‘SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES‘ is one of the top soundtracks to own for February, 2014
Also worth picking up THAT AWKWARD MOMENT, BLACK SAILS, FALLING DOWN, GUILTY AS CHARGED THE MONUMENTS MEN, THIEF and more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) BLACK SAILS / KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM
What Is It?: Currently battling for the title of being the busiest composer on television with the lurching “Walking Dead” and the shambling “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” Bear McCreary isn’t just out for work, but also for achieving a consistently high quality of robustly inventive music, often for equally daring shows like “Da Vinci’s Demons” and “Eureka.” His Now, the indefatigable composer’s latest launch to Nielsen wonder is Starz’ “Black Sails,” a pirate show that lets McCreary smartly plunder the cult cable hit that started his profitable career.
Why You Should Buy It?: Using ethnic percussion as opposed to symphonically expected space opera music was an incredibly daring, and is it turned out, brilliant choice when McCreary boarded SyFy’s striking reboot of ‘Battlestar Galactica.” Like that show, ‘Black Sails” offers a character-driven craft on an odyssey to find a priceless treasure, even if these shipmates might be villains. With is ample amounts of cable-du-jour sex and violence, it was obvious that the producers of this show weren’t going to go for a swaggering Hans Zimmer “Pirates of the Caribbean” sound, but rather something befitting the good-looking grit of a far more realistic take on the scallywags. What McCreary provides is an unplugged, percussion heavy score that’s even rawer than “Galactica,” as befitting this scurvy bunch. Yet in collecting ethnic string, wind and percussion instruments from the ports of call these pirates have looted, McCreary also achieves a rhythmic world music, sea shanty sound in much the same fashion as he delineated “Galactica’s” gathered colonies. Having more than demonstrated his talent at making ancient instruments come to new, vibrant life in “Da Vinci’s Demons,” McCreary employs the Hurdy Gurdy, mandolin dulcimer, accordion and violin to create music that’s as much score as it might be a gig during wenches night at an island tavern, circa the 17th century. With its virtuoso, heartily acoustical sets, the music of “Black Sails” feels lived in, alive and authentic in the way that few history-based TV soundtracks have dared. And though there’s no touch of a modern orchestra, let alone Zimmer-esque percussion here, “Sails” is full of even more excitement and life than if it had been beefed up by modern sounds, though a rock guitar certainly fits in for the berserker attitude. Yet there’s sadness to this pirate’s life as well, the sense of finding solace at no port captured as well. Given what a strong start this series is off to, there’s no doubt that McCreary will continue to grow on “Sails’” winds, though I have a feeling we won’t be hearing Jack Sparrow’s approach anytime soon.
Extra Special: With so much standout work for the small screen, it’s a wonder why McCreary hasn’t conquered the big one as well, though sumptuous genre work like “Europa Report” certainly shows that he’s making strides – even when the film itself has stumbled like “Knights of Badassdom,” a picture whose behind-the-scenes creative battles ultimately took it give years to barely reach any theater (though its VOD wide release is now up). Thankfully, those kind of raging battles are only heard in McCreary’s bodacious, LARP-worthy work. Easily the most insane rock-fantasy score since Joel Goldsmith’s “Kull the Conqueror,” McCreary’s head-banging conceit is playing a bunch of dudes dressed in Medieval role-playing costumes as gods of metal thunder, unleashing sweat-flying guitars (with one solo played by no less than Whitesnake’s Doug Aldrich) and drum set thrashes to smite down the female chorus of a she-demon who’s been incanted to earth. More than just going Wild Stallyns with the long hair stuff, McCreary fashions his hard rock into strikingly shredding themes, with the orchestra delivering noble Celtic chivalry in spades. And in the few moments of quiet downtime, McCreary gets all girly like with flutes and harp to give some romantic Rennaisance possibility to guys who’d really like to get some, except not from a hell vixen. “Knights” slays with this simultaneously satirical and serious adventure that rousingly salutes an outwardly ridiculous past time that has to end up saving the world. Extra props for the straight-on legit metal ballads “Your Heart Sucks My Soul” and “At the Gates,” delivered with AC/DC gusto by McCreary’s bro Brendan. Their “Knights” truly kick-ass, making for a larger than life jam that more than ever shows that the composer can definitely rock in the big Hollywood leagues.
2) FALLING DOWN
What is it?: One could argue that 1993s “Falling Down” was Hollywood’s Tea Party moment, the movie where angry white man rage boiled over into the mainstream in a far less marginalized way than Travis Bickel’s righteously pissed rampage in “Taxi Driver.” Showing an ability to go for a cinematic gut kick after the enjoyably style-drenched likes of “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “The Lost Boys,” director Joel Schumacher sent Michael Douglas’ not-going-to-take-it-anymore worker drone on a society-busting trip from downtown L.A. to Venice Beach, the seething, often explosive rage and the inner sorrow of his suicide mission embodied with equal conformist-busting experimentation in James Newton Howard’s violent, emotional burn of a score.
Why should you buy it?: It wasn’t as if the composer hadn’t taken on troubling subject matter before in such works as the Vietnam-set murder mystery “Off Limits,” the Andes mountain cannibalism in “Alive” or the ultra violence of Steven Seagal in “Marked for Death.” Yet it was this kind of far more identifiable anguish that made so many respectable city dwellers want to Medieval that pushed Howard over the edge into truly dark, experimental territory as musically far away from “The Prince of Tides” as the Earth was from Pluto – let alone the ultimately sunny, we-can-all-get along message of his last venture into L.A.’s “Grand Canyon.” “Falling Down’s” urban, scum-cleaning trek through this City of Nightmares begins with eerie, whistling electronics, grinding guitar and metallic percussion, a growling, orchestral pulse building on top. It’s music that might just as well accompany a monster awakening. But here it’s an antihero’s enraged mental state, which Howard also expresses through moaning, gonging textures as the character is revealed to be no white savior at all. In the process, Howard conjures an ethnic, acid nightmare quality evocative of “Apocalypse Now’s” trek through the jungle to a murderous destination. But while “Falling Down” starts off with dissonant minimalism, Howard skillfully brings in far more melodic and human-sounding symphonic fury, as well as rhythmic, suspenseful action befitting of a Schwarzenegger or Seagal seeking payback on a very bad day, A lonely, neo-patriotic trumpet also distinguishes this movie’s gravely wounded warrior, whose mental collapse is cleverly enhanced with child-like bell statements of “London Bridge is Falling Down.” Howard isn’t so much begging for sympathy as much as he is understanding, effectively setting up a doom-laden, and greatly affecting sense of tragedy. It all leads to a somber, trumpet-topped outcome in line with subverting “Falling Down’s” expectations in the benefits of being justifiably pissed -even if the movie itself ended up being far less effective in going for a conventionally moralistic outcome for all of its seeming trumpeting of vigilante justice. But there’s no denying the confrontational, and ultimately sad power of Howard’s score, especially when given unusually controversial material from the studio system.
Extra Special: “Falling Down” definitely pushed buttons upon its release, especially among soundtrack fans that were impressed with Howard’s ability to show new reserves of dramatic possibility. Now Intrada finally releases this long in-demand score with an impactful 70-minute CD, which has Jeff Bond’s incisive liner notes following Howard’s darkly empathetic journey, whose extra tracks offer alternates and pulsing guitar tracks that add to the score’s striking psychosis.
3) SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES / BATMAN THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD
What is it?: Shirley Walker brought seriousness, not to mention production value to animation scoring back in 1992 with “Batman: The Animated Series.” Given her cue by the success of the first Tim Burton film that finally took The Dark Knight seriously, Walker turned from co-orchestrating Danny Elfman’s thunderous score to bringing her own film noir voice to the cartoon counterpart, and matched the live action picture’s symphonic power and thematic resonance in the bargain. So it was only natural that Walker and her scoring team would take the next, natural comic book leap with the WB’s “Superman: The Animated Series,” bringing an even stylistically richer and majestic orchestral sound to DC’s ultimate superhero that made every 30-minute episode into its own mini film score. Now after releasing two collections of the game-changing Bat toon music, La La Land Records goes the caped red and blue tote with this dazzling four CD set that’s all about how high flying the serious ambitions of TV animation scoring can be, all while having no lack of fun and adventure.
Why you should buy it?: There’s a remarkable seamlessness to over five hours of music offered on the “Superman” set, which is perhaps the best testament as to how Walker inspired her own creatively budding justice league of composers, each of whom get their moment to shine in this powerhouse set. Lolita Ritmanis turns from the simian playing of cute Circus music into the pounding African percussion and Kong-esque brass rampage of the big ape Titano in “Monkey Fun.” Kristopher Carter brought The New Gods into the mix with one of the series’ most exciting scores for the two part “Apokips…Now!” capturing the glory of Jack Kirby’s cosmic Olympians while unleashing the villainy of Darkseid, adding gnarled electric percussion and the metal clanging of death machinery to smashing, heroic fisticuffs. Walker gives her own dramatic take on the New Gods with “Legacy,” offering some of the series’ most alarming action music with all of the furious, brass writing she’d give to the impending demises of her “Final Destination” scores, complete with a lurching, epically ominous chorus for the supervillain supreme. But perhaps the most dynamic scores in the set belong to the duo of “The New Batman / Superman Adventures,” which allowed many of Walker’s themes for the first, groundbreaking series to enter Superman’s musical universe, among them The Joker’s, whose Theremin insanity and jolly, jazzy circus music, which Michael McCuiston deftly joins with the sinister sound of Lex Luthor in “World’s Finest.” But undeniably the wackiest music belongs to Harvey Cohen’s embodiment of the mischievous Mr. Mxzyptik, who’s treated with all the cartoonish energy that Carl Stalling gave to Bugs Bunny. These episode-specific styles are but some of the approaches that fill “Superman’s” music, whether it’s jetting from metal hair rock to intimate piano romance or lush jazz, all tied together with Walker’s dynamic main themes. It’s an astonishingly motivic universe that’s far from kid’s stuff, with John Takis’ excellent liner notes breaking down the episodes while showing the height of how a musical team reached for the sky in terms of creative quality, an effort touchingly saluted in a CD-ending outtake that has Walker congratulating producer Bruce Timm and her players on giving their orchestral all to animation, with the kind of fully fleshed out music sound that’s still a rarity for cartoon superheroes.
Extra Special: If Burton Bat movie rescued the public impression of comic books as being kid’s stuff, the one show we can blame for their condescending opinion is ABC’s beyond-camp version of “Batman” back in 1966. But only praise can be heaped upon Neal Hefti’s rollicking, “crime jazz” approach – a swinging kitsch vibe that was brilliantly brought to new, animated life by McCuiston, Ritmanis and Carter for the kid-friendly “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” – a show based on the comic books that paired Batman with a different superhero each month. Our musical trio gives “B & B” an overarching blast of retro-jazz, their Pow! Thwack! combo achieving a pop art sense of musical camp that’s thoroughly fun without being goofy. But thankfully, all is not fun and games here, as the Ritmanis, Karter and McCuiston get across a strong sense of symphonic drama when need be, even without benefit of an actual orchestra. There’s also a strong sense of identity for the different guest stars under the jazz guise. Medieval flutes and voice give soul to Etrigan the Demon, Batmite sprints about to hapless heroics, Catwoman claws with a slinky sax, Wildcat has a crazed surf guitar and Jonah Hex all the instrumental fixings for a spaghetti western score. If you might sometimes find yourself somehow asking “Why so serious?” of “Superman: The Animated Series,” then the Emmy-nominated music of “The Brave and the Bold” undoubtedly will give you a two-disc shot of lightweight, musical fun, with some of the most inspired use of jazz to hit small screen avengers since Hefti brassily spun about the Bat logo. John Takis is once again back to give liner note appreciation to superhero scoring’s most dynamic trio, whose continued, energetic adventures show just how well Shirley Walker’s training in the batcave has rubbed off.
4) THE MONUMENTS MEN
What is it: Let the film reviewers shells have at it. But one thing few of them seemed to get is that “Monuments Men” isn’t a “war” film as such. Rather, it’s a very human story about art geeks being sent to rescue the best of what humanity can create, a mission accomplished with both sly humor and moving emotion that nevertheless has the dread of being in constant danger. It’s a smart, subversive take on the patriotic genre that pays tribute to it at the same time, which can also be said of Frenchman Alexandre Desplat’s slyly dramatic, flag-waving score that salutes the American intellectual red white and blue as much as it does the shimmering, artistic treasure they’re out to rescue from the Nazis.
Why you should buy it?: Best known for his more melodic work like “Philomena” and “Julia and Julia,” Desplat is a gritty veteran of French war films spanning from the Resistance of “Army of Crime” to Algeria for “Intimate Enemies.” “Monuments Men” gives Desplat the chance to pay tribute to a classic, Hollywood-style war score, as wonderfully typified by a whistling theme a la “The Colonel Bogey’s March” from “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” It’s an exuberant, carefree melody, much like the strutting professors-at-arms that can’t wait to get the call from Uncle Sam. But as their mission proves far more dangerous than expected, Desplat creates a solemn, string and trumpet sense of bravery and sacrifice that General Patton, not to mention the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams or Ron Goodwin, would approve of. In a Hollywood seemingly bent on blasting away the symphonic valor their work typified, Desplat remains wonderfully defiant in service of harmony. A master of varying memorable themes, Desplat turns his march into the touching intimacy of a piano, uses it to unleash the big orchestral guns of Americana victory, or brings on powerhouse action in the dark, Teutonic percussion of Hitler’s creatively bankrupt minions on the run. The gossamer use of bells and waltz-like rhythms that mark Desplat’s brushstroke also pervade “Monuments Men,” with just a touch of “Raiders” grand orchestral exoticism as well to accompany those endless vaults of crated masterworks. But most of all, Desplat is out to capture his characters’ humorous camaraderie as much as the spirituality of being in the presence of artistic transcendence. Call “Monuments Men” “Stripes” with seriousness if you will. It’s a throwback wonder of a soundtrack that proves to be the biggest breath of fresh musical air so far this scoring year.
Extra Special: While there’s nothing new to having composers show up in cameos of films they’ve scored (a la Jerry Goldsmith’s funny bits in the two “Gremlins” or Bernard Herrmann conducting the assassination symphony of “The Man Who Knew Too Much”), Desplat’s appearance as “Emile” just might be the first real, if small, part that a musician’s gotten in their own movie. It’s one of “Monument Men’s” most welcome surprises. And given the spot-on, wink-of-an-eye performance that Desplat delivers in his scenes with Matt Damon as a French Resistance farmer who can also pilot a biplane, this composer shows he has a whole other talent should his other movie gig inexplicably go south.
What is it?: With progressive rock rising in the late 60s, it was only a matter of time before the electronic wavelengths that especially emanated from Western Europe were received by American filmmakers. The band that first broke through Hollywood’s more classically-attuned scoring walls was the ever-changing German collective known as Tangerine Dream, whose trippy, rhythmic sound enticed the musically iconoclastic director William Friedkin to use their bizarre synth grooves for a suspenseful trip though the Latin American jungle in 1977s “Sorcerer.” Though Dream wrote the music before the film was even shot, the way that Friedkin melded long, hallucinogenic stretches of their hypnotic work to his nitro-packing odyssey was an exemplar of how well Dream’s music could play the more existential side of hard-bitten, criminally-minded characters. But it truly would be Michael Mann who’d take the TD vibe to a whole new level of visual synergy when they created the game changing score to 1981s “Thief,” a career-making soundtrack that not only broke through steel safes, but more importantly equated filmmaking cool with swathes of electro-rock groove.
Why you should buy it?: Though barely seen when it came out, Mann’s use of neon, rain-washed textures would redefine the 80s look of film noir with “Miami Vice” and “Manhunter.” Here it’s the perfect compliment to the machine-like slickness of its well-dressed antihero Frank, who crafts his heists with methodical, slick professionalism as opposed to brute force. His full-bore attitude is embodied by Dream’s undulating, steady rhythms and rock guitar, from the badass grooves of “Dr. Destructo” and “Igneous” to the bubbling, computerized chirps of “Burning Bar,” the music having all the futuristic sheen of Frank’s tools. Though he might play it cool in the escalating, piercing progression of “Scrap Yard,” there’s still the exhilaration of a job well done (“Beach Theme”), even though his retirement plan ends in disaster, betrayal that’s heard in the solemn, angered “Trap Feeling.” But TD’s undoubted centerpiece is the eleven-minute stretch of “Diamond Diary” that methodically plots out the big heist, not truly “hitting” each spark from its state-of-the-art blowtorch, but percussively building from break-in foreplay to orgasmic, fiery penetration. It’s no wonder that so many porn films stole this transfixing, elongated cue to put on top of their sex scene stretches.
Extra Special: “Thief’s” street cred as one of film scoring’s defining electro-rock scores has seen it put out through multiple versions over the past thirty-plus years, but it’s taken Perseverance Records to get a hold of the whole stash of released music – a minor miracle considering how TD’s own inter-band feuds has made it next to impossible to get out such prized jewels as “The Keep.” So at last here’s a “Thief” that offers both “Beach Scene” and “Confrontation,” the latter cue the property of Craig Safan. Commanded by Mann to groove on “Comfortably Numb,” Safan steals brings on his own rock groove, building with steely, energetic determination for “Thief’s” knockout, nihilistic ending as Frank settles the books, screaming chords and percussion that’s played with sweaty, freestyle excitement that brilliantly capturing the revenge of a guy you don’t want to F with. It’s a knockout piece that’s “Thief’s” approximation of the concert-ending solo. Informative liner notes by James Phillips and fittingly cool, blue-colored layout add the neon touch to this mostly complete, terrific-sounding presentation of the movie that let Mann and Tangerine Dream deservedly make off like bandits.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. THE ART OF TRAVEL / GUILTY AS CHARGED (1,000 edition)
Contrary to popular belief, Danny Elfman isn’t the only member of the rock group Oingo Boingo to have a second act as a film composer. And like Elfman, lead guitarist Steve Bartek transferred much of his cult group’s bouncy world rhythms and devilish love of the dark into his scoring work, two prime examples of which are now available on one CD from Buysoundtrax. The music for 2008s “The Art of Travel” serves as the road map for a young man trying to find himself on a trip across South America’s Darien Gap. With fun Ska-jazz groove that recalls the Boingo days, Bartek takes a strumming, sensitive path that’s offbeatly blazed with retro guitar, synths and \percussion Like such composers as Gustavo Santolalla (“Motorcycle Diaries”) who’ve set young people into South American parts unknown in both locale and mind, Bartek’s uses sensitive violin and guitar melodies for introspection, exotic riffs and rising brass for the film’s awe-inspiring sights and rock rhythm to convey the fun of wanderlust – at least until queasy synths run into the Latin rebels who patrol them thar hills. But most of all, Bartek’s “Art” has a fun, inventively rhythmic and quietly dramatic sense of discovery to it, making for an effective, alt. Latin flavored score that conveys the bigger things in life. Having helped orchestra his bandmate’s crazed Gothic death sound in such seminal works as “Beetlejuice,” “Batman” and “Darkman,” Bartek got his own soundtrack to shine with his scoring debut “Guilty as Charged.” Sam Irwin’s delightful 1995 black comedy saw Rod Steiger frying much ham, as well as judged evildoers, on a traveling electric chair. Bartek’s stormy, symphonic work is a black-humored delight, full of purposefully malefic violins, haunted voices and a roaring, brass-topped orchestra that operatically conjures the twisted business at hand. Like Elfman, Bartek has an mad thing for Bernard Herrmann, whose playfully twisted melodies possesses this exercise in grand guignol evil-righting that’s as energetically determined as Steiger’s old sparky.
. THAT AWKWARD MOMENT
Renowned among rock fans for his guitar playing with the likes of Sting, Jeff Beck and David Bowie, David Torn has proven himself to be an equally memorable composer, especially when scoring projects involving youthful romance, from the halting love doll attraction in “Lars and the Real Girl” to the acid rock grooves of “The Wackness,” as well as an equally soulful adult breakdown in “Everything Must Go.” Torn’s film work is distinguished by an ethereal, rhythmic vibe, as beautiful samples merge with bell percussion and acoustic pace. It’s an approach reminiscent of Thomas Newman’s rarely heard forays into alt. scoring, which makes the equally rare release of this unsung composer’s work a reason to celebrate. Torn’s grooves don’t get smoother, or more enchanting than with “That Awkward Moment.” Charting the romantic forays of a bunch of best NYC buds, Torn’s entrancingly mellow work expresses the emotions these guys run from, an echoing, strumming tenderness given extra depth with strings and spacey synths. Alternating between montage grooves and pensiveness, “That Awkward Moment” is as smooth as can be, capturing a flowery, smart feel of first love beyond the guy talk b.s. Better yet, like their release of “Stuck in Love,” “That Awkward Moment” represents a welcome outreach for Varese to hook up young, alternative listeners beyond the typical soundtrack crowd, an appeal that songs are a must for. And “Moment” has unusually good tunes to spare, from the 80’s style synth rock rhythms of Crozet’s “Closed Shades” and Night Drive’s “After Dark” to the contemporary trance beat of Strange Talk’s “Morning Sun” and the doo-wop style of Lavender Diamond’s “I Don’t Recall.” All add for a romantic mix tape of a soundtrack that’s sure to turn awkward to lucky.
. DEAD AGAIN (2,000 edition)
Few film scoring, or actor-turned-director debuts have been as rapturously received as 1989s “Henry V,” the first of many auspicious pairings for Patrick Doyle and Kenneth Branagh that most recently impressed with the techno-orchestral “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” But before the duo re-invented themselves to appeal to the blockbuster energy of the multiplex, they’d stormed Hollywood’s battlements with a decidedly old school score with 1991s “Dead Again.” This reincarnation thriller was a throwback in more ways than one, not only have its way with its supernatural 40s era murder MacGuffin, but also allowing Doyle to breathlessly pull out all the stops in re-creating the lush, melody-drenched golden age scoring practiced by the likes of David Raksin, Bernard Herrman and Miklos Rozsa. Doyle’s throwback inspiration to let loose the full thematic range of his orchestra was a plot drenched in music appreciation, as a private dick finds that a conductor’s seeming murder of his lover has its present-day roots in an unfinished, mad symphony. Doyle’s no-holds barred thematic approach is right out the gate in a striking melody that pounds through the years, with piano percussion and brass serving as the exclamation points to its newspaper headline montage. And it just keeps getting better from there for listeners who longed for the day when outright melody was nothing to be ashamed about. Doyle sorts through the murder-mystery’s clues with equal parts rollicking speed, tingling, star-crossed passion and pounding orchestral excitement that’s a delightful work-out for all the romantically suspenseful force a film orchestra is capable of mustering. La La Land’s release of the full score on a 78 minute CD gives us even more of Doyle’s rollicking, and brash music to appreciate, showing how it’s niftily constructed to pay off in one of the most gigantic, and quickly paced scoring climaxes ever, as the past flashbacks come ripping into the present with the murderer’s big reveal, with Doyle bringing the killer’s symphony to life with full operatic bombast. Now that Doyle and Branagh are understandably fashioning their bigger Hollywood collaborations for youngsters who haven’t begun to watch a black and white movie, “Dead Again” stands even more as a terrific blast from the scoring past, as energized for the present, with Brian Satterwhite’s exceptional liner notes ferreting out the clues behind the rewarding collaboration of two all-out artists and their landmark movie-movie-music film.
. LOLITA (1,000 edition)
Stanley Kubrick made a wildly entertaining movie out of Vladimir Nabokov’s forbidden novel back in 1962 (or at least as much of one that could be made back in those days), its seditious sense of humor abetted by Nelson Riddle’s jazzy score. But leave it to sensual auteur Adrian Lyne to set out to do a far more heatedly realistic version that would closely follow the novel, sans Peter Sellers’ cartoonish Quilty-isms. The result was far less salacious than one would expect from the director behind “9 ½ Weeks,” who created a somber, slow moving and surprisingly intellectual movie that was far more about the big head than the little one when it came to its wholly inappropriate relationship. And while it was to be the only time that Lynne worked with Ennio Morricone, the result was a remarkable collaboration. Doomed, lyrical romance has always elicited some of the Italian maestro’s finest work for Hollywood from “Days of Heaven” to “Fat Man and Little Boy” and “Bugsy,” whose drifting melodies, poignant flute and slow, fateful piano burn and flashes of film noir brass make that score incestuously close to “Lolita” in the best ways. Morricone crafts an astonishingly beautiful theme, whose phrasing spells out the vixen’s name – so don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing to it. Such is the thematic spell of Morricone that the frequently repeated, lullaby-like theme only becomes more enticing with each utterance, as complemented by a lavish, innocent melody that speaks for the deceptive bliss of true. Morricone’s use of using contrasting strings over his motifs have the powerful effect of telling us just how wrong this relationship is, while religious voices, dark percussion and turbulent melody becomes the world closing in on the erudite professor and his conquest. While this quite different take on “Lolita” was similarly doomed to remain in Kubrick’s shadow no matter how good the film was – or great in the case of Morricone’s score, the biggest reveal inside Music Box’s complete 75-minute release is just how beautifully, and hauntingly enveloping this soundtrack is – a nymphet who inspired lyricism over lust in an unsung score that can now truly stand as a Morricone masterwork.
. MUSIC ON HOLD
Howlin’ Wolf, a label better known among cult music aficionados for putting out such ferocious soundtracks as “Silent Night,” “The Dead” and “Mean Guns” might not be expected to have a romantic musical bone in its body. So the most shocking thing about this release just might be that one of the most sweetly delightful albums in their catalogue belongs to this Argentinean comedy (known as “Music En Espara” as it’s titled on HBO Latino). But then, given that it’s about a movie composer trying to identify an elusively inspirational tune that he heard on hold, it might not be hard to imagine Wolf’s attraction to this terrifically inventive score by Guillermo Guareschi (whose far more sanguine “Phase 7” previously got a Wolf release). Using a chamber music approach that could easily be number seven of Jerry Goldsmith’s “Six Degrees of Separation,” Guareshi’s antic plucking, piano percussion and harpsichord have a wonderful, zany energy for a score-solving caper between two lonely hearts, with the added bonus of regional guitar and tangos to boot. In its more serious passages, Guareschi impresses with the heartstrings of a Spanish guitar, while his use of piano, string quartet and Baroque melodies also bring to mind the flavor of Ennio Morricone’s more intimately dramatic work. But the catchiest bit here is the country music beat of toe-tapping harmonica of “Irish on Hold,” a stylistically different song that still typifies the score’s joyous energy. Rounded out with a series of piano suites that are as reflectively soulful as the soundtrack is boundingly fun, “Music On Hold” accomplishes any label’s best mission of introducing a promising composer who’s worthy of discovery, with a score that’s a delight in any score fan’s language.
Inevitably, all composers given the unenviable task of rebooting a much beloved score feel the need to pay homage to that movie-defining main theme. And while it’s nice that Pedro Bromfman has come up with a hilariously goofy, trip-hop spin of Basil Poledouris’ iconic “Robocop” melody, it’s as jarringly out of place as an orchestrally-minded 80s composer at a digital synthesis convention – not that Poledouris didn’t employ synths back in the day. But this is a whole new, humorless cyborg. And while devotees of the original score, not to mention a symphonic approach to outwardly thematic action scoring, might grouse, it’s hard to imagine an approach like that working for this surprisingly good reboot. This “Robocop” purges much of the original’s nutty satire and juicily villainous characters to refashion the film in the vein of a cold, menacing 70s-era conspiracy picture with the latest in effects tech. For that new mission, Bromfman’s mega percussion approach is right on target. Sure you haven’t heard this pounding fusion of rock percussion, orchestra and electronics about two zillion times before. And while this “Robocop” doesn’t break the mold, it’s cool, energetic stuff that does terrific service to the direction of his “Elite Squad” collaborator Jose Padilha. Told in realistic fashion with a steely, knife-edged sheen that builds a powerful head of suspense, Bromfman keeps the beyond-rhythmic score jet cycling along, coming up with ear-catching retro electronic sounds to represent a sensitive tough guy ghost in the killer machine. Creepily distorting strings and piano are his feelings trying to claw their way out of his frame, which receives a pretty good pulse theme as well that really takes control as the stakes are musically ramped up. That Bromfman achieves a top-tapping, Zimmer-esque groove to the big percussive banging is a complement as to how well this Brazilian composer (not to mention director) have nailed the Hollywood action groove – a target that “Robocop’s” full-throttle score both typifies, and energizes.
. SUMMER IN FEBRUARY / THE THIRTEENTH TALE
Showing that he’s as capable of capturing the past with headbanging metal in “Hammer of the Gods” as he is elegant melody for this “Summer,” Wallfisch takes a true look at an artist’s colony in Cornwall, circa 1913, an Oceanside wellspring of creativity that love and infidelity will of course rend asunder. It’s a fittingly gorgeous, oft melancholy score that’s firmly in the William Walton tradition, lushly capturing “that last golden summer” of British bohemian youth. With a particularly memorable theme, Wallfisch has the 20th century costume approach down pat, from poignant violin solos to turbulently flowing piano melodies (exceptionally well played by Yuja Wang) a “Greensleeves”-like siren’s song and soaring strings that convey the always-anguished state of the movie painter, and the tragedy bound to follow from his creative hedonism. Wallfisch has a delicate, passionate touch with that’s made “Summer” an ideal, if rare soundtrack release by Deutsche Gramophone Records, a label that certainly knows elegance when it comes their way. Wallfisch’s sense of class is made for Movie Score Media’s release of his BBC telefilm score for “The Thirteenth Tale,” its twisted family history revealed by a dying fiction author to her aghast biographer. Wallfisch is perhaps the keenest listener of all, as one can hear his enthusiasm at playing a Gothic thriller to the hilt. His tale spins out the genre’s musical chestnuts with panache, from brooding melodies to echoing chimes and ghostly voices that are the musical fog on this soundtrack’s moors. There’s a winning sense of humor as well to Wallfisch’s approach as he weaves about these eerie melodies before showing he means business with outrightly bone-chilling samples. For much like the heightened drama of a crazed childhood being spun by its storyteller, Wallfisch delights in creepy, old-fashioned melodic elegance to his haunted house scares, whose bursts of dissonance are also very much of the horror scoring moment. It’s a musical “Tale” effectively told, both with a wink and a jolt that brings out the devilish glee that any kid has in hearing a ghost story that will both enchant and scare the dickens out of them.
. TIM’S VERMEER
A longtime orchestration craftsman who’s helped such composers as John Williams, Alan Silvestri and Howard Shore realize their own masterworks, Conrad Pope has increasingly come into his own as a composer of melodic regard with the likes of “Marilyn and Me” and “In My Sleep.” Now one of his most beautiful scores stands as a meta-musical statement of its own with “Tim’s Vermeer,” a film that proves you can impersonate one of art’s greatest painters, provided you’re a creative genius millionaire in the comfort of your own, historically-appointed studio. Like its subject, Pope’s score has one foot in the classical past, and other in the jazzily quirky present. Gorgeous, small ensemble writing for strings, flutes and violin evoke Vermeer’s Dutch world, giving a 16th century sense of the naturalistic (and scientific) sense of wonder that inspired such life-like work from the artist – a glistening, emotional sound that makes for a worthy companion to Pope’s frequent orchestrating assigner Alexandre Desplat’s score for the Vermeer biopic “Girl With a Pearl Earing.” But what puts an eccentric, excited sparkle into that sumptuously flowing style is a plucky, humorous, jazz quartet sound for the artist’s biggest modern-day fan. Marimbas and vibraphone help create an offbeat, excited sense of discovery to the photo-realistic brush strokes, at once paying homage to the great age of art, while at the other having fun with the deconstructionist magic show quality that can only come from the directorial flourish of Penn’s silent half. Pope effortlessly progresses to a musical unveiling that proves “Tim’s” theorem, effortlessly flowing music that revels in the transcendent, touching quality of great painting, showing inspiration as the ultimate means to an end. In Pope’s case, it’s with a striking, melodically soft touch and attention to thematic detail that continues to show how his behind the musical scenes magic truly shines when put in an artistically revelatory spotlight.
. TO CATCH A THIEF / THE BRIDGES OF TOKO-RI
When one thinks of Hitchcock’s musical collaborators, composers like John Wlliams, Dmitri Tiomkin and Alfred Newman might come first to mind among the score fans who think outside the Bernard Herrmann box – which makes it all the nicer that Intrada has brought Lyn Murray to the fore, whose one movie score for Hitchcock certainly wasn’t for a lesser picture. Indeed, 1955s “To Catch A Thief” stands as one of the Master of Suspense’s most sleekly pleasurable films, a Monte Carlo set romp whose biggest sparkling treasure is Grace Kelley, all while the most exciting action is found in her wordplay with the always-debonair Cary Grant as they seek to ferret out the cat burglar who’s framing his retired thief character. This lack of bodies allows for a wonderfully effervescent score from Murray, a composer who’d cut his romantic comedic teeth for fellow Englishman Bob Hope on “Casanova’s Big Night.” “Thief” has a pleasant, bounce to the always at-first reluctant star couples who’ve made up playful thrillers of this lush life sort, with dalliances from western harmonica to swooning waltzes, cocktail jazz and a breathtakingly wonderful fireworks kiss. However, it’s still a score that’s very much in the Hitchcock Cannon, darting over rooftops to sleek, mysterious string writing, spookily looming danger and the kind of cliffhanging thrills that Herrmann would run with soon enough. Though it’s not that “Thief” would be the last work between the filmmaker and Murray, as the composer would go on to a nice run on years later on “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” However, Murray had actually stolen audience’s hearts already for Grace Kelly the year before to far more serious effect on the Korean-set war drama “The Bridges of Toko-Ri.” Murray shows his impressive range with this stalwart, trumpeting patriotic score about the brave pilots and the woman who love them, allowing for joyful honeymoon music and the tragic heartstrings of sacrifice, right down to the incorporation of taps into this effective, if brief accompanying score – the most cues of which are dedicated to unexpectedly bright pop source cues by the likes of Rogers and Hart, along with military marches and polkas. It’s a must for Hitchcock score completists, as well as providing notice “Thief” composer more than worth some long-overdue soundtrack recognition.
. THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM: THE EXPANDED EDITION
Back in the day when the term “made for video” didn’t cheaply connote “found footage,” trailblazing companies like Full Moon Entertainment started out with some fairly grand ambitions of providing feature-quality production value on budgets that laced all of the shoe-strings as opposed to just a few, even when it came to the music. Easily the most impressive among Full Moon’s offerings was Stuart Gordon’s 1991 spin on “The Pit and the Pendulum,” which took full advantage of producer Charles Band’s Italian castle to give horrifying credence to the Poe tale’s oft-forgotten setting during The Spanish Inquisition – with no less than Lance Henricksen as a truly fearsome Torquemada. Having first notoriously paired his bro Richard with Gordon on “Re-Animator,” Charles once again asked his court composer to score “Pit,” whose new, complete edition makes this effort stand as the finest collaboration of a match gloriously made in horror movie hell. Band certainly benefited from a time when one could actually get an orchestral bang for the even the smallest production buck in conjuring a masterwork that got across the liturgical scope of this particularly sad example of historical terror, employing righteously fearsome Latin choruses to his tempestuous score. While not the symphonic size of “The Omen,” Band skillfully blends real strings with the effective power of his sampled orchestra in the score’s vision of man-as-Satan, offering a wealth of memorable themes as the music swings from rousing action to brooding malevolence and the poignancy of lovers rent asunder, as caught in the cogs of a villain using religion to mask his own sins. Above all, Band’s “Pit” is a strikingly melodic, and even beautiful score for the grueling cruelty it so effectively portrays, showing off the kind of epic, yet intimate scope that the composer definitely deserves to plunge into again beyond his always sanguine, Poe and Lovecraft-centric collaborations with Stuart Gordon – of which Perseverance’s expanded “Pit” still stands as a pinnacle in all of its sanctimoniously twisted glory.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Movie Score Media, Perseverance, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande
Don’t miss the first-ever Academy Award orchestral concert and animated conversation with Scoring nominees William Butler and Owen Pallett (“Her”), Alexandre Desplat (“Philomena”), Thomas Newman (“Saving Mr. Banks”), Steven Price (“Gravity”) and John Williams (“The Book Thief”), who will have an 80-piece orchestra playing suites from their lauded scores before talking about them with critic Elvis Mitchell. Get your tickets for this premiere film music event on Thursday, February 27, at 8 p.m. at UCLA’s Royce Hall HERE at Ticketmaster