Soundtrack Picks: PLANET OF THE APES: ORIGINAL FILM SERIES SOUNDTRACK COLLECTION is the top soundtrack to own for August, 2019
Also worth picking up: DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD, THE LION KING, MS. PURPLE, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, REND, TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM, TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG, YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES and many more!
By: DANIEL SCHWEIGER
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) ALADDIN / THE LION KING
Price: $11.99 / $12.59
What Is It?: As Disney reboots their mainly 2-D animated toon classics into live action, the unique opportunities for these film’s original composers to revisit their Oscar-winning work have presented themselves to Alan Menken and Hans Zimmer, one hearing a whole new world while the other impressive re-summiting a photo-realistic pride rock to put new musical dimension into their classic scores while continuing to show their classic appeal.
Why Should You Buy It?: Originally working in tandem with songwriters Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, Alan Menken came up with a Middle Eastern adventure music as old as Hollywood time – a treasure cave of Arabic percussion, wind instruments and mythic chorus, all thematically linked with the song’s instrumentals. Menken’s underscoring abilities really get to shine with this lamp’s new, symphonic polish that’s enhanced by director Guy Ritchie’s thief-loving swagger. But of course essential to “Aladdin” sparkle are its iconic songs, which are given new, enthusiastically personable energy by Aladdin actor Mena Massoud, with Will Smith bringing a Fresh Prince spin to Robin Williams’ inimitable improv shtick for “Arabian Nights” and “A Friend Like Me.” With Disney having originally reinvigorated their songbook by drawing new talent from Broadway, their addition of “Dear Evan Hansen’s” Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who are already flying high on film with their tunes for “The Greatest Showman.” Together they bring the empowering, expressive nature of The Disney Ballad to Naomi Scott’s Princess Jasmine with “Speechless,” a dazzling #Metoo song about a woman assuming real leadership as opposed to being cartoon eye candy.
Extra Special: Hans Zimmer first conjured an Afro-beat alongside Stanley Meyers in England before his unique approach to rhythm helped him go Hollywood with an unlikely American outback-as-savannah approach to the Oscar-nominated “Rain Man,” a sound that would truly represent the motherland in “The Power of One” where he’d encounter Lebo M. It was with that singer’s iconic call to Simba’s birth with 1994’s “The Lion King” that Zimmer delivered a score that was ethnically and emotionally authentic, while at the same time acknowledging the story’s animated roots, all to the Oscar winning tunes of Elton John and Tim Rice. If anything, Zimmer and much of the original’s scoring and son team brings even more of Africa to their return visit in the company of the Re-Collective Orchestra, musicians whose joy in their heritage really makes this “Lion King” sing in addition to Zimmer’s mighty fusion of orchestra, percussive ethnicity and distinctive sampling. Yet even before “Jungle Book” director Jon Favreau made Simba and company into “actual” animals, Remembered just as much for its child audience traumatizing grief over a father’s death, there’s both tenderness and religiosity to Zimmer’s approach, from the heartbreaking intimacy of a dad who isn’t coming back to voices swirling in the sky with Mustafa’s guiding spirit, there’s a near-religiosity to Zimmer’s music that is especially resounding given the ample resources and improved scoring technology 25 years later that make this “Lion King” especially vibrant. Like “Aladdin,” a game new cast brings enthusiasm to the classic tunes, from the speak-song fascist rallying of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar in “Be Prepared” to Seth Rogan and Billy Eichner’s warthog and meerkat jolly, slacker take of “Hakuna Matata” comic bros whose voices give way to the lovely duet of Donald Glover and Beyoncé’s “Can You Fell the Love Tonight.” Beyoncé adds the vibrant new female power song “Spirit” to the soundtrack for a more fleshed out lion queen, with Lebo M. contributes a humorously apropos version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in the form of “Mbube.” Put together “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” shows just how well iconic, culturally infused soundtracks can revisit the glories of the past while hearing whole new musical worlds with energy that remains undiminished.
2) CHILD’S PLAY / THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN
What is it?: From the continually shambling “Walking Dead” to the city-stomping “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” Bear McCreary remains a particularly busy composer – and for good reason when it comes to the creativity that he brings to both mass entertainment and atypical arthouse fare – two examples of which stand tall from a new take on a killer doll to a surprisingly visceral reading on the creation of The Oxford Dictionary.
Why Should You Buy It?: Cannily designed to wreak mayhem through a mind-sucking internet that is the real terror of any parent, the new “Child’s Play” has at least the spin of a doll who just wants to be loved before going full slasher. It’s the kind of seditious territory that McCreary knows well with such decidedly black-humored genre scores as “Happy Death Day” and “Knights of Badaassdom,” Here he weaves an old-fashioned “toy orchestra” along with modern scoring tech to give Chucky the best of both worlds. Creating warped bell percussion as if he was rampaging through what’s left on the aisles of an abandoned Toys R Us store, McCreary’s percussion creates a memorable theme with orchestra and taunting children’s voices (as singularly emanating from McCreary) with a devilish earbug “Buddi Song” that’s empathetically performed by Chucky voice Mark Hamill. McCreary brings a deceptively sweet innocence to the growing relationship between boy and doll that gives the score some nice emotional beats before gore must of course follow. It’s a musical sense of discovery that has a sinister mischievousness in its circuitry as McCreary’s inventive instrumental grab bag (going way beyond his adolescent daughter’s playthings to include kazoos, melodicas and the composer’s beloved hurdy gurdy) build anticipation as to Chucky’s true nature. Once the bodies start piling up, McCreary isn’t afraid to go for the “boo” repertoire of way more serious horror-action scores like his “Hell Night” and “Wrong Turn 2.” It’s a mixture of brute symphonic-sounding force, warped pianos, bad seed vocals and tinkertoy orchestrations that gives slasher stature to Chucky, no more so then when suspensefully unleashed in a department store running amuck with lethal interconnectivity. While no doll can cinematically measure up to Tom Holland’s original Good Guy, one can say that McCreary’s score for this “Child’s Play” is the one new element that’s truly more effective, even as he nostalgically salutes, and vocally enhances the original’s theme by Joe Renzetti for this diabolical album’s nice, final touch.
Extra Special: For as much impressive work as he does with monsters small and colossal, McCreary is equally impressive when dealing with dramas on a far more human scale – especially with literary figures who bring global impact. Now following his impressive, jazzily innovative treatment of J.D. Salinger for the unsung “Rebel in the Rye,” McCreary takes on the relationship between two men of terminology with “The Professor and the Madman.” It’s an unexpectedly impactful costume drama about the little-known fact that one of the main contributors to the first Oxford dictionary was an American Civil War veteran whose shellshock drove him to murder, his talent championed by a far more civilized Scottish professor with the lunatic idea of collecting the definition of every word known to man into volumes. That McCreary’s own mother was a novelist, with whom he’d spent his childhood at Oxford, certainly sets the composer afire here to deliver one of his most classically-attuned and string-heavy scores that befits the late 1800’s period as well as the protagonist’s addled, and sophisticated thought processes. Given a memorable, beautifully waltzing theme from James Murray, “The Professor” is one part the elegance of academia and the anguish of an intelligent, gravely wounded soul – the score dancing between the excitement of literary discovery and the tragedy of sensitive man trying to climb out of tormented pit. McCreary draws on his previous concert piece for Christina Rossetti’s poem “When I am Dead,” which is poignantly sung here by Melanie Henley Heyn. Lush and impressionistic in its chamber and full-blooded symphonic approaches, “The Professor and the Madman” is one of McCreary’s most melodically accomplished and heartfelt scores for a movie whose word of the troubled production has gotten the better of the exceptional end result. As heard in long, evocative cues that make particularly fine use of the cello and violin, this is a rivetingly emotional 74 minute CD, a great example of thematic storytelling, as heard through the musical encapsulation of words and their ability to heal the soul.
3) MONSIGNOR / YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES
What is it?: Intrada Records is a label that particularly loves the richly melodic scores of the 1980s, especially when it comes to re-releasing previously sold out versions with better sound while adding the complete scores for comparison alongside their album versions. Now two richly symphonic scores by masters of the craft play the decade’s darker side of the centuries-old Roman Catholic Church and an Egyptian cult secreted in a London warehouse.
Why Should You Buy It?: While in the midst of scoring such early 80’s blockbusters as “E.T.” and “Return of the Jedi,” John Williams made sure to deal with more earthy subjects, from the farmers of “The River” to this decidedly non-heroic venture by Christopher Reeve playing as a well-intentioned man of the cloth whose black marketeering brings together the Vatican and The Mafia – two regional specialties that make “Monsignor” John Williams’ answer to “The Godfather.” Just as Nino Rota score brought a waltzing, religious quality to characters that vowed allegiance to God while serving decidedly different moral ends, Williams uses his own distinctive voice to play a decidedly conflicted protagonist. Nothing quite spells a romantic vision of the Cosa Nostra, or Williams’ sumptuous voice like the trumpet, harpsichord and sweeping strings of the main theme, instruments that soon entwine in a lush, ever-climbing dance to the orchestral heavens. Given a ma who holds his cards tight to the vestment, even while donning an army uniform when it sexually suits him, Williams melody also has a cunning to it, even if the feeling is more misguided then evil. Given music that he’d originally written as a comedic overture for The Boston Pops, “Monsignor” offers unexpectedly delightful, whirlwind magic of an American in Rome (its sense of delighted discovery presaging the composer’s visit to Hogwarts many years later). Where “The Godfather” offered a Bach Baptism, “Monsignor” uses a resounding organ and chorus performance of “Gloria” for its big dramatic moment, the timeless religious music becoming damning underscore to reveal the character’s true clothing to the novice he’s seduced. As melodically gorgeous and emotional as one might expect from Williams, “Monsignor” is a fairly unsung score from the modern Pope of film scoring, certainly worthy of the crown in its portrait of a man in decidedly un-heroic clothing. Williams’ favored mastering supervisor Mike Matessino once again receives blessings for his superior work to the composer’s lustrous sound, offering the original score for the first time alongside “Monsignor’s” LP mix and two original pieces. It’s a soundtrack of the tainted, beautiful cloth that’s finally arrived in its full glory.
Extra Special: Of all the teen-oriented fantasies produced under the Spielberg brand during the 1980’s, none remain as rousingly smart as “Young Sherlock Holmes,” which used the lure of Indiana Jones cultists, flying machines and CGI hallucinations to have its delightful way with a boys’ adventure take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic character. Just as distinctive as that character’s deerstalker cap and Calabash pipe was Bruce Broughton’s lushly melodic sound – an old school style recognizable to any kid brought up on “The Monster Squad,” “Harry and the Hendersons” and “The Boy Who Could Fly.” But it’s arguably “Young Sherlock Holmes” that remains the composer’s most distinguished work during that teen adventure era– if not one of the most rousingly thematic scores written during any one’s time. Given the story’s Victorian setting, Broughton subtly draws on the pomp of Edward Elgar for a regal, boldly assured tone of a kid comfortable in his genius, yet a vulnerability that puts Holmes in his own intellectual class. With strikingly memorable motifs of romance, friendship and dastardly villainy, Broughton’s score is as capable of discordant terror as it is cliffhanging adventure. He captures a breathless sense of excitement of the game being afoot, leading us to the Rame Tep cult in chanting, “Carmina Burana”-esque style as the chorus reaching a wax-pouring fervor. Yet like all of the great Amblin pictures, Broughton touches upon a sense of magical innocence in the midst of peril in a score that gloriously heralds a legend to be, along with the percussive trotting of his arch nemesis. Given any number of editions over three decades, Intrada now has the final world on Broughton’s masterwork with a triple CD – now sounding positively splendid as it’s sourced from the first generation masters alongside the original MCA album (marking its first release on CD) that did an exceptional job of highlighting the score. Among the 26 minutes of alternative cues, an instrumental ritual now gives fans the chance to do a karaoke version of “Rame Tep.”
4) PLANET OF THE APES: ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK COLLECTION
What Is it?: It’s only fitting that the monkey obsessed La La Land Record would pick the big banana of all bestial sci-fi franchises for their 500th album release, finally bringing together all five O.G. “Planet of the Apes” scores into a landmark box set that gives vibrantly mastered aggression to scores that stood for a savage new world in genre music and Hollywood at large. It’s a through line that’s never been more frightening, or tonally provocative given that all of the “Apes” entries have all sonically evolved like never before.
Why Should You Buy It?: Jerry Goldsmith certainly had his share of experimental scores before “Planet of the Apes,” most often with the psychological suspense genre from the fiendish organs of “Shock Treatment,” to the surreal “Seconds” and the waltzing nightmares of his Oscar-nominated “Freud.” But it was Goldsmith’s first outright sci-fi score that provided the composer with his true primal scream with his first teaming with director Franklin J. Schaffner for 1968’s “Planet of the Apes.” No other score before it had evoked a hooting, tribal embodiment of a world gone mad. If anything, “Planet’s” DNA could be found in the barbaric rhythms of Igor Stravinsky’s riot-provoking “The Rites of Spring” (let alone Goldsmith’ teacher Arnold Schoenberg). But if that modern classical pioneer wanted to capture the rhythms of a pagan dance, Goldsmith’s brilliant, hammering use of modernism was about humans as prey, a savagely percussive combination of ethnic instruments, orchestra and electronics embodying the animalistic nature of not only talking apes, but the cavemen-like state that humans had become – no more so than in “The Hunt,” one of the greatest cues in Goldsmith’s repertoire as a ram’s horn leads the an onslaught of a panicked, outraged frenzy with mute savages as the prey to ape-hooting instrumentation and shrieking brass. Leonard Rosenman would take that impressionism into the jarringly dissonant Forbidden Zone that lay “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” a challenging, horrific sound that marked the composer as one of Hollywood’s great proponents of unsparing Avant-garde music with the tormented psychological strains of “East of Eden” and the inner body atonality of “Fantastic Voyage.” Where Goldsmith had balanced his most bizarre swings with melody that kept the “Apes” score approachably grounded, Rosenman has no such niceties here when attacking the listener on all fronts with its mutant tonalities, or channeling pure simian aggression with an ape march. For me, “Beneath’s” highlight is the sacrilegious humor of an organ and chorus perverting the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful” into praise of a God-nuke. Goldsmith returned with an unexpectedly normal approach as such with “Escape from the Planet of the Apes,” one that made sense given that the endearing ape scientist duo of Cornelius and Zira were catapulted to then-current 1971 Los Angeles by the world-ending explosion. As the couple becomes media darlings, Goldsmith pours on the Nehru jacket shagadelia in a way that’s reminiscent of his Derek Flint scores. But the cruel monkey trick is how his wacky take on the “Apes” sound turns dark with the movie’s relentlessly tragic turn, unleashing dark as the representatives the human hunters now become their prey, leading the score to its devastatingly sad conclusion. Jazz musician Tom Scott would provided payback in the series’ best entry for 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” as well as the most unsung score of the bunch. The idea of using ethnic instruments once again provides a stylistic through line, but here given the jazz form’s more impressionistic touches in a way that Miles Davis would approve of. While Scott provides a delightfully clownish melody as the ape slave revolt takes root, it isn’t long before his music takes on vengeful, marching form for its Century City showdown, the music an impressionistic collage for the violent imagery as melody yields to surreal riot percussion as mankind loses its place as the king of the jungle. Rosenman provided the O.G. apes capper, if ironically with a more pleasant sound as such with 1973’s “Battle of the Planet of the Apes” as Caesar put the coupe de grace on the remaining mutants. With the left-wing apes as the heroes, Rosenman’s agitated score is filled with peril and aggression in his trademarked tone pyramid style, But what distinguishes the final ape score is perhaps its emotional theme for the tragic relationship between Caesar and son, this time robbed by apes instead of humans, making for a sparsely, but impactfully used melody amidst his blood-stirring aggression.
Extra Special: The “Apes” albums have been all over the place on numerous, sometimes sonically inferiors releases, especially ad infinitum in the case of its Alpha score. Now put together under one ruler, the “Apes” score show a daring evolution in often experimental scoring that rewards the adventurous listener, especially as the scores have never sounded better given their terrific re-mastering by Mike Matessino. Even the most problematic sounding of the scores with “Escape,” gets to take quite lovely sonic bubble bath. “Beneath” also offers a particular hoot given the stripped-down re-performance of Rosenman’s music, complete with dialogue snippets, piecing mutant mind-control electronics and a positively hippy-like version of the ape war march and mutant bomb psalm. “Conquest” is also given an extensive array of extra cues that bring out Scott’s experimental rhythms, Jeff Bond, who co-wrote the book on the “Apes” movies is as much an authority on their scores, his copious and interesting notes gracing the four CD’s within- a daring, stylistically linked musical franchise now truly unified into a worthy soundtrack tribute onto Caesar.
5) TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG
What is it?: Having made the transgressive “Pusher” series in his native Denmark, agent provocateur filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn put himself on the LA map with “Drive,” as propelled by the evocative electronic rhythms of Cliff Martinez – a composer that essentially established the sound of experimental indie synth scoring sound for “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” Having since evolved a neon noir sound with the likes of “The Underneath,” “Traffic” and “Narc,” “Drive” was an ideal vehicle for Martinez to collaborate with a cruel ultra-stylist with music that was at once retro and futuristic.
Why Should You Buy It?: Where “Drive” might have had gasp-inducing bursts of ultra-violence, audiences hadn’t seen anything yet in terms of Refn’s high art use of gleeful gore that at the least gave Martinez a chance to push his evocative sound to the limit with the martial arts revenge of “Only God Forgives” and “Neon Demon’s” cannibalistic modeling fable. Now with the no-less upsetting Amazon series “Too Old To Die Young,” Refn and Martinez are back on the monosyllabic, crime drenched and morally decayed streets of Los Angeles with bad cops and even worse miscreants to spare. It’s certainly a glorious playing ground for Martinez in weaving hypnotic minimalism and bubbling rhythm that’s one hell of a counterpoint to the bad behavior on hand. Yet it’s music that often yields gorgeous etherealness, from Martinez’s trademarked, calypso kettle drum-like use of the French glass instrument the Crystal Baschet. Other cues are bombardments of nerve-slicing samples and Theremin-like sound that are the embodied of a bad trip. Where Martinez has evoked 80’s new wave, 60’s psychedelia and percussive beat-downs for Refn, the most unexpected, and archly amusing style that Martinez employs here are the lush, sonorously glistening waves of music that evokes no less than synth maestro Vangelis in all of his rapturously angelic glory, complete with a voice to give grace to brutality. “Too Old To Die Young” is a vibrating sci-fi-ish city symphony that Refn’s hellish vision deserves, and Martinez is always sure to often with his distinctively captivating vision.
Extra Special: Milan’s digital edition of “Too Old To Die Young” offers songs ranging from “Goldfrapp’s electro-grinding “Ooh La La,” the country-western longing of Frankie Miller’s “I Put the Blue in Her Eyes,” and the wistful rockabilly nostalgia of Jimmy Angel and the Jason Gutierrez 3’s “Elvis and Marilyn.” But if one tune reps Refn’s gleeful effrontery, then it’s The Leather Nun’s “F.F.A.” as it sings the step-by-steps of one particular sexual act. It’s exactly the kind of ironic mix tape a psychopath would be playing on his car stereo while cruising downtown L.A. at three in the morning, let alone one belonging to a sadistic marry prankster like Refn.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. AFTER THE WEDDING
Mychael Danna first made an impression with his delicate, psychologically perceptive scores for director Atom Egoyan with the likes of “Exotica,” “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Felicia’s Journey,” in which he’d often meld ethnic rhythms with strings and trance electronics to create haunting portraits of people trying to find their place in the world, often after past sins and tragedies. “After the Wedding, “ an Americanized, and role-reversed remake of Susanne Bier’s Oscar nominated 2006 Danish film (as originally scored by the similarly personable Johan Söderqvist) gives Danna a welcome opportunity to get back into those subtly anguished waters as a woman travels from an Indian orphanage back to the states to claim a charitable contribution, only to discover that devastating family ties come along with money. Having captured the mystical spirit of Indian music with his own scores for “Water” and the Oscar-winning “Life of Pi,” Danna is certainly in familiarly inventive territory as he channels the spirit of the country and its destitute children through wind instruments. But for the most part, Danna is a bridegroom who brings an Arvo Part-like chamber approach to his “Wedding” with rhythmic, classically-attuned strings, an approach that brings to mind Danna’s tone poem score for Egoyan’s “Adoration.” In his unique take for “After the Wedding,” the score’s waltzing melodies, piano and ethereal music becomes a past that’s desperately trying to keep its secrets to the vest, yet crying out for release. It’s somber, transfixing music that sets up any number of poignant revelations to come, hearing emotion in a smart, elegant way that knows when to play its heartstrings. Hearing The Commodore’s decidedly upbeat “Brick House” come in at album’s end is a funky counterpoint to say the least, even as Abby Quinn’s “Knew You For a Moment” lyrically sums up the moral situation at bridal bouquet’s hand.
. CAMILLE CLAUDEL (Expanded)
A master of tragic romance with “Cold Mountain,” “Sylvia,” “City of Angels” and his Oscar-winning score for “The English Patient,” the French-Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared examined what was Paris’ most emotionally tortured muse with “Camille Claudel.” As nominated in 1988 for Best Foreign Film and Best Actress, few movies showed a woman doing great art in the suffocating shadow of a vainglorious artist, and then paying dearly for being a muse. That the far better known male subject is Auguste Rodin gives Yared every hue of love, hate and madness to sculpt one of his most passionate scores from. It isn’t so much his approach to “Camille” goes from scene to scene as much as music as it sounds like this yearning, ever-intensifying music splashes itself across the torrid relationship with true musical boldness. Though the film’s used the music of British maestros Benjamin Britten and Anton Bruckner in the editing process, Yared drew even more intensely on the modernistic approach of German composers Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg, fusing their impressionistic influence into his own voice. It becomes a whirlwind of artistic tempestuousness that always threatens to throw Claudel into the deep end of her obsession, string-heavy melody that’s suffused with the kind of storm clouds made of characters doomed to be tragically parted, or in this case an sculptress who can’t quit Rodin to the point of being institutionalized for the remaining decades of her life. First released on Virgin Records, the newly buffed release on Music Box now shows how Yared took a note from Rodin when it came to pre-visualizing his earthy sculptures with his own musical pre-modeling, with the album adding copious amounts of musical sketches for orchestra, chamber ensemble and distinctive electronics – all forming into a gorgeously ravishing ode to the cinematic acknowledgement of a woman consumed by her lover’s shadow.
. DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD
Searching the wilds of Glendale with a dad who produced Disney’s golden age shows like “The Mickey Mouse Club,” John Debney has delighted in leaping into the kid movie fray, his adventurous music accompanying both seditious toon-to-film soundtracks (“The SpongeBob Movie”) and others unabashedly for the wee ones (“The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland”). Thankfully, the inexplicably audience-addressing, TV child sitter adult nightmare of “Dora the Explorer” gets the latter treatment, as Nickelodeon more than likely realized that teens (not to mention adults) would rather sit in a temple of doom than hear a continuous “Hola!” So what we get is a cluelessly positive tomb raider who’s a fish out of water when taken from the Latin American wilds to an American high school western – only to show her skills to her snide classmates when they’re kidnapped back to her home turf. That Debney and co-composer Germaine Franco (“Tag”) play “Dora” as if she was Harrison Ford with a bullwhip is key to this quite wonderful summer surprise, and score. Without going into cartoon music as such, or music so dark that you’d think someone is actually going to get their heart ripped out, Debney and Franco bring sympathy and charm to bear to hear Dora as an assured, if desperate-to-please teen – while the fun use of Bolivian and Peruvian instruments establish her Latinx roots, not to mention the forbidden city that’s her life’s ambition. While accompanied by a deceptively juvenile monkey and a mask-wearing fox, you’d be hard-pressed to find comically cutesy antics given the straight ahead symphonic adventure that Debney and Franco fill the score with, music that has far more in common with Debney’s cliffhanging work like “Cutthroat Island” than the out rightly sweet tropical bird called “Paulie.” It’s certainly a score that Indy would be happy to discover, as the composers positively swing from the vines of John William’s-worthy adventure, with death-defying peril and mystical forces at play to surprisingly epic results, leaving the laughs to stuff like a poo-shoveling song. A thrilling surprise from start to finish, this is “Dora” by way of “Raiders” as opposed to a tyke asking questions she eerily knows the answers to.
. THE FAREWELL
With this score of empathetic irony for a movie with crying aplenty, rising composer Alex Weston (“The Last Supper”) celebrates a Chinese wedding-cum-still living funeral with “The Farewell.” A deserved indie hit about lying for everyone’s best interest, Weston certain doesn’t take the expected Oriental music route to the Far East with a westernized family’s seemingly last trip to visit their matriarch. Instead, it’s the sound of classical chamber music and mournfully soulful voices that you might expect to hear in New York City, a la Jerry Goldsmith’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” It’s a sophisticated approach that might at first seem way too far afield for China. But when it comes to capturing a grieving process that can barely contain itself, Weston is able to capture both the absurdity, and honest emotion of director Lulu Wang’s autobiographical dramedy. Knowing that no instrument can evoke instant tears like the violin, Weston judiciously employs strings and voice, taking on instantly recognizable classical pieces in a sometimes jazzy way that brings to mind such hip 60’s groups as The Swingle Singers, let alone Burt Bacharach scores as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (if in a more intimate way). Weston’s shifts between sincerity and archness are aided in song with Elayna Boynton’s performance of the spiritual “Come Healing” and Fredo Viola’s Italian take of the pleading American pop song “Can’t Live Without You” that finally breaks into English lyrics as the background singers can barely contain their laughter. It’s all makes for a clever, out of the Chinese box conceit that acknowledges the characters’ grief while sympathetically smiling at the lengths they go to hide it.
. LAWMAN / CHATO’S LAND
Composer Jerry Fielding had a way of keeping good company with two especially nihilistic filmmakers, his first collaboration with Sam Peckinpah propelling the western into a modern, savage age with “The Wild Bunch.” Fielding’s other gloriously pessimistic partnership was with English filmmaker Michael Winner, a musical death wish that began in the bloody frontiers of 1971’s “Chato’s Land” and 1972’s “Lawman,” both of which get resoundingly angered re-issues on Intrada Records. Burt Lancaster’s sheriff tries to to bring the cattlehands who wreaked havoc in his town to justice in this proto “Unforgiven,” with Latin brass and militaristic rhythm bringing his determination to the varmit round up. It’s a dark march that hints at the antihero’s potential for berserk violence, which is of course, will be realized. That “Lawman’s” musical character could have ridden with “The Wild Bunch” is heard is heard in vengeful, galloping rhythm, though more traditional “western” accordion, along with strings bring a sense of romance and even joy for a branding sequence (perhaps the most carefree cue Fielding ever wrote for the genre he helped demolish). Yet a heavy feeling of fate is part of this range as to how “Lawman’s” redemptive mission will unleash a beast, with unhinged music taking the reigns for the shocking climax. For Charles Bronson’s chiseled Apache, it’s a posse that savages his wife that will make him exact grueling payback, as pursuers become prey across the desert wasteland. You can practically feel the twin spirits of sand-baked heat and steel-eyed revenge with Fielding’s echoing, pitiless approach that makes use of Spanish inflected brass and Native American percussion, along with rattlesnake-like rhythm. Though militaristic sound is at first given to the imperious law, that music is soon enough turned over to Chato for him to show who’s really in charge as he lethally outmaneuvering his pursuers. There’s a constant feeling of unease that never lets this come across as a “western” score as such, as the music is all about a pitiless wasteland. Put “Lawman” and “Chato’s Land” together, and you’ll hear just how daring Fielding’s psychological take is for a genre that once musically dealt with good and evil in clear melodic terms – as explored with a director who could make vengeful art out of the brutality that truly rode the west. Both Intrada releases draw for the first time from Fielding’s two-track masters (exceptionally engineered then by Dick Lewzey), and separate the cues out to reflect their often short, nasty power. Both release are a testament to the late producer Nick Redman (an Oscar nominee for his “Wild Bunch” documentary) who provides the excellent, personable liner notes that describe Fielding’s brilliantly workaholic mindset – while Intrada’s Douglas Fake and Roger Feigelson offer touching remembrances on Redman’s devotion to his lionized composer’s uncompromising work.
When listening to the thematic organ strains of “Luce,” you might think you’ve either stumbled upon a further journey of “Interstellar’s” crew or are hearing a period drama set in a Catholic church. But it’s only the beginning of a musically atypical plunge into the multi-colored savior rabbit hole that distinguishes the work of Ben Salisbury, as well as director Julius Onah’s sinisterly glad-handing and socially relevant take on the incendiary material. Having providing striking tonal atmospheres in the science fiction genre for “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation” (along with Geoff Barrow), Salisbury is once again on fine off-kilter footing that turns seemingly normal suburbia into a strange land, where the school’s great white hope is targeted by a black teacher suspicious that his past as an African child soldier is coming to bear violent fruit. Given a straight-A character whose life in America has been a mask to please everyone, Salisbury’s organ-centric approach brings a haunting sense of penance to the material, music that suggests a young man’s awful origin, as well as a what might explode when his happy face drops. Yet Onah’s potential ticking time bomb is one that’s psychologically rigged, playing a calculating game with guilt and the survival of the image-conscience fittest. It’s an edgy somberness that Salisbury handles with daring for a WTF musical approach that calls attention to itself in the best way. But it’s not quite the only musical style on hand given seething percussion, dark 80’s-esque synths and chanting vocalese for a neo-tribal “Luke Skyhooker” theme that serves as the anger Luce dare not voice. With the barely controlled powder keg on screen as various machinations come to play with unnerving civility, Foster takes an elegant approach that defies the expectations of putting a “black” identity into the music – which seems exactly the point of a character simultaneously saved, and repressed by that token world. Sure “Luce” might not be the cyborg woman or extraterrestrials that Salisbury played before, but the way he takes the road least expected to make its antihero into an alien of sorts is just as memorably original in its haunting, liturgical voice where contrition isn’t about to be given.
. MS. PURPLE
As with the non-Asian inflected grief of “The Farwell,” composer Roger Suen takes an elegiac approach to a Korean karaoke hostess and her brother stuck with a dying father in LA’s K-Town. It’s a territory that Suen and actor-turned-filmmaker Justin Chon last heard with affectingly unique, tragicomic results when examining the Korean-black divide of the LA riots in “Gook” (also on the Note For Note label). “Ms. Purple” is hauntingly bleak, and no less entrancing in painting a classically melancholy, thematic portrait of a city and its cut-off inhabitants, beginning with an intimate sound for violin that evokes both the anguished past, and bleak future of a mostly silent woman in a den of toxic masculinity night after night – all for giving her terminal, unspeaking father far more dignity in his passing than he gave to his children in life. It’s a sadness that speaks for volumes. Yet all is not bleak given Suen’s rhapsodic, neo-western use of piano, harmonica and a Spanish guitar for a good-hearted Latino valet who represents a hope of emotional escape for the heroine, as opposed the chamber music of her being coldly relegated to mistress. Where “Gook” dealt with an city-shaking event on a personal scale, Suen’s approach to “Ms. Purple” is more intimate, yet no less diverse in using lush jazz or waltzing rhythm, which works especially well with Lin’s beautifully shot, optical slo-mo Wong Kar-wai approach to the material – a feeling of lost love in a movie that reflects both the high life of the uncaring men who frequent the clubs, as well as the cramped, far less glitzy apartment that brother and sister are marooned in. It’s a devastatingly intimate, yet still-wistful score that’s in a memory haze, speaking with the regret of a mute father, or lyrically daydreaming of the future that could have been, an escape that seems impossible for a woman trapped in an untenable situation for the money that will insure a dignity in death that’s maybe not deserved. While “Ms. Purple” offers no easy answers, one thing that can be sure is the uniquely haunting voice that Suen and Chon are giving to their K-town stories in a thematically linked urban world where communication is beyond sad and sparse, yet whose imagery and music speak volumes.
. THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON
We haven’t had many cinematic quests to find the impossible dream like this delightfully skewed modern re-imaging of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” as reworked for a wannabe rassler with Downs Syndrome and his reluctant, ne’er do-well raftmate on their way to the VHS wrestling mecca of The Salt Water Redneck. It’s an incident-filled adventure down Florida fishing way that’s given both rural authenticity and no end of enchantment by the seamless work of four composers on an ethereally strumming boat. Jonathan Sadoff (“Ingrid Goes West”) and music supervisor Zach Dawes (“Deep Murder”) having navigated eccentric indie waters before, now impressively joined by first-timers Gabe Witcher and Noam Pikelny, whose respective fiddle and banjo work has given regional authenticity to the big Hollywood likes of “The Good Dinosaur” and “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Just as magical instrumental realism created a girl’s-eye view of her sinking bayou community as a place of wonder for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the dreamy down-home approach here makes the falcon’s journey into a down-home place of innocent mind, letting the movie itself play the humor while giving melodic emotion to the falcon’s tough, yet vulnerable protector and the sympathetic Becky Thatcher-esque nursing home aid trying to bring him back to lock-up. With the uncertainty of the wannabe pro’s destination and his future, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is guided by bittersweet optimism, as heard with an endearing rhythm that makes you palpably feel the location in a way that could easily be heard as an old west fable. From singing saws to gospel melody, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” has a wry, folksy quality to its episodic runaway adventures that could just as easily be gliding down a Reconstruction-era Mighty Mississippi, with unexpected stylistic tour of Hulmania heavy metal as the wondrous music of an impossible wrestling move The score’s whimsical approach is enhanced by its excellent country and rural-flavored songs, from the wonderfully ancient, banjo-topped voice of Ola Belle Reed to Chance McCoy’s lyrical “Whipoorwills,” Sara Watkin’s pining for “Long Hot Summer Days” and the strings of the Colorado Symphony bringing lush, lyrical waters to Gregory Alan Isakov’s poignant “The Stable Song.” Both tunes and instrumentals give hope and reflection to “The Peanut Butter Falcon’s” journey to the backyard ring, as heard in a soundtrack that’s as much of its Florida Man place as its a state of a determinedly gentle and warm-hearted mind.
With a fiery melding of fantastical ethnic sounds and mythic orchestrations that helped bring musical life to “World of Warcraft,” composer Neal Acree joins with that game’s developers to explore the blood and thunder heaven that Vikings are sent to after a brutal good death in the soundtrack to “Rend.” But be the playing field PC or live action, what Acree does best is to musically tap into the mythic, manly nature that is the stuff of the sword-and-sorcery genre. Here the music is especially primal as Acree draws from such ethnic instruments as the Viola Da Gamba, Hardanger fiddle and nyckelharpa to become history’s most relentless Nordic (with a touch of the Celtic) warriors. They’re melodic ventures of axe and magic-wielding survival where you can practically feel the slash of strings and the hammering of mighty drums, as well as choral melancholy and beautifully ethereal landscapes that offer peaceful respite. The City of Prague Philharmonic does a mighty job indeed with their striking playing that makes “Rend” into the emotional stuff of epics where one can imagine Orcs, Norsemen, Wargs, Whitewalkers and Mages converging for a cosmos-ripping battle royal given Acree’s all-enveloping score that’s as abetted by the voice of Einar Selvik (of the Norwegian group Wardnua) and Spanish singer Celica Soldream. Summoning a berserker’s spirit like no genre score of his before this, Acree’s “Rend” is an impressive welcome to Valhalla.
Though they might release a veritable haunted mansion of indie horror soundtracks, Howlin’ Wolf is a label that also gives under-the-radar scores by known, and should-be-known composers a platform on which to sing. Now after their release of mega-multiplex musician Brian Tyler’s lovely little scores for “Last Call” and “Panic,” Wolf producer Zach Tow casts his gaze on Tyler’s frequent jack-of-all trades musician Pakk Hui, whose work with Tyler includes “Fast Five,” “Battle Los Angeles,” “Rambo” and “Power Rangers.” While these enjoyable scores might not exactly be subtle, Hui’s own voice is now heard with unexpectedly subtle beauty for the 2014 arthouse movie “Sway” (which can be found on Amazon Prime). With writer-director Rooth Tang segueing between three Asian immigrant-themed dramas that take place in Thailand, Los Angeles and Paris, Hui’s score ties together the drama for stories that don’t in fact touch each other. What he finds is a beautifully ethereal voice that avoids any ethnic allusions to concentrate on strings, electronics and piano in a poetically melodic dance. It’s an entrancing score that brings to mind the work of Thomas Newman, a composer who also uses an understated emotional approach for bigger emotions within arthouse confines. Spare, echoing notes, lonely guitar chords and sustaining electronics create a sense of intimacy as well as disconnect, making for a dream-like listen that doesn’t lack for a more emotional, and at times rhythmic orchestral feeling. “Sway” moves to a gentle, surreal nature with subtle themes that build to a poetic impact, music that shows loud and clear that Pakk Hui is a composer who bears future listening, especially when it comes to giving world travelers in search of a physical, and emotional home a unified, soulful voice.
Nathaniel Mechaly, a French composer best known in America for his percussively macho action stylings for the “Taken” series, shows off his special set of stylistic skills for a far gentler Swedish fable, using the fact-based story of competing carnivals to create a romantic parable a la “Romeo and Juliet,” with WW2 as a backdrop. Mix in magical realism, and the opportunity is ripe for “Swoon’s” wondrous, circus-like score. With a robust orchestra at hand, Mechaly conjures big top rhythm while creating a feeling of impossible, glistening love. The most magical choruses outside of “Edward Scissorhands” mix with villainous brass, as gentle, plucked strings, oompa-loompa brass and music box percussion sweetly dance about as the orchestra sings with rapture, when not accompanying songs. Especially impressive is Lily Oakes’ atmospherically yearning “The Keep” has an orchestrally backed alt. yearning groove that makes it feels like a song that could’ve appeared in “Spectre.” Mechaly charming fairy tale is definitely not for emotional cynics. But for listeners who love melody as purely as these lovers’ do, “Swoon” makes for a happy ending valentine that will hopefully open international doors to the composer’s more tender side.
. TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM
With a repertoire rich in depicting the experiences and works of African-American icons like August Wilson and Marcus Garvey, groundbreaking composer Kathryn Bostic (“Clemency,” “Dear White People”) now chronicles the life of author Toni Morrison, whose unsparingly poetic books on the black experience that counted “Blue Eyes” and “Beloved” have assured the recently passed author cultural eternity. But for all of her work’s necessary seriousness, Morrison brings a warm, humorous and always-engaging look at her “Pieces I Am” to this documentary that also represents her culture’s history at large. Bostic is an equally engaging accompanist to Morrison in a way you might hear music over a spoken word performance, her jazz-inflected “Pieces” covering a far bigger picture. Working in poetic flow with Morrison’s recollections and perceptive social commentary, Bostic’s uses a southern fiddle and a nostalgic urban groove brings to mind Morrison’s roots, and the 60’s and 70’s NYC era in which she transitioned from editing Angela Davis and Muhammed Ali to discovering her own creative identity. It’s music that works in tandem with its subject’s soft, warm voice, while also sharply evoking the film’s evocative montages of slavery and prejudice. One can hear the black musical experience journey alongside Morrison, her piano and sharp fiddle joining and counterpoints with the glistening shots at Morrison’s lakeside house. It’s imagery that inspires Bostic’s performance of her end credit song “High Above Water,” an empowering reflection on the awful passage of slaves to America, as given an uptempo, finger snapping groove that captures the resilience and determination that captained Morrison’s life, and enduring work (watch the video HERE). It’s a tribute that’s a special delight to those who also luxuriate in film jazz at its most intimate, and heartfelt by a composer making no small strides herself in a chosen medium given a subject whose meaning to her resonates in music as much as it does words.
. THE X-FILES: SEASON 11
After La La Land Records releasing numerous volumes of the darkly conspiratorial music that Mark Snow provided for the believers in Mulder and Scully, it turns out that the melodic truth is out there – and has indeed been found as the investigate team seemingly reached the end of the paranormal road of Fox TV in 2018. For those who might’ve felt they were in some very heavy duty black oil over the two hundred episodic X-scores in the past (along with two movies), season 11’s surprisingly accessible light at the end of the “X-Files” tunnel provides the most entertaining listening of all, with even Snow captured in X-pert Randall D. Larson’s liner notes admitting that he thinks it’s his best music yet in music that takes on foes ranging from The Smoking Man to telekinetic twin murderers and sushi bots. With Snow’s own metallic gear certainly having grown in sophistication since 1993, this season is particularly enveloping in its sonic palette, especially when it comes to the percussion of a world on the edge of extra-terrestrial Armageddon, or coming up with a percolating ghost in the machine for a seemingly deceased Lone Gunman. For a show that beggared the question of “Why So Serious?” there’s more black humor on display as well, from the sinisterly playful bells of doppelganger hangman, whose game also includes piano, unearthly vocal effects and nerve-rending samples. An imagined history of The X-Files gets an oddball piano and percussive theme, while the murderous antics of fish-slicing drones are embodied with chilling tonality. The new avenues that Snow is given for Fox’s send-off is especially memorable in the movie star noir sound of an organ stealing villainess, with the hilariously unnerving TV theme of a killer doll getting bookended with some of Snow’s most nightmarish scoring yet. And for a show with the most iconic small screen whistling of all, The Warp Zone’s A cappella vocal rendition of Snow’s iconic main title is an especially batty capper to an unnerving run.
From “Shallow Grave” to “Trainspotting” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” filmmaker Danny Boyle has shown an inventive ear for out of the ordinary songs. Yet none of his soundtracks reach the witty, sing-along heights with the most recognizable tunes of all time in a “Yesterday” that throws a hapless (if talented) busker into a world without The Fab Four. It’s the premise of a one-man band that succeeds beyond his wildest dreams, as well as fans that might be expecting a comically unplugged take on The Beatles that he singularly supplants. Though the premise might be humorous, it’s one done with soulful conviction here. Given that the joke isn’t about its hapless hero’s vocal abilities, but rather his own songwriting, unknown-before-this star Himesh Patel not only does a lovingly earnest job of performing the hits, but also acting through them –whether expressing love to the winsome manager who’s been forever caught in the friend zone with him through “Something” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or pleading “Help” out of his moral predicament through speed metal. With a yearning guitar as the character’s main instrument, “Yesterday” compiles what seem to be every memorable Beatles songs with performances that vary from the acoustic to a full band set where Patel is the front man. With songs that have been ingrained in pop culture since The British Invasion, it’s impossible to not find one’s self joining in with these exceptionally well-produced arrangements that capture the singularly poetic, wish-fulfillment energy that made the group arguably more popular than Jesus. It’s an accomplishment that’s anything but a one-note premise in just how well “Yesterday” captures a feeling of pure joy that made the world love The Beatles. Just about the only tune cutely not quite up to snuff here is the characters’ own “Summer Song,” whose blandness might be the point. But special acknowledgement should be given to song arranger and composer Daniel Pemberton, who turns from his work on Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” to create instrumental interludes that captures the band’s cosmic grooviness, as well as working their acoustic magic on the Universal logo music.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes and Screen Archives Entertainment