CD Review: July Soundtrack Picks

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‘They Won’t Stay Dead‘ One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For July, 2010

Also Worth Picking Up: Despicable Me, Dexter Seasons 2 / 3, I Am Love, Iron Man 2, Knight And Day, Live Evil, Oscar: The Color Of Destiny, Office Space / Idiocracy, Shiver and The Mean Season

To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover


Price: $13.99

What is it?: If there’s a marble-skinned actress who’s inspired works of musical art, then gaze no further than Tilda Swinton, whose movies have played muse to gorgeous scores by the likes of Sally Potter (ORLANDO), David Byrne (YOUNG ADAM) and Peter Nashel (THE DEEP END). And Swinton’s flicks don’t get any artier than this Italian-set exercise in bourgeois ennui, which doesn’t so much inspire composing originality as it does this assembly of greatest hits by the American Avant-gardist John Adams.

Why should you buy it?: The decision of LOVE filmmaker Luca Guadagnino to “score” his movie with Adams might be the most noteworthy exercise in matching image and already-existing “classical” music since Spike Lee applied Aaron Copland’s Americana to the basketball matches of HE GOT GAME. Yet when it comes to the glorious villas, food and sensuality that’s all about Italy’s disaffected jet set, you couldn’t find a more glorious match than the lavish magic to be had in such off-kilter Adams works as “Foxtrot Orchestra,” “The Death of Kinghoffer” and “Fearful Symmetries.” Adams unique approach is wrapping what might be considered minimalism in a glorious wash of rampaging orchestra melodies- the kind of music that does anything but lie there unnoticed amongst LOVE’s skin and scenery.

Extra Special: You couldn’t imagine the soundtrack for I AM LOVE landing anywhere else than with Nonesuch Records, a home to such like-minded American avant-garde composers as Philip Glass and Steve Reich. If anything, I AM LOVE’s beautiful assembly of Adams’ noteworthy tunes will inspire further exploration by those new to the work of this lion of accessible, experimental music. I confess that I am one of those listeners to be thusly inspired.

2) IRON MAN 2 (Score CD)

Price: $10.99

What is it?: Nowadays, it almost seems impossible to see superhero underscores fly in on time to simultaneously hit with their film’s release, which usually favors those super-villainous rock soundtracks first. But fear not when it comes to IRON MAN 2. While we’re still waiting on that Christopher Young SPIDER-MAN 3 CD, this generous serving of John Debney’s music for the red and gold avenger definitely suffices when it comes to a super-heroic summer scores.

Why should you buy it?: While Ramin Djawadi gave the first IRON MAN a propulsive techno edge, it’s Debney’s previous association with director Jon Favreau on the kid’s fantasy film ZATHURA that’s finally brought this composer into the Marvel fray. While the electronic edge is definitely present, this new IRON MAN score benefits greatly from the inventive orchestral power that Debney brings to the suit. The Russian shocker Whiplash gets an ominous Soviet-sounding orchestra (complete with a Stalin-era chorus), while the ethnically non-descript Black Widow receives a slinky femme fatale groove, all as Tony Stark revs up his car with James Bond-style spy jazz. Perhaps even more entertaining is Debney’s Walt Disney-via-Howard Stark ditty “Make Way For Tomorrow,” a wonderfully saccharine 50’s era hymn to the joys of capitalism. And when it comes to battles, the kind of epic adventure scoring that Debney got to swing with most notably in CUTTHROAT ISLAND is back here in spades. For in an era when superhero scores are getting darker than dark, it’s nice to have ol’ shellhead showing up with a sense of actual, soaring fun.

Extra Special: Of course there’s nothing wrong when that other IRON MAN 2 album consists of AC/DC classics. And like Djawadi, Debney conjures matches their metal some great guitar thrash, especially when it comes to Whiplash’s furious energy. Between his acoustical work here and the grunge sound he’s given to this season’s PREDATORS, John Debney might just be film composing’s new answer to Angus McKinnon.

3) OFFICE SPACE / IDIOCRACY (1200 edition)

Price: $19.98

What is it?: From desk drones to couch potatoes, few filmmakers-cum-animators have satirically nailed the stupidity of America like Mike Judge- especially when it came to inspiring the composers of his oft-quoted, live action efforts OFFICE SPACE and IDIOCRACY. Now La La Land plays dumb by releasing the very smart musical scores of John Frizzell and Theodore Shapiro, whose work ranges from tick-tock tropical madness to a Neanderthal spin on PLANET OF THE APES.

Why should you buy it?: Stupid is as stupid scores when comedy soundtracks often force their laughs, which makes the eccentric approaches of OFFICE SPACE and IDIOCRACY seem positively intellectual. Frizzell plays the madness of the work place with timely suspense, “Mmmm yeahhhh” sustains and a gonzo combo of yodeling, ukulele playing and Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer,” all inspired by the hypnotic effects of Hawaiian Shirt Day. As for a full body latte world taken over by Carl’s Jr., Shapiro takes his symphonically primeval page from the tribal percussion that once gave Charlton Heston ape chase, topped off with bull-headed military strains and a knowing dose of dramatic pretentiousness- not to mention the dumb ass guitar licks and monster truck hollers of Mike Judge himself.

Extra Special: Extensive liner notes feature new interviews with Judge, Frizzell and Shapiro, who reveal Judge (once a professional musician himself) as being particularly astute when it comes to directing two of the more eccentric, and memorable comedy scores in cult film history.

4) OSCAR: THE COLOR OF DESTINY (1,000 edition)

Price: $19.98

What is it?: In addition to their CD Club (which just announced a mega-SPARTACUS for August), Varese Sarabande has also has started up a limited edition category to spotlight under-the-radar scores by notable composers, both European and domestic. And one of their most impressive selections for the honor thus far is OSCAR: THE COLOR OF DESTINY, Diego Navarro’s gorgeous ode to the doomed Spanish surrealist painter Oscar Dominguez.

Why should you buy it?: Though you might not have heard of either man, Navarro’s OSCAR has the kind of lush, romantic power that will definitely pique further exploration. Like so many notable composers emerging from Spain as of late, Navarro exhibits an astonishing command of orchestrally-driven melody (as well as more intimate piano playing), complete with choruses and sweeping themes that speak the international language of conquering the world with ill-fated artistic aspirations. It’s the kind of all-out, thematic musical passion that we rarely get over here. But thanks to Varese, Navarro is allowed to make an impressive U.S. soundtrack introduction, along here with a suite from his equally poetic, if more patriotic take on space exploration for LOOK AT THE MOON.

Extra Special: With their impressive sonic clarity, you’d think that OSCAR and MOON were taken from those picture’s soundtracks. But in fact, both are the result of excellent live playing at a movie music concert held on the Spanish island of Tenerife, home to a film score festival the likes of which fans can only dream of over here. Thankfully, the rousing sound of OSCAR is certainly the next best thing to being there.

5) THEY WON’T STAY DEAD (Music from the soundtrack of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD)

Price: $23.99

What is it?: Original music wasn’t one of the luxuries George Romero could afford when he made his ultra-low budget zombie film. Instead, his undead would be propelled by a vast, chilling selection of tunes culled from the Capitol Hi-Q production library. And we aren’t talking about the reading kind.

Why should you buy it?: Sure, new music would’ve been nice for NIGHT OF LIVING DEAD. But there was something very appropriate about the over-the-top orchestrations and eerily shimmering strings and electronics that filled its soundtrack. These tunes also fleshed out the impoverished musical coffers of the likes of TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE, the kind of grade-Z exploitationers that would influenced Romero to make his own “A” picture here. While the director would continue to use library music (more out of self-referentialism than necessity) alongside John Harrison’s score for CREEPSHOW and Goblin’s progressive rock tunes in DAWN OF THE DEAD, Romero’s tasteful tracking of malefic “stock” music in NOLD remains unequalled.

Extra Special: There’s a lot of love in that farmhouse from album producer Jim Cirronella, who has truly spruced up the sound of DEAD’s choice cuts into music worth sonically fearing again. Better yet, it all works as one rampaging, moaning musical voice- further proof of Romero’s eccentric musical tastes. One can only imagine Cirronella’s formidable task of tracking this library music down, let alone remastering over 40 tracks into a very nice package that does the LIVING DEAD proud, especially with informative liner notes that describes how Romero re-animated this all-purpose stuff into one of the creepiest “unoriginal” soundtracks of all time. You even get the pristine audio from the NOLD trailer to put the last nail in it soundtrack coffin.

Also for Your Consideration


Former N.E.R.D. singer Pharrell Williams is the evil mastermind of this kid-friendly CD, which certainly shows he can play hip-hop to the younger set after collaborating with every artist from Jay-Z to Snoop Dogg. Here he’s rapping in the voice of the not-so arch villain Groo, conjuring cleverly evil lyrics for the title tune, pure soul joy in “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “Prettiest Girls,” and sweet, lullaby rhythms about the joys of moon-snatching in “Rocket’s Theme.” Additional disco cuteness is topped off by the likes of The Sylvers and the Bee Gees. But if there’s one tune that truly steals DESPICABLE ME, then it’s the discombobulated piano and electric funk percussion of Agnes’ single-minded lyrics for “The Unicorn Song.” About the only thing DESPICABLE about this album is the complete absence of Heitor Pereira’s memorably energetic score for this surprisingly fun, and just a bit sentimental CG toon caper.


If America’s favorite TV serial killer got his oats from being raised by an unhinged father, then it seems only natural that DEXTER’s composer Daniel Licht got his seminal training under HELLRAISER horror maestro Christopher Young before setting out on his own with the blood-curdling likes of CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, AMITYVILLE 1992 and BAD MOON. Yet it’s Licht’s equally busy work on such indies and TV series as PERMANENT MIDNIGHT, SPLENDOR and KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL that’s allowed him to combine the best of both sounds since DEXTER’s cable inception. This seemingly nice guy has gone about his business season after season with an eclectic vibe that encompasses every alt. approach from tropical guitar to tribal percussion and tinkertoy bells. In fact, you’d think serial killing was a downright, playful and folksy occupation over seasons 2 and 3, except for the fact that Licht makes sure all of this stuff is just a bit off, if not downrightly unhinged. Now some of DEXTER’s best musical slashes over the period get their MP3 due from Milan, revealing a hypnotic method to Licht’s madness that only gets more intriguing with each season. And if serial killing for mass consumption has proven one thing, it’s that slaying keeps one busy, if not downright pleasurable in Licht’s inventive hands.


Though Jason Bourne might not have cracked a grin when being pursued by John Powell’s hyper-rhythms across three films (and counting), you can be sure that such hip, light-hearted action pictures as THE ITALIAN JOB, JUMPER and MR. AND MRS. SMITH got their groove on with a wink and a smile thanks to the propulsively inventive approach of John Powell. So it’s no surprise that KNIGHT AND DAY would call upon his services. And much like the arch sound he’d employed for Brad Pitt and Angelina, Powell brings on his once-unlikely musical grab bag of tangos, military percussion, lush orchestrations and rocking vibes to Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. While it’s not exactly fresh anymore, Powell’s sheer, clever energy helps makes KNIGHT AND DAY just as much tremendous fun as a film and a listen, once again proving that bullfighter music-on-speed exotica can have a double-shot of thrills and whimsy for a score that’s equal parts toe-tapping and trigger-pulling.

(1,000 edition)

James Bernard certainly scored some kooky Hammer horror in his famed tenure at the English studio. But nothing took the cake like their 1974 mash-up of Dracula and martial arts footcuffs as a dying Hammer desperately sought new ways to pump new blood into their gothic formula. However, the result would be one of their more innovatively entertaining efforts, given no small amount of symphonic class by Bernard. Arguably the best composer of Hammer’s horror stable, Bernard applied the famed theme he’d been using since 1958’s HORROR OF DRACULA to a venture that saw the vampire lord go way East, complementing his brooding sound with some lovely Chinese music along the way. Even more surprisingly, Bernard’s action music proved to be adept at catching the dubbed high-kicks that the Shaw Brothers brought to the castle. Even neater on this album (its history once again given Hammer liner-fu by Randall Larson) is the accompanying “Story Album,” with star Peter Cushing’s lilting voice describing the insanity as music and sound effects play underneath. For horror music fans, it’s a combo that makes these VAMPIRES a golden musical ticket indeed.


After using near-screeching strings to hugely unsettling, if not exactly easy listening effect for GRACE’s killer baby, scoring Tim Thomerson’s vampire-busting priest for LIVE EVIL must have seemed like a romp in the park for composer Austin Wintory. Even if the music budget for Jay Woelfel’s undead flick likely sucked, you wouldn’t be able to hear it in Wintory’s energetic and ambitious strains, which slam in every bit of EVIL’s genre-bending insanity with Lisbeth Scott’s creepy religioso voice, rock guitars, gongs right out a Spaghetti western, haunted house organs and even piano excerpts for Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” for that extra touch of class. Driving LIVE’s parade of bullets, swords and fangs is melodically suspenseful action that shows Wintory’s promise as a swiftly rising composer who truly knows his musical chops- especially when they’re in the service of slicing and dicing vampires in the desert.

THE MEAN SEASON (1,200 edition)

Few composers know how to play a chase between hero and killer like Lalo Schifrin. But where his jazzily propulsive, crime noir style was usually in service of a cop (a la Schifrin’s classic score to DIRTY HARRY), 1985’s THE MEAN SEASON gave Schifrin the chance to make the musical cat and mouse game even more creative, especially since it’s following the lethally co-dependent relationship between intrepid (if sleazy) newspaper reporter Kurt Russell and Richard Jordan’s serial murderer. This neat, unsung thriller gives Schifrin truly interesting avenues for the pursuit, capturing the eerily sweltering heat of its Miami setting through menacing synths, lush romance, tensely building strings, fish house Muzak, and even a orchestra that almost screams “big city newspaper!” It’s a score that’s certainly one of Schifrin’s most impressive genre entries (no more so than in a positively rollicking car chase cue), especially with the Intrada limited edition not only containing its original soundtrack, but dozens of brief, even more stylistic “stinger” cues to complement this SEASON’s suspensefully sweltering atmosphere.


Movie Score Media continues its mission of scaring the pants off of us with their cool assault of Spanish horror scores. And one of its more menacing proponents is Fernando Velazquez, who certainly helped put this new musical genre on the map with the creepy kids’ tunes of THE ORPHANAGE. Now more trouble follows as a sunlight-adverse teen ends up being accused of carnage in the forest-filled mountains, which is all the excuse that Velazquez needs to go for an alternately brooding and full-throttle mix of melodic tension and gigantic orchestral shrieks. His SHIVER ends up far more a jump. It’s an atmospheric score that would be just as home in an old Universal Wolfman picture as it is this distinctly Spanish exercise in terror. But of all the visceral musical effects on hand, nothing quite chills in SHIVER like a foghorn effect that Velazquez conjures through an instrument’s rubbed skin- a sound more effective at conveying eerie isolation than all of the musical noise in America’s SHUTTER ISLAND.


No matter who’s scoring it, you can nearly always tell a Jerry Bruckheimer soundtrack by its relentlessly driving rhythms, a wall of pop-inspired sound with precious few peaks and valleys. It’s an in your face to traditional melody that reaches its exhaustive apex with APPRENTICE. But then, who better to get for that than Yes-man Trevor Rabin, who might have thought he’d sweated it all out with star Nicolas Cage and director Jon Turteltaub after two NATIONAL TREASURE movies. But pour on some of that old black magic, and Rabin’s surging strings, samples, and choral spells slam into overdrive. Adrenalin junkies will dig this, especially when it comes to Rabin’s catchy march theme for the badass wizard. As for the Paul Dukas melody that’s somehow inspired this madness, it’s been updated, rebooted, and then some, with Rabin doing his own version of switched-on classics to make the brooms and mops romp about to the famed music in a way that will likely cause Dukas purists to rive from their graves- while doubtlessly cracking a smile on the crowds watching SORCERER’S APPRENTICE in the multiplex. But then, Rabin only lives in Bruckheimer’s universe. And the fact that he’s able to cast his own spell for Bruckheimer’s ADD answer to Dormammu proves more than ever that Rabin is this musical style’s answer to Doctor Strange- conjuring a cool vibe that’s the equivalent of slamming down Red Bull and heavily buttered popcorn.

CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes. Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande

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