Soundtrack Picks: ‘DIAL M FOR MURDER” is the top soundtrack to own for FEBRUARY 2020
Also worth picking up: AMERICAN FACTORY, ATLANTICS, BIRDS OF PREY, DIAL M FOR MURDER, DOLORES CLAIRBORNE, GRETEL AND HANSEL, HOFFA, LA VERITE, THE LAST FULL MEASURE, UNDERWATER, UFO and many more!
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THE TOP PICKS
Price: $21.99 / $24.99
What is it?: Next to his ultimately score-bludgeoning partnership with Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Hitchcock’s most prolific collaboration was with Dmitri Tiomkin – a Russian composer famed for his portraits of the Hollywood west with the likes of “Duel in the Sun,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” and “Rio Bravo” as well as his suspenseful talent with “The Thing from Another World,” “Jeopardy” and “D.O.A.” Yet his symphonically dynamic collaborations with the diabolical filmmaker over the course of “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Strangers on a Train,” “I Confess” and “Dial M for Murder” have remained curiously unsung, and unreleased as soundtrack wholes. Leave it to the crowdfunding determination of Intrada Records to rectify the later title with a brand new performance of Tiomkin’s score for Hitchcock’s relatively gimmick-free 1958 dip into 3-D, revealing a boisterously entertaining suspense score that confirms the “High Noon” composer as a master of lethally ticking tension.
Why Should You Buy It?: With Grace Kelly’s wife’s eyes drifting to a writer who’s way more interesting than layabout hubby Ray Milland, Tiomkin’s rapturously romantic start plays a deceptive, beautifully waltzing game from its heroine’s viewpoint. But it isn’t long before harp glissandos wipe away that illusion from her eyes as a blackmailed killer is stalking her with a phone cord in mind. With lilting violins provide a feminine empathy to Hitchcock’s favorite blonde target, Fans of Tiomkin’s music for a carrot monster from space will appreciate the lurching menace as she’s brassily stalked, the music raging over the movie’s showpiece of strangulation and scissors. As Tiomkin provided for Gary Cooper’s sheriff with a major deadline in “High Noon,” a thoroughly fun highlight of “Dial’s” score is a rhythmic countdown to attempted murder, a theme joined by brass and symphony for maximum dramatic effect – though there are some surprising jazz licks as well. With Intrada’s long history of sterling re-performances for the likes of “Rio Conchos” and “Knights of the Round Table,” album producer Douglas Fake certainly delivers on the album’s pledges alongside ace conductor William Stromberg and The Royal Scottish National Orchestra. There’s a thrilling enthusiasm to their playing with a sense of new musical history in the long-awaited making, wrapping up with enough time to spare to record a delightful big band take on the main “Dial M” theme, but also offer an eight minute suite of Tiomkin’s score for “Strangers on A Train,” which criss-crosses a rousing western sound with big city excitement for a playboy encountering a pleasant psychotic. One big key to this album’s dynamic sound is exceptional microphone placement that makes the sound both vintage and newly vibrant. And even if Warner Brothers denied original photos for a booklet, designer Jim Titus comes up with a neat, Saul Bass worthy cover, while Kay Marshall’s orchestra-filled interior booklet design accompanies the informative liner notes by Roger Feigelson and album producer Douglass Fake.
Extra Special: A big bonus of the “Dial M” sessions coming in under time was Intrada’s ability to record Tiomkin’s ballet music for Albertina Rasch, which makes for a delightful sister release of a two-CD presentation of “Paris Under the Stars.” It can be said that just about every composer who made a living being constrained to pictures in the golden age of Hollywood (and latter) had grand ambitions for unbridled music that could fill the concert stage, or a canvas meant for dance. Tiomkin’s music has a pure joyfulness to it in that regard which one can imagine leaving its performers breathless. Written when Tiomkin was a newly arrived accompanist to the American Ballet Company of this forward-thinking dancer (and later wife) Albertina, who had a progressive ear towards bringing a modern approach to a somewhat hamstrung form. The resulting dance pieces were orchestrated by Gershwin veterans, who brought a panache to them that would give Tiomkin his first Hollywood break after they were performed in town at the Chinese Theater and The Hollywood Bowl, with the numbers subsequently being filmed by MGM. As some of the first dance pieces heard in the talkies, these suites display a rhythmic and melodic dexterity that Tiomkin would later apply to the big screen. A” Snow Ballet” delicately glistens, while a “Mars” ballet has an impressionistic big city bustle that hearkens to Gershwin. While if you don’t quite get the earth-shaking impressionism of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” there’s energy to be had in the tribal rhythms that infuse “Exotica” while Ravel’s building “Bolero” spirit is heard in “The Fiesta Suite,” all while a banjo-and-orchestra roaring 20’s spirit infuses a trip to the Moulin Rouge that makes for the “Paris Under the Stars” revue that gives this album its title. Showing the composer’s love of jazz and melodic modernism at the outset, Tiomkin’s ballet music is very much informed by an alternately delicate, and boisterous sense of melody that informed his film scores, with many themes from these works making it into such soundtracks as “Duel in the Sun” and “Search for Paradise.” Withpas de deux’s of lyrical grace, it’s music that stands tall as some of Tiomkin’s most romantically impassioned and personal tone poems, as now given light for the first time in decades as an inadvertent accomplice “Murder.” It’s an equally wondrous release, given a booklet full of delightful vintage photographs and interestingly nostalgic liner notes by Warren M. Sherk that breaks down the music into its literal movements.
What Is It?: Often the best Stephen King film adaptations have nothing to do with the supernatural, but rather the more down-to-earth fear of confronting true death, being sent to prison or being trapped by domestic abuse – as witnessed in the exceptional “Stand by Me,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Dolores Claiborne.” Though Taylor Hackford’s 1995 film might not have the King pop culture infamy of its star Kathy Bates hobbling turn as the psychotic homebody in “Misery,” I’d argue that this tale of a psychologically, and physically tortured Maine housewife is its equal – with an atmosphere of suffocating oppression enhanced by a challenging score that continued so show just how much adult, psychological range that Danny Elfman had beyond a world of man children and superheroes he was most popular for at the time.
Why Should You Buy It?: It wasn’t as if Elfman hadn’t stretched himself in dramatic fare before “Dolores Claiborne,” as could be heard in scores like “Article 99,” “Sommersby” and even the often-sorrowful life of “Black Beauty.” But it was getting to the bottom of a well that Dolores’ twisted husband lay in that brought out his most interesting score to that date. It’s a mystery to be solved by a mentally haunted daughter-writer, who returns to her Maine town to uncover the secrets of her mother who’s seemingly guilty as sin for another murder. That she views her as the source of her problems sets up a woefully tarnished relationship that seems utterly irredeemable. It’s how both women pick up the shards of memory and find mutual forgiveness gives “Dolores Claiborne” its incredible emotional power. The rock-drawn energy that put Elfman on the Hollywood map rarely offered the straight musical lines of his far more conventional peers, and with the infinitely more restrained tone he took for “Dolores Claiborne,” that path to easily rewarded melody is indeed in pieces. With a poignant, if not sorrowful theme for its Mother Courage slowly letting her voice be heard, Elfman’s music is a brooding, anxiety-ridden and near-experimental black hole of strings, piano and violin that take on a Baroque-like resonance. Though it recalls the intensity that Bernard Herrmann brought to such psychological studies of supremely screwed-up women like “Marnie” and “Obsession,” there’s zero romance here, let alone any chance to luxuriate in slowly drawn melody. But that doesn’t mean tenderness doesn’t exist in Dolores’ existence, or her pained efforts to reach out to her daughter, as piano and violin offer empathy, and then something far more horrible to the young girl as keys go out of tune, along with lullaby bells, the orchestration diminishing as the score journeys from flashback to the present. That the beast here is father gives the score a sense of malevolence that recalls Elfman’s twisted strains in his “Batman” and “Darkman” work, with the score building to just what happened during that fateful eclipse. It’s at that point that “Dolores” subtlety finally goes orchestrally berserk, with just rewards bringing out a female chorus for the first time, and strings even offering some ray of happiness.
Extra Special: While “Dolores Claiborne” might have offered something close to a happy ending, Elfman’s score is smart enough to offer no outright, symphony-swelling satisfaction. Instead, it’s a demanding and greatly rewarding listen, especially as heard across two CD’s at over 90 minutes. Long one of Elfman’s most requested expansions given the fans of this unsung film, Varese Sarabande goes back to their own well to hear “Dolores” in its full, tormented resonance that showed Elfman was equally gifted at explosively fun, helter-skelter scoring as he was at hearing characters repressing a world of hurt within themselves until reaching a boiling point. It’s a masterwork in both King and Elfman’s cinematic repertoire, the sound of a composer stretching himself like never before that’s well chronicled in Brian Satterwhite’s excellent liner notes that piece together Elfman’s master plan, whose full Maine Gothic resonance, and further discovered musical maturity is now finally released.
What Is it?: While Philipe Sarde remains as busy as ever in his native France, the 1970s brought the composer into the light of Hollywood with two of his most striking scores in the supernatural genre, one intimately eerie for a demon of the mind, and the other ravishingly melodic for a seductive spirit hell-bent on revenge. Now these chilling masterworks are exhumed in their full forms from Spain’s Quartet Records to show a composer who’s a master of atmosphere from an apartment populated by menacing eccentrics to a snow-covered New England town from which the sins of the past claw forth.
Why Should You Buy It?: From “Compulsion” to “Bitter Moon,” director Roman Polanski certainly has a theme of characters going batty within apartment buildings, no more so than when he decided to take residence in 1976’s “The Tenant.” With the Polish director’s usual scoring countryman Krzysztof Komeda having sadly died after scoring the Dakota coven of “Rosemary’s Baby,” Polanski turned to Sarde for a more ironic, even whimsical take on perceived evil. He steadily deranges an utterly normal person’s mind – in this case the director himself as a Polish immigrant taking up at a French flat (though populated with such Hollywood legends as Melvyn Douglas and Shelley Winters). That his apartment’s last tenant took a lethal swan dive off the staircase might not have been in the lease, but the building’s determination to take the same rent is creepily heard by Sarde. Given a lullaby theme that becomes an ironic, jazz-like melody, Sarde stalks the hallways with low strings, sneaking percussion and intensifying piano. But what’s particularly interesting about his approach is using the glass harmonica, an eerily echoing use of water-filled containers that composer Jack Nitzsche had used to denote more playful insanity with his Oscar winning score for 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Also employing the marimba and flute, Sarde neatly balances the sound of shivering horror suspense as well as some “Psycho”-like strings, though here it’s the sound of paranoia as opposed to outright murder, with the more offbeat scoring bringing a feeling of fate ever-gradually being visited upon an unsuspecting sad sack to bring about the expected results. It’s a melodic sense of anxiety that’s funny, frightening, and altogether diabolical in that Polanski way. Relatively succinct and all the more powerful for it, Sarde’s score is now markedly expanded by Quartet Records to reveal new rooms of musical interest. Among them are a lush take on “The Tenant” theme, which is turned as well into dance music of a sort, along with a positively sweet stroll in a park as well as punchier brass shocks. All illuminate a distinctive voice that would not only team again with Polanski for the hauntingly bucolic “Tess” and the riotously swashbuckling “Pirates,” but also bringing him to America for his horror masterwork “Ghost Story.”
Extra Special: John Irving’s more down-to-earth adaptation of Peter Straub’s novel was a class act, bringing together any number of legendary Hollywood veterans for a last hurrah in more ways than one, as combined with R-rated carnal heat of a beautiful specter out for revenge. It’s was an elegantly spooky approach that required an old-school orchestral approach, which Sarde poured on in ravishingly lush style. Announcing his themes with an orchestral thunderclap, as followed by a grand guignol organ, a bone-tinkling xylophone and a longing melody for strings and piano, Sarde immediately sets an incredibly melodic tone of passion and fear, as given a villainess with good reason for stalking her prey like a black widow. Yet there’s a lovely, sparkling innocence to the score as well in depicting the rush of first love that will inevitably lead to tragic consequences. Sarde’s delicately rhythmic, often sinisterly playful score delights in its payback, a siren voice or devilish fiddle lead to a calamitously tumbling orchestra. It’s a beguiling mixture of outrightly thunderous fear, gossamer menace and poignant sympathy for the devil as such, with the accent always on a kind of unapologetically rich melody that not only hearkens back to the tainted Chowder society in its formative years, but to a golden age of Hollywood scoring at that. Perhaps my favorite ghost score of its kind, Quartet now adds significant music to the album, as best it can in some kind of chronological order given the severe re-cutting and reshooting the film went under, as well as being an album originally designed for its musical flow. The result is a thematically rich, gorgeously chilling tone poem, one that finally gets its just due for with this terrific release, whose booklet sports appreciative liners notes by Jeff Bond for a score that marked Sarde’s memorable studio sojourn in the 80’s with the likes of “Quest for Fire,” “Lovesick” and “The Manhattan Project. It’s a snowless town that could certainly use his return.
Price: $ 19.98
What Is it?: Infamous Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa’s cinematic body has been dug up again for “The Irishman,” a film with scant amount of score during its endless running length. So it’s an ideal time to exhume David Newman’s far more copious accompaniment for labor’s dark kingpin, as rapturously heard in 1992’s “Hoffa.” A composer whose bloodline destined him for scoring royalty, Newman was given his real Hollywood break for star-director Danny DeVito’s Hitchcockian spoof “Throw Momma from the Train,” an antic score that led both men on a frequent screwball road. That DeVito was given a dead-serious opportunity to capture the infamously mob-tied leader in the large-nosed personage of Jack Nicholson might have seemed surprising, if not for the dark cinematic flair he’d shown with “War of the Roses,” let alone with Newman’s own nostalgic and lushly dramatic scores for “Paradise,” “Other People’s Money” and “That Night.” Though DeVito’s ambitious epic might have been flawed, if not outrightly foreboding given its central figures’ sheer unlikability, the result gave Newman his symphonic magnum opus in a sweeping score about the dark heart of an American dream based on hard work and the faith in morally rotted leaders.
Why Should You Buy It?: As Aaron Copland proved, nothing waves the idealistic flag of our country like solemn brass and amber waves of crescendo’ing strings, both of which are in abundance in Newman’s epic work. As driven by powerhouse themes that convey a call to worker rights arms and the brass knuckles to do the job, “Hoffa’s” massive score is simultaneously bright and brooding. “Hoffa” offered a distinct portrait of raw ambition in Nicholson’s performance (as opposed to Pacino’s almost zany take on Jimmy in “The Irishman”). It’s a might makes right snapshot in history that made Newman’s job all the more challenging in giving audiences an emotional way into the character – something musically essential for a movie of this scope. That the composer had a naturally melodic, if not often sunny disposition worked in the favor of what could have added another off-putting layer to Nicholson’s makeup. For what “Hoffa’s” score sings with (it seems the only thing in the musical arsenal that’s missing here is chorus) is a grippingly empathetic study in noble ideals gone wrong. With one strike after the next, the music raises a loud, orchestral fist to trumpet righteous outrage in the hands of corruptness. A lone horn elegiacally becomes the righteous labor leader who could have been with Hoffa’s thwarted political ambitions, the percussion his truck-driving soldiers on the march to raise holy hell, as well as driving along the movie’s historical scope. Newman’s use of strings has a heartbreaking tenderness that shows the workers unabashed love for a seemingly heroic Hoffa. At its best, the composer stands tall with John Williams and Ennio Morricone in just how well he melodically uses his orchestra to convey turbulent flag-waving pride as well as the depths of melancholy. It’s music with a deserved sense of its own greatness, packed with a reverent, rousing feeling of importance and outrage in slamming home the legend of labor’s most infamous kingpin and his disappearing act.
Extra Special: Considering the breadth of Newman’s work, it was positively a crime when Fox Records released only 42 minutes of “Hoffa’s” underscore back in 1992. Now with that studio’s last gasp, La La Land Records exhumes “Hoffa” in its full glory at nearly an hour, complementing it with twenty minutes of alternate takes that bring the album to nearly 80 minutes, including the trailer music that inspired the one-theme score itself, and would go on to seemingly grace every dramatic coming attraction from that decade alongside music from “The Thin Red Line.” “Hoffa’s” special edition is an operatically exhilarating opportunity to hear a truly massive score that uses the full, fist-waving passion of its orchestra, as complemented by a copious booklet that features liner notes by Tim Grieving that know where all of the score’s skeletons are buried.
What is it?: When Gerry and Sylvia Anderson launched their brand of fantastical marionette shows like “Stingray” and “Joe 90” in the early 60’s, there was no more vital component than the orchestral scores of Barry Gray in letting listeners see past their strings, especially with the dynamic propulsion his sound gave to “The Thunderbirds” and its cinematic spin-offs. Gray also was skilled at bringing the sci-fi weirdness of synthesizers to the Anderson puppetmation universe, especially when it came to an invisible alien invasion that resulted in no small amount of deaths on “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.” When the Andersons took their first flight into flesh and blood with “UFO” in 1970, Gray’s music became even more exciting, spookier and Shagadelic given its future of FAB fashion and gadgetry.
Why Should You Buy It?: Anderson excelled with breathless “on this episode” main titles, from “Thunderbirds’ “and rocketing brass to “Space: 1999’s” lightspeed wah-wah guitar. But it was “UFO’s” dynamic and thematic combo of brass, Hammond organ and guitar which hit the rapid-fire opening title edits that really took Gray into a mod future to set the series’ tone. With a sumptuous talent for the symphony that brought the Andersons’ shows a larger than life dimension, Gray applied Bond-ian suspense to the alien-busting organization known as SHADO (whose headquarters is conveniently located in a movie studio when its Commander Straker isn’t on their moonbase). With the unknowable nature of their foes, Gray’s use of electronics is especially creepy here, as hypnotic vibrations mix with echoing strings, music that’s only the tip of the stylistic spinning saucer that Gray brought to “UFO.” There’s a jaunty patriotism that might accompany a proper Brit WW2 film, alongside both brassy somberness, sweetly bucolic melodies and outright comedy that recalls his more kiddie-friendly work for the likes of “Stringray.” But perhaps most appealing to the cult fans of blue-haired moon babes prancing about in fishnet stockings is “UFO’s” Shagadellic grooves that bridged the 60s to the 70s, a retro jazz-pop vibe for psychedelic guitars, lounge music and jazz combos that contrasts neatly with a more steadfast orchestra. Connecting all of these diverse grooves is Gray’s memorable use of themes, capable of transforming any melody or instrumental approach to the determined, alien-fighting task at hand. It’s a melodic exemplar of classic sci-fi TV scoring in an especially hip age of the then-near future.
Extra Special: “UFO” was first released as a two CD set from the Anderson’s official label Fanderson, an edition that’s about as hard to find as Moonbase Alpha since leaving earth orbit, As with “Thunderbirds,” English label Silva Screen continues their association with the label by distilling Gray’s music into a disc-full of the series’ greatest hits for an always hip treasure to the show’s continued cult following, and more importantly an appreciation of a musician who truly pulled the strings, even when his music helped make them impressively vanish into space.
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Utah-born Composer Chad Cannon has long been a proponent for international relations as the head of the Asia/America New Music Institute. But where audiences in the United States were doubtlessly happy to see Chinese performing in their concert halls, the car glass workers in Dayton, Ohio ultimately were less than thrilled when a Chinese corporation saved their plant from oblivion, only to enforce their de-individualizing corporate ethic to a quickly dwindling workforce based on free thought. It’s a real-life spin on “Gung Ho” that comprises the Oscar-winning, Obama-produced documentary “American Factory,” which couldn’t have gotten a more qualitied composer to score it than Cannon. Having co-scored the orchestrally impressive WW2 drama “Cairo Declaration” and brought thoughtful tenderness to the Hiroshima documentary “Paper Lanterns,” Cannon hears both sides of incoming, new owners who see the American work ethic as lax to the common goal of their Communist / Capitalist land, as encountering people long-accustomed to individuality and all of the slowdowns that might bring with it. Bringing together telltale Asian melody and drum percussion into the workplace, Cannon cuts to the emotional heart of unemployed desperation, and the hopes of overseas salvation. As the plant kicks into gear, ironic rhythm and peppy brass gets across the idea of imported Chinese worker bees and the confusion their newfangled hivemind ways bring to the Americans. Outrightly goofy comedy music is given to the constitutional guarantee of guns and shattering windshield glass of work that isn’t up to snuff. But the score becomes decidedly more serious as unionization enters and relations deteriorate, the nervousness of wind, string and piano instruments painting anything but a picture of rosy cooperation, despite a pointedly noble fanfare for the workers of the world. At times recalling Philip Glass in its determined rhythm while incorporating such ethnic instruments as The Pipa, Canon paints a score that’s emotionally even-handed to both sides while making one feel for each other’s complaints. It’s a quality that makes this an especially involving documentary in foreign relations, its score thoughtfully bringing together two musical worlds into a business homogeny where the one overriding color is green. That Cannon quirkily, and poignantly hears a human commonality no matter the work ethic makes “American Factory” a documentary score of individual distinction.
From Heidi to Pollyanna, spunky girls are the heartwarming charm that keeps on giving, especially when it comes to Anne of Green Gables, who brings life lessons wherever she goes in the Canadian province of Avonlea. This red-haired veteran of numerous TV adaptations has found herself on Netflix for a few seasons under her reboot as “Anne With an ‘E.’” Accompanying her adventures through three seasons with rustic energy and emotion to spare are the team of Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner, whose enchanting work is now collected on CD by Varese Sarabande. While the program might be set off the Canadian coast, listening to the abundantly bucolic dulcimers, Gaelic flutes and Celtic-flavored dances and melodies that recall a sea shanty, one might expect to be the bonny fields of Ireland in the turn of the century. It’s a welcoming and magical sense of time and place whose country guitar also brings in flavors that might befit a precocious pioneer girl in the American west. But if one expects a nice one-note album, the soundtrack is neatly broken into four emotionally flavored movements that offer themes of “exposition,” “introspection,” “conflict” and “resolution.” It’s a poignancy reflected with dulcimer, piano and moody atmospheres that show things aren’t all sunshine for a heroine trying her best to fit in, with her hopes given strumming voice by the Tragically Hip’s song “Ahead by a Century.” While Anne’s devotees finally brought this album to life, film score fans who appreciate the naturally attuned, rhythmically ethnic work of Mark Isham and Thomas Newman will find much rustically attuned music to melodically savor here with this nicely compiled trip to this latest TV scoring iteration from the wilds of Prince Edward Island.
Dragon’s Domain has been on a kick going down under with releases of seminal Aussie scores by Brian May, who helped put the country’s scoring on the world map by tearing up the asphalt with “Mad Max.” But there are plenty more below the radar composers whose work back in the 70’s – 80’s day deserves to see the light, especially when in the company of producer Antony I. Ginnane. DD now remedies this with an entertaining compilation of suites, beginning with Mario Millo’s thundering orchestral work on the WW1 action film “The Lighthorsemen.” It’s valiantly stirring music for heroes of legend, with a symphonic sweep that could give John Williams a race for his noble money. “Crocodile Dundee’s” Peter Best provides a torrid jazz piece for “High Tide,” appropriate for a mom who’s a backup singer for an Elvis band until she gets marooned on the seaside. Most of the cuts here accompany genre efforts, the highlights of which are Tony Bremmer’s Medieval-accented and chorally expressed power behind “The Everlasting Secret Family,” the “Halloween”-esque suspense of Graham Tardif and Roman Kronen “Incident at Raven’s Gate,” Frank Strangio’s rapturous, Phantom of the Opera-worthy organ performance for the aboriginal chiller “The Dreaming” and Chris Neal’s dark electronic tones for the crime thriller “Grievous Bodily Harm.” A lion’s share of course goes to May’s energetic scores, among them the delightful cartoon-esque action of “Race for the Yankee Zephyr,” “Thirst’s” chanting vampirism and the lush, harp-laced music of the bedbound psychic killer “Patrick,” Australia’s most popular genre export besides “Max” in the 1970’s. It all adds up for a great sampler of the continent’s vast, talent that was working to make itself heard (a period in history well chronicled by with Ginnane’s quotes by writer Randall D. Larson), as compiled into stylistically engaging suites that will pique the interest of listeners to purse many of the full versions otherwise available on Dragon’s Domain
A ghost story that’s particularly haunting for taking the genre to a new place in both location and tone, “Atlantics” uses the African coast setting of the modernizing, yet ancient metropolis of Dakar to show the undying bond between a young woman and her lover, as sundered by economically brought tragedy and cultural tradition. That the payback isn’t scary, or eerie for that matter makes for a truly spectral score by composer Fatima Al Qadiri, who was born in the same Senegal city. With a career built around bringing Arabic-Muslim rhythms into a new electronic age with the albums “Asiatisch” and “Brute,” Qadiri’s soundtrack debut meshes synth and sample otherworldliness with the percussion of an age-old people. It’s music that flows like the film’s dreamy images of a vast consuming ocean, a tone that’s meditative, yet flowing with a fateful poetry. Given filmmaker Mati Diop’s completely naturalistic take on a tale that most definitely would have gone Hollywood if set there, Qadri’s music isn’t out for revenge, and orchestral-swept romance given elements that American’s might be familiar with in such stories as “The Fog” and “Ghost.” Here, it’s the often-tender sound of young lovers that could have been, as set in an ethereal twilight zone of Afro and Arab-centric chords in a gurgling, chirping and moaning dream state. The sound of waves complements the score, as well as the clapping and joyful Senegalese voices for a soon-to-be supernaturally disrupted wedding reception. In a translucent wave of composers taking genre scoring into uniquely weird and haunting directions, Qadri soft, entrancing style that mixes retro electronics, prog-rock and transformed ethnic instruments announces a score from a captivating, cultural place in an ethereally transcendent ocean between life and death.
The indefatigable director-composer team of Jim Wynorski and Chuck Cirino have to this date worked on just about 50 movies together. They’re an exploitation-centric Hitchcock and Herrmann if you will who are responsible for no small number of wonderfully gonzo cult efforts like “Chopping Mall,” “The Return of Swamp Thing” and “Not of this Earth.” Sure, they might not have had the budgets of John Williams and Steven Spielberg, but that didn’t stop both from putting every bit of energy into their efforts, something made just slightly easier when they were both out of the gate with relatively bigger budgets to spare for the legendary spendthrift producer Roger Corman. One case in point was their third picture together for him with 1987’s “Big Bad Mamma II,” the sequel to a fairly well-regarded American International take on Ma Barker and her gang (which the indie producer had previously made with Shelley Winters’ “Bloody Mama” and Chloris Leachman’s “Crazy Mama”). Given ageless, erotic oomph by Angie Dickinson’s roaring 20’s crime queen (whose character’s demise thirteen years ago didn’t stop her comeback here), the further bank-robbing adventures of Wilma McClatchie and her two svelte daughters were afforded more cash at Corman’s, which meant more production value on screen, if no symphony for Cirino’s home studio. Not that it mattered for a composer whose sheer energy and creativity could give any keyboard a machine gun wallop. With a rural setting for Momma’s clan to become Robin Hoods, Cirino goes for synth country twang that could just as well have these ladies riding the old west. With a hard driving theme that’s all about getting a kick out of crime, It’s a Spaghetti Western take on the golden age of gangs that’s both unabashedly fun as it has its way with Morricone while thematically speeding through the twangy hayseed range with suspenseful showdowns and a legend-making purpose. With carnival and honky-tonk music for nostalgic flavor. “Big Bad Mamma II” is a treat for fans of a particularly 80’s keyboard sound via the 1920’s, a vibe that Cirino could play like no one’s business at the beginning of a beautiful, rhythmically rowdy friendship with Wynorski.
Dragon’s Domain, a home for the composer’s prolific scores, also unleashes another prime cut of Cirino’s New Concord nuttiness with “Dinosaur Island,” a score for his equally prolific relationship with low, low budget auteur Fred Olen Ray (“Evil Toons,” “Munchie,” “Alienator”).
Here they have their cheeky way with the scantily loincloth clad prehistoric babe genre as Cirino’s score lands a bunch of military horndogs in paradise, courtesy of a theme that’s an affectionate salute to Elmer Bernstein’s “Great Escape” (a composer who got his start with “Robot Monster” by the way). Tropical flavor is provided by jungle drumming, bird cries and ethnic winds, all the better to set up these lovestruck saps for an encounter with a bloodily amorous T-rex. Cirino truly has a gas here that makes for a fun listen, bringing in the likes of Chopin’s wedding march alongside organ and the raging synth orchestra befitting a far bigger cinematic lost kingdom. As with “Big Bad Mamma II,” there’s a go-for-broke enthusiasm that’s determined to make the production sound as big as possible, with the composer’s catchy synth work translating a berserk sense of fun that’s full-on in for the Corman joyride.
Englishman Daniel Pemberton is perhaps the most stylistically crazed composer out there from the icy technocrat suites of “Steve Jobs” to the Miles Davis Tourette’s jam of “Motherless Brooklyn” and the trip-hop webslinging of “Into the Spider-Verse.” Now Pemberton has his grrll power with DC’s hells belles on for “Birds of Prey” (though I’ll happily put the “Harlequin” before the album title if that gets more people into this wickedly fun movie). Once again, there’ no retread in how Pemberton gives these gals their own voice, which is delightfully all over the place. A hard rocking attitude swings from slow-burn 50’s hepcat jazz a la Linc Volt to a sultry sax jazz. Thrashing Spaghetti western guitars join with gongs like a Mexican showdown, where other instrumental tunes tonally bring to mind such songs as “You Don’t Own Me” and “She’s Got the Look.” Amidst the insanity that’s most definitely not the pleasant stuff your parents’ film scores, there’s no more nutty cue than the climactic big thrash metal battle at the end, which packs enough out of control beats to nearly go off the rails. There are themes to be sure amidst the madness, with the one, neat overarching conceit of using female voices, from the cooing to the screaming, while their toxic masculinity foes get far more subdued and menacing treatment with twisted sampling. The delight of Pemberton’s often alarm-clock woke, unabashed scoring here is that you never know where the music will go next, especially when in a pack of attitude-filled, distinctly messed-up ladies with bullet, knife and crossbow points to prove against a nasty man’s comic book world.
Lakeshore Records has a welcome affinity for releasing alternative scores, whether it be the retro sci-fi synths of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s “Stranger Things” or the percussive vocals that embodied the corpse of Andy Hull and Robert McDowell’s “Swiss Army Man.” Now the label floats into the hypnotic realm of ambience with two especially transfixing scores that explore disaffected headspaces of psychological drama – in turn making their films all the trippier. Though “Knives and Skin” composer Nick Zimmer might not be using Angelo Badalementi dream-jazz approach for “Twin Peaks,” one can certainly hear the spirit of vanished Laura Palmer in this similarly disaffected town (albeit a suburban one) crisis as to what became of a girl from school band. Zinner, a guitarist for the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s (as well as playing on “Mad Max Fury Road” and the documentary series “Vice”) conjures a soundscape that vibrates in slo-motion, which is perfect for a stylized film where too-old high school kids and their screwed-up parents are caught in an existential warp. But while it’s one thing to keep a note sustaining on top of tonal waves, it’s a whole other matter to keep this drone genre interesting. Zinner’s strength is coming up with haunting, weirdly melodic passages, a beautifully languid tone whose emotion grow with electronics and ethereal chords. Though not quite as groovy as Air’s work in “The Virgin Suicides,” Zinner captures his own feeling of retro ennui that prog-rock fans will groove to in this altogether hypnotizing score that speaks for a town’s disconnect.
Where “Knives” centers around teens with screwed-up social lives, Room8’s far darker, if no less mesmerizing score for “Cuck” is buried inside the head of a schlubby INSEL glued to porn and racism on his laptop when mom isn’t screaming for him to medicate her. How this misanthrope is used and spit out by his desperate need to belong (with inevitably murderous results) makes this as much of a social horror film as it does a psychological study for an anti “hero” who makes the outcast Joker seem positively lovable. Room8 (aka the LA and Stockholm collaborative of Ezra Reich and Nic Johns, whose work with Electric Youth was featured on “Drive”) draw on the retro feel of their album “Transduction” by combining old analogue synths alongside ones from the digital age. The result is an unnerving, rhythmic soundscape that effectively inhabits the chilling zone of such Tangerine Dream scores as “Thief” and “Firestarter” as well as the sinister drones of John Carpenter. It’s a lyrically twisted twilight zone of intoxicating drones, voice and building melody lines that become the electronic siren-call of the depraved sites that “Cuck” visits, as well as the lure of the outside world he so desperately wants to be a part of. But while the score inhabits the headspace of a character we might want no part of, “Cuck” makes for an icily effective, often poetic, and equally disturbing retro synth listen that hears the kind of 80’s killers it might have accompanied now mutating into right wing lunatics that are way more real than we’d like to be. Room8’s effectively subdued combination of lulling melancholy and metallic percussion show an intoxication with sexual, and political poison, creating an icily rhythmic count down for a lonely, self-righteous wannabe soldier. It’s a score that’s intoxicatingly dead-on for those who fall into a nightmarish fantasy land, while capturing the eerily poignant shades of the self-styled heroes, and ladies’ men they hopelessly want to be.
Hammer Films had been making thrillers (not to mention comedies) long before they made the decision to reboot a cavalcade of creatures that hadn’t truly terrorized movie theaters in decades. It was with the snarling brass and lightning-tossed orchestra that had Peter Cushing unwrap Christopher Lee’s bandages for 1957’s “The Curse of Frankenstein” where the studio truly announced a new, then-graphic age of gods and monsters that followed in the lumbering footsteps the Universal creature features that gave them life. Hammer would certainly employ a legion of composers to play these sinister, often blood-splatted costume films. But one voice towered above the rest in terms of its sheer, operatic fright. Pouncing with the evil of “The Gorgon,” “The Plague of the Zombies” and “The Devil Rides Out,” James Bernard treated his rogues gallery of snarling creatures and stiff upper-lipped monster hunters with a panache of a silent movie accompanist, or even a cartoon composer. It’s an approach no more wonderfully bombastic than in Tadlow’s resurrection of Bernard’s’ scores for “Frankenstein” and the even more infamous music of 1958’s “Dracula” (better known as “Horror of Dracula”). While “Frankenstein” certainly has more than its share of slithering rhythm and panicked horns for Lee’s hideously scarred monster, it was the lurching, trumpeting three-note theme that literally speaks with the syllables of “Dracula” that stands as one of the undead prince’s most iconic melodies. Even given some lilting romance, there’s a near-constant menace to Bernard’s approach for Lee’s far more handsome villain. Though he’s rarely in the film, and heard even less, the sinister presence of his motif infuses the music – much like the fog hanging over his home of Carfax Abbey. Bells glisten hypnotically, with string tension invariably leading to an explosion of brass. It’s a wall of sound that’s the definition of good versus tritone evil, with a cliffhanging, goosebump-inducing excitement to it. While sharing the melodic bloodline of such classic Universal composers as Hans Salter and Franz Waxman, there’s a go-for-broke energy to Bernard that arguably made the Hammer films scarier than their Yank counterparts– an energy that’s positively throttling for the most knock-down, drag-out Helsing vs. Dracula confrontation of them all – with the three note theme cleverly receding for the Count’s candelabra and sun disintegration. Producer James Fitzpatrick and conductor Nic Raine once again find their ideal castle in Eastern Europe with the City of Prague Philharmonic, who passionately bring new blood to these classic scores, while also offering Leigh Phillips’ romantic, cimbalom and violin-topped version of Bernard’s theme, a performance that also wouldn’t be out of place for George Hamilton’s lovelorn prince of darkness.
While his cinematic resume is awash in memorably epic alien visitations, 007 espionage and urban bad-assery, some of David Arnold’s most stylistically unique work has filled the small screen, particularly when it comes to rebooting literary characters. But the fun he had with Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective is positively nothing compared to the telly’s royal Rogering that has Bram Stoker spinning in his grave with the audacious BBC take on Dracula. It re-imagines the Count as a diabolical merry prankster in this three-part miniseries’ wonderfully ghastly, and inventive journey from the book’s Transylvanian setting to modern-day England. Teaming with “Sherlock” and “Jekyll & Hyde” composer Michael Price, the duo certainly put as much new blood into the typical Dracula score as the show does itself. Given the show’s anachronistically flippant tone to begin with, Arnold and Price avoid much of anything that would give the production a period veneer. Instead, they bind it with a memorable theme as capable of romance as it is evil. The choral voices of the church and its particularly hapless nuns resound, alongside twisted sampling that seamlessly joins with lush strings and the kind of gossamer bells that hearken to Arnold’s film scores. About the only Dracula antecedents, you might hear is the pounding, symphonic build of Wojciech Kilar’s Count for music that growls with the utter self-assurance of this playboy king of the undead. But the most striking thing about “Dracula” is how the score evolves from horrorshow to a sweeping sense of death and transcendence, the orchestra element taking hold in its final chapter to bring about a surprisingly moving feeling of sympathy for this devil, the music somehow giving us the emotion of him going to the angels through his own devices as opposed to someone else’s trusty stake. As he did with the music for the equally terrific good vs. evil of “Good Omens” (also available on Silva Screen), Arnold has found an especially fertile playing ground with the seditiously supernatural.
Decidedly more kid-friendly is David Arnold’s jazzily sweet “The Tiger Who Came to Tea,” an illustrated English favorite brought to animated life as a Xmas Eve TV special. While he’s certainly done playfully comedic scores with “The Stepford Wives” and “Zoolander,” “Tiger” positively luxuriates in orange, black and white retro hipness. If anything, Arnold leaves his door wide open for Henry Mancini, Johnny Williams, Neal Hefti and a whole host of hep 60’s comedies to take a seat. Given a swinging big band and sax on top of a gorgeously lush orchestra, “Tiger” has a beguiling innocence as whistling, sparkling percussion, Hammond organ and just a bit of jungle-like vibes join the ensemble and its brassily playful comedic stylings. Positively radiating joy with its short and sweet form, you can more than hear The Pink Panther in this “Tiger’s” unquenchable thirst for tea, even as he ends up gobbling down the groove of a whole other decade’s adults on the prowl, as graced with an especially catchy Robbie Williams title song.
Under the nom de plume of Rob, Robin Coudert has provided stylized accompaniment for any number of horror films, among them the 80’s hyperbeat of “Maniac,” the symphonically heroic demonic payback of “Horns” and the steely femme justice of “Revenge.” Yet he’s never quite gotten a fractured fairy tale like “Gretel and Hansel,” a girl witch empowerment spin on a centuries-old legend of sorcerous plumping up. As told in “Witch”-like fashion with its fusion of period naturalism and sorcerous visions by filmmaker Oswald Perkins, the choice could have been made to go for a score that would have befitted kids lost in a 1700’s era European forest. But leave it to an always-inventive composer who often enjoys casting a retro spell to do something far more interesting. Hearing the ancient synth runes in his particularly striking voice, Rob creates an eerie, electronic forest brimming with dark keyboard magic. It’s a score possessed with a memorable theme, female voices that coo and wail and lulling melodies and sparkling percussion that lure its unsuspecting brother and sister to a crone’s cottage. Though “Gretel” might not be period as such, rhythm and pipe-like sounds create a time-warped feeling. Yet while certainly creepy, Rob doesn’t go for outright horror, instead bringing a transfixing melody to the music with cues that always beckon us to the dinner table for all of the atmospheric foreboding within. With the music taking on a lyricism that befits the movie’s metoo message of young witch empowerment, Rob’s score is altogether enchanting at going into the woods with the power of transmuting the synth ghosts before him into a new spell for this weird, revamped fable.
Where “Gretel” poses terror to its young heroine, there’s no more frightening, real-life horror than the girl-hating Taliban. Given the challenge of expressing a female spirit confronting such oppression, Rob creates on his most haunting scores for “Papicha,” Mounia Meddour’s film about young Algerian women, circa 1997, who are determined to put on a fashion show when they’re told to dress down to a hajib under pain of death. Rob, eschews a Middle Eastern approach here, instead using ethereal melodies that might make listeners think they’re hearing a soundtrack for an alt. ghost story set in space. Yet as sadly located down to earth, “Papicha” casts a transfixing, thematically mournful tone with walls of melodic sampled sound. It’s a feeling of spiritual transcendence where strings and piano join his Zen vibe, which can drift into edgier realms as the characters struggle for freedom in a world gone religiously mad. It’s a poignant, entrancing score that shows Rob’s similar desire to avoid conformity whatever story his music is telling, especially one as emotionally devastating as this.
It’s from Russia with whimsical French love, as the quite promising “Young Karl Marx” and “I Am Not Your Negro” composer Alexeï Aïgui digs into an actress’ tell-all book, and hears the delightfully classical, serio-comic strains a la Georges Delerue. Soundtrack fans who recall how that iconic musician captured the tender strains of relationships will certainly enjoy how Aïgui captures that poignant, playful feeling in this meeting of the minds between the iconic Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche as Ethan Hawke hangs country house and sci-fi film set ringside. Aïgui lyrically captures the bon mots that fly between casual mom and her aghast screenwriter daughter. There’s a lovely, thematic intimacy in Aïgui’s approach that sweetly, and poignantly strips emotion bare with gossamer harp, piano and violin, knowing when to bring in his subtle orchestra – with a nice break in style being provided by a “Danse of Fabienne” for a Stéphane Grapelli-like jaunt for fiddle and harmonica. Where the composer has often done his share of dramatic heavy lifting before in any number of stylistic approaches, the truth about this very Parisian film (as made by a Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda and featuring Chinese-American Ken Liu’s “short story Memories of My Mother” as its film within a film) shows just how charmingly intimate Aïgui’s film music can be.
Composer Philip Klein had served faithfully as an orchestrator and arranger for the likes of “Julie & Julia,” “Ender’s Game” and “The Equalizer” before getting a major promotion from private to additional composer for a wide berth of the music for “The Finest Hours” – powerful score that was all about valiant teamwork in saving as many lives as possible from a shipwreck. Now Klein more than shows he’s got the right stuff to go into Hollywood battle, and remembrance with “The Last Full Measure,” an honorably heartfelt chronicle of the struggle to get real-life Vietnam airman William H. Pitsenbarger Jr. a Medal of Honor for sacrificing his own life to save as many soldiers as possible from a Vietcong attack. The event of tragic, yet life-affirming heroism is told with emotional shadings of regret, anger and conviction through the recollections that comprise the film as an officer fights government bureaucracy for a just reward. Klein’s music is understandably somber, and expectedly filled with noble brass. Yet it’s a completely understandable approach given how these vets are haunted by the past, ghosts that Klein conjures. His atmospheres of orchestra and electronics along with piano and violin-topped intimacy bring to mind the tone poems of Thomas Newman, alongside helicopter-like rhythm that transports us to that fateful last stand. But there’s also string and piano hope within the score’s anguish that combines suspense with emotion. With the recollections being musically put together with a transfixing power, Klein gives the airman an ultimate, rousing salute through a deeply moving thirteen-minute piece. It’s an impressively intimate, and finally soaring score that delivers its final, thematic patriotic gut punch of a soaring chorus with honesty, empathy, and no small amount of promise for what orders this composer will take next.
Multiple Grammy-winning jazz artist Robert Glasper, who’s jammed with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Lala Hathaway and Casey Benjamin, made an impressive scoring debut with 2015’s “Miles Ahead,” in which he captured the improvisatory, experimental rhythms of Miles Davis on a particularly manic binge to reclaim his music. Things are considerably more romantically chill with Glasper’s second, smoothly rewarding effort, in which he takes a time-spanning snapshot of a late photographer’s daughter, whose look into a prized picture reveals her parents’ relationship while illuminating her current attraction for a journalist. It’s a captivating medley, a listen much like entering a smoky nightclub to watch an especially intimate ensemble. With gorgeous sensuality, Glasper uses piano, percussion and trumpet to cast a thematic spell on lover’s past and present. The spirit of Davis’ moody work is certainly present here in a solo trumpet, while piano and percussion steadily build with passion. Where film demands a level of control that makes true jazz hard to achieve for the medium, such is Glasper’s talent that the score feels of the sultry, sometimes tense moment in a way that’s both noir-ish and innocently romantic. While “The Photograph’s” instrumentals seal the deal as certainly as any Barry White song, the smooth R&B grooves of Lucky Daye’s “Fade Away,” H.E.R.’s slow burn “Comfortable” and Erykah Badu and James Poyser’s cleverly jazzy groove of Squeeze’s “Tempted” make The Photograph’ essential for any romantic musical album.
It’s never too late to celebrate a Christmas soundtrack, especially when Santa’s got an axe and spreading Xmas cheer to the delightfully cheesy synth sounds that define perhaps the most infamous 80’s slasher of them all. As the son of Bing Crosby’s arranger and “Beverly Hillbillies” composer Perry Botkin, Perry Botkin Jr. contributed any number of memorable scores for the likes of “Bless the Beasts & Children,” “Lady Ice”,” “Tarzan the Ape Man” and a run on TV’s “Mork and Mindy” before deciding to give his newfangled electric keyboard emulations a work out for a red-suited man on axe-swinging, pistol-shooting rampage (while of course babbling famed Santa quotes). The result of attacking his instrument with just as much ferocity is exactly as naughty, and wackily nice as a fan of this disreputable genre would expect. Where electric scores like “Halloween” and “Prom Night” had far more melodic construction, “Silent Night” basically has two speeds, one being creeping about the small town as eerily chiming sounds drop down like bloody snowflakes – the other being fist-pounding chases that seemingly resulted in more than a few busted keys. Where “Silent Night” as at its most perversely clever is when Botkin weaves about those old holiday song chestnuts before cracking them open. The effect is like a kid in a candy store improvising just what piercing and lurching sounds can be generated from his gear. That most of this rhythmic gore sticks in the memory is a testament to just how wrong “Silent Night Deadly Night” was in helping to define killer vibes that seem more than ever in red-suited retro fashion today. With the first disc offering both the film and soundtrack mixes, horror specialty label Howlin’ Wolf’s long-awaited release adds a second platter of Morgan Ames’ quite catchy, style-spanning songs like the bell-ringing “It Must Be Christmas,” the disco beat of “Slayrider,” a doo-wop “Santa’s Watching” a Calypso “Christmas Party” a legit-caroling “Christmas Fever” and the romantic R&B of “Sweet Little Baby.” All make for tunefully ironic holiday cheer amidst the mayhem. I can’t imagine a better cup of hot cocoa enjoyed over this mix of the brain-jangling electronics and Top 40-worthy tunes that accompanied this naughtily enjoyable cinematic lump of coal.
It’s no small miracle that after decades of truly awful live action movies based on playful videogame characters from “Super Mario Brothers” to “Detective Pikachu” that a little, re-designed hedgehog has finally burst through the genre with flying, legitimately great colors – with one big factor being the thrilling score of by Tom Holkenborg. With his own origin in hyperbeat rave music as Junkie XL, this rhythmatist certainly knew how to accompany lightning-fast grooves. As the film composer who made a beyond energetic splash with “Fury Road” and “Deadpool,” Holkenborg would gradually redirect his cinematic persona from industrial percussion to the symphonically emotional with “Mortal Engines” and “Alita Battle Angel.” With this blue ball of fur, Holkenborg takes a way more welcome orchestral direction than one might expect, while still incorporating his trademarked delirious rhythms, along with the 8-bit synths that the Sega fans would hope for. Using a guitar for the rustic effect of an alien who’s hung around the small town of Green Hills, Holkenborg quickly establishes a warm bond with the character, who finds his arch in the uber-nerd foe of Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik. His music lives up to the name with comical super-evil militarism and sinister high-tech sampling for a drone arsenal. Holkenborg inventively creates the musical sensation of speed in this theme-driven score, whether it be burning sneakered feet with a jig, or using his heroically bold, brassy signature for Sonic on top of kinetic strings for some of the score’s most thrilling moments. You’d hope any score for a Flash movie would be this neat given how well Sonic epically conveys the costumed idea with an essentially naked animal, all while never losing melodic track of the immense heart that makes this film so winning. As Carrey’s Riddler might say, “Sonic” is a pure Joygasm in finally seeing, and hearing game movies break the quality barrier in style.
Since his breakthrough score on “The Orphanage,” Spanish composer Fernando Velazquez has impressed with his orchestral talent in such scores as “When a Monster Calls,” “The Impossible” and “Crimson Peak” as well as prolific work in his country. Now two films with distinctly humorous, Spanish takes on the superheroes and precocious soccer-playing kids gives Velazquez especially enjoyable scores. While the mustached, beyond-average “Super Lopez” would happily not step into a more-than-familiarly emblemed uniform that was made by his original alien parents, the sight of a hapless office worker growing into his costumed skin offers plenty of laughs as his location on Netflix. Sure, superhero comedies of this sort have been around the block before but given that they usually involve far younger characters is what makes Velazquez’s contrastingly “serious” approach all the more entertaining. With a light touch that’s fun as opposed to taking the gas out of the concept by being too cartoony, this terrifically performed soundtrack makes you believe an office worker can fly, as well as outrun a speeding subway, take on pissed off cosplayers and fight a not-so menacing alien war machine. The key to “Super Lopez” is that Valezquez’s often majestic, high energy score is laughing with its reluctant hero as opposed to guffawing at him. Like a mix of John Williams’ “Superman” and David Newman’s “Galaxy Quest,” the composer mixes boldly heroic themes, dastardly villainy and the audience-winking fun for an energetic and richly symphonic score that leaps, and often falls with its music. By the end, “Super Lopez” is as flat-out thrilling as any Marvel score featuring a character with a more serious name brand.
“Los Futbolisimos” is nicely cut from the same emotional cloth as a group of kids get into all sorts of antics to save their football (or soccer, as we call it here) team from falling off the charts. Having younger protagonists allows Velazquez to bring more pop-oriented rhythm to play alongside his orchestra, which is more overtly comic given the pratfalls amidst the high kicks. Hip spy music for wah-wah guitar, peppy sneaking about and valiant bonding are all fun without being overtly silly, while American soundtrack fans will pleasantly be reminded of James Horner’s “Caspar” and Jerry Goldsmith’s “Dennis the Menace” given his use of bumbling brass. With a rousing orchestra rooting the characters onto the winning goal with hand-clapping rhythm and foot stomping energy, “Los Futbolisimos” ends up shouting a sports scoring language that’s universal in any music language, no more so than for a composer who’s one winning play after the other.
The relentless treasure hunters at Intrada find a holy grail to get 2020 off to a great start with their release of Mike Moran’s soundtrack to “Time Bandits,” wherein Python director Terry Gilliam (alongside co-writing compatriot Michael Palin) really announced his distinctively surreal and wildly ambitious touch with satirical fairy tales – ones taken seriously by their rambunctiously epic musical approach. While he’d scored such British television series as “The XYY Man,” “Minder” and “Rock with Laughter,” Mike Moran was better known as a rock and roller for Blue Mink and The Crows when not grooving with the likes of Paul McCartney and Freddie Mercury. His astonishing debut would accompany these wonderfully greedy little people through history and the mythical realms beyond with the thematic talent of an old scoring pro who’d been at this since time immemorial. Given a story that’s part fantasy, science fiction and wacky history lesson, Moran’s combination of mystical synths and a rousing orchestra creates a consistent, wondrous tone. With the erudite Supreme Being conjured through imposing strings and cosmic voices, Moran embodies a vainglorious Napoleon through a delightfully pompous theme that will serve as music in general for the bandit’s booty-snatching antics. Medieval flutes become a smarmy Robin Hood, while percussion and far more noble music embodies the genuinely heroic Greek King Agamemnon. The Evil Genius is evoked with rhythm befitting Holst’s Mars God of War, with one nightmarish eight-minute highlight has percussionist Roy Cooper work through a grab bag of sounds as the bandits try to free themselves from being caged in limbo. But no sequence shows off Moran’s wonderful thematic talent then when the cavalry haplessly comes to rescue in the ultimate face off with evil, with knightly trumpets and galloping music straight out of Elmer Bernstein’s “The Magnificent Seven” are dispatched with a jolly French Can-Can rhythm. It’s no small miracle that we even get Handmade Films’ founder George Harrison’s jolly song “Dream Away” here for what stands as one of the 80’s most delightful scores from a composer who’d go onto such other Handmade films as “The Missionary” and “Water.” But it’s “Time Bandits” that stands tall as Moran’s off-the-bat achievement, and it still better than ever with Intrada’s presentation, wherein Scott Bettencourt’s liner notes detail the finally illuminated history of this oddball treasure.
February offers up two winningly quirky kid soundtracks, one on the case with a precocious adolescent detective and the other fighting space invaders alongside a stop motion sheep. But if you’re going on the eccentric beat, there’s no better wingman you can hope for (besides a polar bear) than beyond-quirky Rolfe Kent, the composer who basically created ethnic instruments as the sound of comedy with the whimsically ironic approaches of “Election,” “About Schmidt” and “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” Now given the hipster environs of Portland through which “Timmy Failure” hunts his Failure Mobile, Kent digs into his Felix the Cat-like bag of international tricks to create a bigger than life whimsical adventure. With orchestra providing the melodic glue on which basically any kind of approach can stick, Kent throws his trademarked cimbalom, ukulele, accordion, whistling, Spaghetti western-isms and Chinese rhythms. Just what the heck half of these music-producing doodads are doing here is exactly the point in the score’s delightful, antic energy at creating a kid who’s a master, know-it-all gumshoe in his own mind, but still emotionally a kid in need of his mom at heart. It’s certainly one of the more delightfully offbeat scores in Kent’s anything goes repertoire that shows the composer as being as youthfully inventive as ever.
While not quite as insanely out there in terms of its orchestration, Tom Howe’s music for the new Netflix adventures of Shaun the Sheep certainly knows the epic threat of an alien invasion by way of a classic 50’s sci-fi and 80’s 8-bit nuttiness. Returning to Aardman Animation after helping to invent the wheel for the studio’s “Early Man,” Howe is given the gift of no dialogue to speak of (though with plenty of animal bleats and perturbed human sound effects), which is all the better to give a musical helping hand to these cute stop motion creations that show just far the kiddie-friendly art form has come from the days of Gumby. Howe’s wittily twangy, wool-picking rural tone meets the rambunctious orchestra of the alien Lula, Howe’s synths have a gurgling sweetness to them in the process, perfectly replicating the genre chestnut of a way-out Theremin (as well as saluting “2001’s” greatest classical hit, which I imagine was impossible to resist). Of course, hazmat suited government baddies are out to capture the adorable E.T., giving Howe boundless opportunities for rambunctious chases. If the charm of Aardman is a wry cheekiness to its Brit humor, then leave it to a native of that strange land to get it with a humorous, and brassily exciting symphonic flourish by way of the barnyard in a way that will delight both the young and old. Howe’s “Farmageddon” captures the magical energy that puts the final touch on making Aardman’s big-eyed, child-like creations come to life, here with a new interstellar scope.
In a career with no small amount of scores dedicated to people running for their lives from Lovecraftian monsters, Marco Beltrami, alongside “Logan” co-composer Brandon Roberts, create one of their most impressively claustrophobic jobs as they journey 20,000 leagues beneath the sea to the Mariana Trench. It’s a location that just keeps on cinematically giving as oil drilling never fails to release the likes of giant sharks and squids. In this terrific, literally under the radar film, it’s an exceptionally imagined elder god beastie that would give Godzilla a run for its ocean-stomping money. But before we get to that big reveal, Beltrami and Roberts conjure a picture of what a bunch of devouring mermen might lead to. “Underwater’s” strength is that it wastes no time throwing its rapidly diminishing earthquake survivors into a crawling race for their lives, the dark blue flag raised with spectral voices and doom-ridden strings. Given the rapidly imploding high-tech deep drill rig they’ve got to get to, the composers bring a razor sharp, growling hyper rhythmic electronic element to the score that gives “Underwater” a unique, futuristic personality amidst their likes the composer’s “A Quiet Place.” For where that soundtrack effectively became the act of holding one’s breath, “Underwater” just as powerfully embodies water and the body-crushing pressure that comes with it. The score’s metallic sampling and relentless beat is terrifically exciting, its frantic bursts well-paced among the jump scares, brass explosions of a creature motif and near unbearable suspense. Yet as with any great monster score, humanity is an essential element, and “Underwater” is no more powerful then when it plays a sacrificial sense of heroism, an emotional tone very much part of “Logan.” That the score feels like someone pushing your high-tech suit to get the hell moving makes “Underwater” particularly effective in a chase that Beltrami and Roberts know well yet are determined to keep it frighteningly fresh.
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