young warps electronic samples with the score’s foray into dark chamber music. It’s the sense of walking about an unholy laboratory, weird metallic gestures only adding to the tension. At other times, typewriter clicking, sirens, echoed piano and warped bells fill the prowling air before ferocious rhythm and screaming voices goose the action. Beyond sounding like you’re exploring from inside of The Twilight Zone’s clock by way of The Overlook Hotel, “Wilson’s Heart” also has a malefic sense of humor as it segues between its often-cacophonic soundscapes to the score’s more melodic footing. “Wilson’s Heart” pumps with a real sense of mad creativity for those happy to submerge their senses into his realm of anything-can-happen horror scoring. This just might be Christopher Young’s most batshit effort in a long line of exploring the genre’s musical, and anti-musical outer limits, as designed to drive the player mad in all of the coolest ways, especially for a climatic thirteen minute collage of unhinged voices, tinkertoy percussion and reversed, reverberated tunes that’s the equivalent of desperately finding one’s way via headset through the funhouse of a circus from hell.
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