Soundtrack Picks: ‘BREAKING AWAY‘ is the top soundtrack to own for February, 2015
Also worth picking up ABOVE AND BEYOND, FANTASIA: THE LEGACY EDITION, JAWS: THE REVENGE, OUTLANDER, SHOCK WAVES, SWITCH and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD Cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) BREAKING AWAY
What is it?: Next to “The Rabbit of Seville,” no entertainment has better used to use Italian opera for all of its marvelously rhythmic, and romantic possibilities like 1979’s acclaimed “Break Away.” A pure love of the art form put pedal to the bicycle metal for Dennis Christopher’s Dave, a local Bloomington Indiana young man who dreams of making the big Italian bicycle racing leagues to the dismay of both his parents and hardscrabble “cutter” friends. This musically-driven approach was inspired by English director Peter Yates, who created one of the classic American coming-of-age movies, whose spirit now shines brighter than ever given a new blu ray edition via Twilight Time, and release of its truly unsung underscore by Patrick Williams on Kritzerland Records.
Why Should You Buy It?: Williams, a prolific composer whose catchily energetic way with pop rhythms and melodic emotion accompanied over 200 film and TV projects, including such cult objects of affection as “The Cutting Edge,” “Colombo,” “The Simpsons, “All of Me” and “Used Cars.” Kritzerland has made it their mission to put a light on Williams’ largely unreleased repertoire with “Cuba” and “Butch and Sundance the Early Years.” But perhaps none is more revealing than this largely unused score, whose orchestral ensemble wonderfully draws on the classical sources at hand to portray the bonds of family and friends, and more specifically a seemingly impossible dream to ride out of townie life. While there’s a lyrical Americana warmth for strings and guitar, Williams main ride draws from the classical source at handlebar, from heartbreaking piano melodies to boisterously symphonic Italian melody that’s inseparable from the real deal. This is truly one of the unused score instances where a listener could easily could question Yates’ decision not to let Williams make it to the finish line. Yet, original opera is the thing here. And having used 40s jazz for the likes of “Swing Shift” and 50s rock for “Cry-Baby” (not to mention very 70s bar funk here), Williams adapts the Italian standards to create one of the truly one of truly great classical songbook scores, whose memorable impact is right up there with Leonard Rosenman’s Oscar-winning adaptations of Schubert and his way drier 17th century friends for “Barry Lyndon.” Indeed, Williams received similar Academy-recognition (if not the win) for his work here, even if his original music got its wheels jammed by Yates. Indeed, “The Barber of Seville” has never so full of pace or soaring heart, especially with how well it captures its young, ever-dreaming underdog hero’s optimism as he attempts to outrace a truck, win a collegian’s heart or finally makes it past the finish line. There’s no doubt that “Breaking Away” certainly added to a love of Italian opera in a way that cycled right back to its wonderfully energetic appeal in the first place.
Extra Special: “Breaking Away” is a delightful release that works as both a greatest hits collection of Italian opera, as well as recognition to a composer whose work deserves to be heard more of on CD. To be sure, there are plenty of terrific Patrick Williams works waiting in the closet to take up the next starting position after “Breaking Away,” chief among them his distinctly American superhero score that matched John Ritter’s colorful musical costume for “Hero At Large.” Anyone? Anyone?
2) CLIFF MARTINEZ FILM FEST GENT / MY LIFE DIRECTED BY NICOLAS WINDING REFN
What Is it?: Inspired by the dreamily minimal alt. rock likes of Brian Eno and the shredding guitar insanity of Captain Beefheart (an artist whom he drummed for along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Cliff Martinez helped put accessibly experimental film music on the map with 1989’s “sex, lies and videotape,” truly kickstarting the indie film scene along with Steven Soderbergh’s career. Working with that director, and well beyond him on such distinctively rhythmic and hypnotically still scores as “Narc,” “Wonderland,” “Arbitrage,” “Spring Breakers” and “Drive,” Martinez is mainly know by the masses for his rock-electronic work, often distinguished by the eerily glass-like sounds of his Cristal baschet instrument. But if there’s one true cult score of his, then it would be Martinez’s immersive dive into the orchestral, dream-conjuring waters of Soderbergh’s 2002’s remake of “Solaris” that has drawn numerous movie industry fans to his work. Given how well organic players added to Martinez’s music back then (and since), it was only natural that the Brussels Philharmonic, under the baton of famed conductor (and composer) Dirk Brosse, would perform selections from Martinez’s repertoire both domestic and foreign at the Gent music festival. It’s a score-centric haven for discriminating aficionados that not only proves its good taste with this album, but more importantly the performance chops of its orchestra at equaling the original soundtracks that these selections come from.
Why Should You Buy It?: An exceptionally well-paced album, “Gent” gives us choice cuts from their respectively played scores, beginning with the calypso-like tonalities of steel drums and the shivering strings that take us to “Solaris,” a voyage of both eerie and meditative power. The cimbalom-topped “Kafka” is Martinez’s wry take on Anton Karas’ “The Third Man,” as given quite a bit more paranoid dread. The already orchestral scores like “The Company You Keep” gets emotional tenderness and twisted, patriotic power, while “Contagion” has a darkly groovy sense of 70s paranoia, with electronics expertly played on top of the symphony. But it’s the scores where no strings existed that truly benefit from the Brussels string-heavy musicians, as “The Underneath’s” theme proceeds at a sensuously lavish pace, and the youth-skewing romance of ”Wicker Park” uses a piano for elegant gloss. Of particular interest to Martinez’s stateside fans are selections from his still unreleased French films L’espions (“Spies”) and “A l’origine” (“In the Beginning”). Given a spy thriller and the business chicanery, Martinez binds his music with a sense of mystery and emotion, as driven with hypnotic suspense in a way that’s completely different from the Hollywood norm. It’s all the more reason of how Martinez’s distinct style is drawing more recognition than ever before, now given whole other alternative dimension with a rich string sound that plays like it was always his lush intention.
Extra Special: One of Martinez’s best scores is surely for one of the most vile film ever made, as Gent’s performance of “Only God Forgives’ brings out a gorgeous, Herrmann-esque danger and beauty from an otherwise pummeling revenge thriller set in Thailand, an unaccountable movie given just how brilliant its director’s “Drive” was. As made by his wife Liv Corfixen, “My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn” points the way to a breakdown about a filmmaker getting lost in the morass of his own cinematically violent pretentiousness. Cliff Martinez is on hand to document that marital stress and creative heart of darkness with a beautiful, translucent score that’s contrastingly beatific in understanding a behind-the-scenes situation the composer knew in a way that was creatively first-hand. Sympathetic, pensive guitar melodies, percolating melodies and the ever-present Cristal baschet take a cool, percussive journey up the river of excess and hubris, bringing the foibles of a husband and father very much back down to earth in a captivating, meditative way that works equally well as an acid-dropped tone poem. It might be about Refn, but “My Life” is also very much of an insight to the hypnotic sample and computer groove that’s distinguished Martinez’s work from the start – music that comes from a place so beautifully unearthly that it seems Solaris is a neighboring planet to Martinez’s studio where he conjures his own works that transport the listener into a dream state – here through one collaborator’s nightmare.
3) EVERLY / OUTLANDER
Prices: $ $8.99 / $15.98
What Is it?: If you think Bear McCreary’s music has recently been male-driven meat and potatoes stuff between “The Walking Dead’s” morose zombie busters, the sarcastic demon fighter of “Constantine” and “Black Sail’s” randy pirates, two new scores from this always-energetic composer show his affection for grrl power, whether they’re blasting bad guys by the seeming hundreds or tenderly teaching the art of love to a time-lost Scotsman.
Why Should You Buy It?: When it comes down to it (and as films like “Kill Bill” and “La Femme Nikita” more than prove), guys like nothing better than really hot chicks shooting off heavy ordinance. Salma Hayek does this, and then some, in the Christmas Eve confines of an assassin-assaulted apartment building as she takes out deadly valentines sent by her mob boss ex. But what’s not to love, especially when “Everly” gives McCreary the chance to re-team with filmmaker Joe Lynch after his inspired metal-rock meets medieval orchestral score for the director’s “Knights of Badassdom” (even if Lynch got executed from it). Here the musical results are just a bit different than what you might expect. Hyper-beat metal-techno percussion blasts proficiently away, as mixed with McCreary’s “Battlestar Galactica”-born love for hammering Taiko drums (for the Yakuza villain not so coincidentally named Taiko) and a mournful shakuhachi flute, befitting the high Japanese baddie body count here. But what’s particularly cool is how McCreary gets across a heroine trying to save her family through mournful voices, a soulful piano and hauntingly beautiful, cello-featured orchestrations. It’s a nice emotional touch when other more testosterone-driven scores of this type are often happy to settle back and let bad-ass percussion handle everything – though screaming rock guitar chords and thrumming rave-worthy beats will definitely satisfy that crowd. Given one wave of killers after the next that come after “Everly” with ludicrous abandon, McCreary mostly builds his cues as rhythmic set pieces, yet mostly with some kind of melodic content in mind. He goes from eerie tubular bell stalking to machine-gun blasting energy with complete assuredness, while also being sure to give things an melancholy rest break between flying limbs. Considering how well lone, gun-proficient survivors go with Xmas songs, McCreary’s singing muse Raya Yarbough is on hand to deliver a jazzily bouncing “Deck the Halls” and an especially eerie “Silent Night.” The family song affair is nicely complimented as McCreary’s brother Brendan delivers his own humorously funky, fa-la-la’ing, as well as a church-worthy brand of Christmas cheer.
Extra Special: Just as it was the source of The Twelve Colonies, McCreary’s seminal work on the greatest sci-fi reboot of all continues to prove a wellspring of inspiration, though of a softer kind for “Outlander.” Here, the Celtic instrumentation that powered much of “Battlestar Galactica’s” emotion and rhythmic action serves to send an English lass through a Druid portal in 1945, and into that arms of a Scottish highlander battling the Brits in 1743. It says something that the seriously re-shined “Galactica’s” creator Ronald D. Moore is behind this Starz’s adaptation of the wildly popular romance books, as he’d certainly meet McCreary’s Hurdy-Gurdy’s, fiddles and galloping drums with open arms. Where McCreary used strings sparingly on “Galactica,” “Outlander” benefits from a lush, highland string sound in painting a musical picture with distinctive feminine appeal that speaks for a woman caught between two worlds, seeking to return to her proper husband, yet drawn to a hunky new love. McCreary captures her longing with true passion, while Enya fans will also appreciate the mystical use of voices here. McCreary is also able to get in instrumental bits of some eternal Scottish hymns and jigs like “Comin’ Thro’ The Rye” and “The Woman of Balnain.” McCreary’s more than proven himself as a time traveler when it comes to capturing authentic instrumentation from the skull and crossbones-days of Starz’s “Black Sails” to their Renaissance Italy for “Da Vinci’s Demons,” But his real touch is giving musicology a terrific contemporary energy that makes these string and percussion pieces feel as if they’d just been invented yesterday. It’s a talent that lets “Outlander” work exceptionally well in both musical worlds for episodic dramas that so effectively use history, perhaps to no more to lovely effect than “Outlander.”
4) FANTASIA: THE LEGACY EDITION
What is it?: One might say that classical music was indeed the first movie scoring, as pieces done to specific storylines were meant to conjure images in the mind’s eye way before the advent of moving pictures. And no filmmaker would prove that point like Walt Disney, whose 1940 masterpiece “Fantasia” was the best excuse for a concert a kid could hope to be dragged to, significantly elevating studio animation from children’s stuff to an art form that could be appreciated by one-stuffy adults. Some music received literal translation, from the glistening bells of an ethereal sugar plum fairy in Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite,” Mickey Mouse evading a playfully relentless broom march for Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” or the devilish Chernabog rising for the “Night on Bald Mountain” to the rapturously terrifying orchestral evil of Modeste Moussorgsky. Other segments captured the spirit of these great composers in tone, if not in original intention, as when Igor Stravinsky’s primal “Rite of Spring” accompanied the earth’s birth throes, or when a hippo did a dainty string dance to Amilcare Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” (although it’s impossible now to hear that tune now without hearing how Allan Sherman turned the melody into “A Letter from Camp”’s lyrics of “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!”). When listening to this gloriously chosen assemblage of classical music’s greatest hits, one can’t help but think of just how important the musical form has been to cartoons in general (especially to such classical-referencing Looney Tune composers as Carl Stalling). But “Fantasia” remains the high mark though the film’s numerous re-release, using Disney’s idea for making the idea timeless by incorporating new musical segments with “Fantasia 2000” and even video games with “Fantasia: Music Evolved.” Yet the original remains the gold standard, especially when put out as part of Disney’s lavish “Legacy Edition” soundtrack line.
Why should you buy it?: “Fantasia” wasn’t released on LP until well after the fact, though Buena Vista’s three-LP 1957 soundtrack was an event in itself, complete with a fold-out cover. Disney’s new, double foldout release goes one CD better, with the first two discs containing the original Leopold Stowkowski performance. From his on-camera appearance conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” Stokowski’s affable interchange with Mickey did much to convince young viewers that classical music could be down to animated earth. Though archival in sound, the landmark vitality of the original soundtrack couldn’t be more passionate, or sound better given this album’s remastering. Taking full advantage of the new digital medium in 1982, Disney commissioned an entirely new performance from the baton of Walt’s favorite movie conductor Irwin Kostal (“Mary Poppins”), whose work with the Disney Studio Orchestra and Chorus truly made this music sing, opening up wondrously colorful sonic dimensions that play like the fog being wiped from several masterpieces. Without slighting Stokowski’s work, Kostal’s rendition achieves the true resonance that Walt was going after. And thanks to its recording technology, the work remains just as technically, and emotionally vibrant decades later as the height of audiophile performance – sinking home the colorful imagery that Walt has now eternally tied to these concert hall standards.
Extra Special: The Legacy Collection packaging has been akin to mini, art filled books and “Fantasia” is no exception, with Disney producer Dave Bossert detailing the omnibus movie’s history, its pages full of glorious art that show the range of Disney’s grand ambition come true. Once upon a time Claude Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” was even in “Fantasia,” a piece we get to hear via Stokowski’s recording. And just for fun, the wonderfully raspy voice of the great character actor (and immediately recognizable Winnie the Pooh) Sterling Holloway is on hand to narrate for the little ones about what’s happening in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Peter and the Wolf,” though here it’s definitely images as opposed to words that really makes “Fantasia’s” music come to enduring life.
5) THE RIVER WILD
What Is It?: Since the day sound came to the movies, film scores have been rejected for reasons both political and aesthetic (especially as music is usually the first thing to get blamed when a film isn’t working). A few hundred of also-ran soundtracks including Bernard Herrmann’s “Torn Curtain,” Alex North’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Carter Burwell’s “Thor: The Dark World” – enough instances for Gergely Hubai to write a big, excellent book about these instances called “Torn Music.” But whatever the reason a score doesn’t make the final cut, it doesn’t mean these reams of tossed, recorded music are without merit, as Intrada Records has often proven with such “before and after” releases as “White Fang” and “Supernova.” Now two classic composers who have had no shortage of work tossed between them for all of their musical pedigrees get their moment to shine for the label’s impressive release of “The River Wild.”
Why Should You Buy It?: Probably the two most notable things about Curtis Hanson’s average 1994 thriller was the idea of putting Meryl Streep in the role of an action hero, and seeing her stunt double navigate some hair-raising Canadian rapids. Jerry Goldsmith (of the unused “Alien Nation” and “Wall Street”) and Maurice Jarre (also musically MIA for “First Knight” and “Jennifer 8”) were respectively sent swimming, and sinking during “The River Wild’s” tumultuous post-production. When listening to both scores here, it’s fairly easy to discern why Jerry Goldsmith kept his head above water. The one gigantic mistake that could have easily gotten him tossed from the boat would have been to play Streep’s plucky housewife-outdoorswoman like a bow-holding Rambo. Thankfully, Goldsmith captured her stalwart determination instead in this impressively thematic score that keeps its excitement constantly moving with a strong sense of character, much like the score he’d proved for the bear-evading, psychologically attuned score to “The Edge.” He starts out with Copland-esque orchestrations that could accompany a western landscape, while being just as well suited to these far greener great outdoors. Adapting the standard “The Water is Wide” as main theme, Goldsmith impresses with creeping, gradually building suspense for Streep’s fellow travellers to reveal themselves as not-very-nice guys. Determinedly melodic strings join with breathy synth suspense in a way that also recalls Goldsmith’s feminine-driven suspense for “Sleeping With the Enemy,” the score climaxing in a breathless, ten-minute run of action music that shows off his talent for being able to navigate constant blasts of percussive, symphonic excitement without muddying its waters with “busy music.” His “River Wild” is tightly controlled and beautifully maneuvered, paying off as an incredibly solid action score that never grows tiring.
Extra Special: Maurice Jarre was a particularly unabashed composer, but then the said can be said of any French musician weaned on big, expressive melody. For if Goldsmith’s “River Wild” is about muscular, thematically modular music, then Jarre takes a way more lavish picture of the wilderness. He begins with a soaring, gorgeously sumptuous feeling of a family about to take a great American adventure. Action is defined through military snare drums, crashing pianos and a sense of feminine vulnerability, along with a smattering of Jarre’s electronic music that made up most of his output during the 80s, here singing like a Native American bird. Yet the problem is that Jarre’s score is too tumultuous, leaving no real theme for the listener to grasp onto – the thrills often so over the top that this seems to be a sequel score to Jarre’s spy satire “Top Secret” as opposed to serious suspense. Though capable of truly amazing work, Jarre’s “River Wild” just isn’t at that level, giving justifiably good reason why a way more structured work by Goldsmith would replace his. But even with its faults, any Jarre score is worthy of interest, from its warmer melodies to the way that the composer unleashes some of the most gigantic percussion of his career here in a neo-Asian way that would perfectly suit a samurai epic. The problem is that “The River Wild” isn’t that picture. But I’m certainly glad that Jarre’s smashing waves are finally able to be heard in an album that not only allows every note of his work to be heard, but Goldsmith’s as well. We also get 16 minutes of alternate Goldsmith cues, with Jarre’s numbering 25 minutes, showing how much both composers struggled to satisfy Hanson (with Goldsmith’s reward being an Oscar nomination for that director’s landmark “L.A. Confidential”). “The River Wild’s” is certainly a whale of a musical tale, told with no favorites by Jeff Bond journalistic approach in the substantial booklet. But whether your favored captain is Goldsmith or Jarre, this a trip worth taking, where the only thing in musical common is The Cowboy Junkies performing “The Water is Wide” – soulfully on one boat, and with way more country groove on the one that didn’t sail, even as Jarre provides a beautifully sumptuous end title that ironically proves to be his best piece of music for the film.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. ABOVE AND BEYOND
Movie buffs might think the limit of American involvement in creating the state of Israel’s first air force was Frank Sinatra throwing Molotov cocktails from a rusty plane in “Cast A Giant Shadow.” They’ll certainly be enlightened by this documentary that shows just how many post WW2 American flyboys were part of an international squad (including “Star Trek – The Motion Picture” writer Harold Livingston and Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reuben’s Dad) who made sure Israel wasn’t overwhelmed by invading Arab armies during the country’s War of Independence. Given the recreations of air combat, it’s only right that this powerful documentary would need to have all of the soaring, daring and emotional firepower of a feature movie. Enter ace composer Lorne Balfe, a seasoned veteran of heroic soundtrack combat with such honor and glory efforts as “Ironclad” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.” But apart from blasting the enemy, Balfe knows this was a battle for a people’s very survival, made all the more important by the fact that they were nearly annihilated in the Holocaust. Starting out with a moving variation of the traditional Jewish song “Hatikvah,” Balfe subtly uses Hebraic melodies and an Eastern European violin, along with Middle Eastern percussion to capture a refugee-filled region that gives a newfound purpose to its airborne saviors, whose cocksure bravado also gets treated with wry humor. But more importantly, Balfe’s music is about bravery, danger and sacrifice, with a score that’s more about contemplative force than rhythmic battle, contrasting poignant piano-driven melodies with a suspenseful feeling of history in the making. If “Beyond’s” producer Nancy Spielberg should interest her brother in doing the Hollywood treatment of this nearly unknown story, one couldn’t imagine a better, or more moving score l to accompany it.
. ATLAS SHRUGGED: WHO IS JOHN GALT?
Sometimes music is so good that you can forget exactly what vehicle it’s attached to, especially when its Ayn Rand’s super-powered, epic train to nowhere through three lamentable “Atlas Shrugged” movies. Where Chris Bacon took the mulligan for its second entry “The Strike,” the first movie’s composer of note has now come back on board to finish this triptych with “Who Is John Galt?” For those uninitiated into the ways or Rand, or who end up getting the CD with understandably no urge to see the movie itself, the biggest question will be “Who is Elia Cmiral?” The answer is the very talented Czech composer behind the likes of “Apartment Zero,” “Ronin” and the recent, excellent southern crime-noir score to “Wicked Blood.” With this “Atlas’” focus on the emotion between two industrialists in an idyllic haven as opposed to having them speechify, Cmiral is able to go for a lush, romantically epic and exceptionally well-performed score. His concluding chapter positively sings with brawny orchestral themes and solo piano tenderness, music as melodically vast as the hidden valley that Galt calls home. But you could just as well imagine Abraham Lincoln chopping wood to this score, all the while feeling the call to serve his nation – its problems he sets out to finally fix with militaristic danger and chorus abounding. But then when so many Hollywood movies are afraid to go for this kind of unabashed symphonic abandon, perhaps it takes this kind of all-out, hopingly lavish indie film to allow its musician to really flex his soaring emotional muscles like Cmiral does to truly impressive effect. This is certainly a score that can walk tall, and proud, especially if you forget its source material.
THE BOY NEXT DOOR / THE LOFT
When it comes to sex and murder, it’s all location, location, location as can be evidenced in these two intriguing suspense scores from Varese Sarabande, both of which take their erotically charged subject matter seriously indeed (even if critics might not have). While “The Boy Next Door” isn’t going to win any authenticity prizes when it comes to spotting first editions of The Iliad, what Rob Cohen’s nutty thriller does offer is a hauntingly weird score by his frequent musical collaborator Randy Edelman (“Dragon,” “Daylight”), with an even big influence here felt by co-composer Nathan Barr. For “The Boy Next Door” comes across most as a creepy, kissing neighbor to his “True Blood” work (also available on Varese). Sexy vampire Goth singer Lisbeth Scott’s cooing vocals are eerily featured front and center amidst the sometimes southern-flavored strings and rock guitar reverb. But while erotically atmospheric, the mood she helps provide for a killer-bodded teen who’s hot for teacher is anything but romantic, and all the more effective for it. The theme of this “Boy” is all about transgression, far more in the mood of horror scoring than Skinimax, the music gradually goes bananas with all sorts of skittering, menacing samples that really get underneath the sweating skin.
Extra Special: For John Frizzell, having hot bodies frame the upper class is familiar territory since he provided one of his first, impressive scores for “The Rich Man’s Wife.” With the composer finding new avenues for suspense on television with “The Following” and “Stalker,” his feature score for “The Loft” arrives with impressive, well-toned elegance as an illicit high-rise time-share yields a beautiful, incriminating corpse. But as opposed to at first going on a more orchestral “Basic Instinct” route as the plot gets unraveled, Frizzell has something for more tantalizingly ethereal in mind. Using haunting sample and string tonalities, Frizzell treats the film as some kind of sensuously dangerous dream, his melodies drifting about as rhythmic suspense arises. But as the noose tightens around this badly behaving boy’s club, Frizzell neatly brings out a big, pounding orchestral theme, grim gestures and percolating rhythm to point out the guilty parties, and the desperation of escaping a murder rap. His “Loft” is exceptionally well constructed, as erotic in its cool miasma as it is breathless in reaching the ironic finish that shows off a composer who’s equally in the door with both Hitchcockian suspense and seductive beats.
. CHICAGO FIRE: SEASONS 1 and 2
Beyond his impressive film scores for “The Eagle” and “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” the Icelandic Atli Orvarsson has racked up any number of American TV credits on “Dragnet,” “Six Degrees” and “Law & Order: LA.” It’s through the latter show’s mega-producer Dick Wolf that Orvarsson was recruited in 2012 for an ongoing job with the Chicago Fire Department, his first two seasons with the model-hot squad now released separately via Lakeshore Records. Where the “Law and Order” franchise demanded something far darker, “Chicago Fire” gives Orvarsson more emotional breadth in dealing wit the torrid love lives, and dangers of its photogenic characters. Taken as a whole, these two releases are a thoroughly engaging, and exceptionally well-produced listen that pull us in with its strong melodic content, impressively scoring that often exudes a beautiful sense of melancholy with strings, piano and a haunting female voice. Just as able to burst into high-tension rhythm as it is movingly restrained tragedy as well as ethnic bagpipes and smoldering rock guitar, these well-chosen collections impress with an approach to musical firefighting that’s far more psychologically interior than slo-mo fireball-outrunning heroism. Its scoring that could easily accompany a beautifully brooding feature drama, making these albums equally worthy for fans of the show as it might soundtrack collectors.
. THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR / THE TIME OF THE DOCTOR
Music is still the hippest thing about the Doctor Who since his true rebirth in 2005, with Murray Gold’s scoring giving every new variation of England’s most famous Gallifreyan an attitude of fun and high cosmic drama. Gold’s epic send off’s for Matt Smith’s final two outings on this double CD makes for some of his most exuberant work for the series, starting straight off with a manically rocking techno spin on the Time Lord’s famed theme. Given that “The Day of the Doctor” marked the 50th anniversary special of the cult BBC sci-fi program, its seeming final solution to the Dalek problem gave Gold an especially galactic orchestral power to play off, not only capturing the big screen majesty of a symphonic space opera, but also the sense of humor so endemic to the character, a harpsichord stuffiness as mixed with Bond-like adventure. Better yet, the music’s synth element pays tribute to the electronic tonalities of the past composing likes of Ron Granier and Tristam Cary, if understandably souped up quite a bit in its futuristic computer vibes. Beginning with far more overt comedy is “The Time of the Doctor,” it’s 800th show where the T.A.R.D.I.S. got handed from Smith to his currently wizened incarnation of Peter Capaldi. Filled with bouncily waltzing music and pokey brass, Gold’s work nicely recalls the more humorous action music befitted to the slightly more rugged hero named Indiana Jones. As cracks in time and a horde of Daleks converge, Gold once again shows off his lush, orchestral dexterity by cleverly mixing John Barry-esque brass with wonderfully nostalgic Christmas music, making a sweepingly heroic, bell-ringing last stand for the Doctor to assume his next incarnation. But then, the massive charm of Gold’s music, even for non-acolytes, has always been that his approach is way more “Star Wars” than “Doctor Who” in its ambitions, a stellar majesty, and humanity that comes across loud and clear with this terrific release.
. JAWS THE REVENGE
How does one follow up one of the most iconic scores written for one of the greatest thriller-action films ever made – given that the gigantic great white shark has turned into one of the biggest dogs to ever surface in Hollywood for his fourth outing? Faced with a truly formidable task, Michael Small’s approach was to essentially go his own way with John William’s inescapable melodies in capable tow. It’s a decision that makes for one of the better scores written for one of the worst movies ever made as Intrada follows up their release of Alan Parson’s score to “Jaws 3D” with this quite unexpected work from a master of far more minimal conspiracy-suspense scores to the likes of “The Parallax View” and “The Star Chamber.” Gliding on Williams’ melodies as much as he has to (and often thrillingly so), Small is determined to create a “Jaws” score very much his own, and perhaps not as removed from his more personal work as one might think. Small connotes a dangerous sense of the deep, especially with growling electronic effects. A bold sense of heroism is front and center, given a similar, rhythmic feeling for a nautical chase between overwhelming, pounding menace and human vulnerability, deftly swimming between Williams’ score and Small’s own in a way that doesn’t ride that shark’s back as much as it impressively riffs on it. Perhaps the biggest difference between the scores is that while Williams gave the chase a feeling of swashbuckling joy, Small’s accent is far more on impressionistic, dangerous thrills that capture the movie’s infamous tagline of “This time it’s personal.” As such, this just might be the most exciting score of Small’s tragically cut-short career, meshing one very familiar piano and glistening string build-up with chiming, dark electronics and uncompromising orchestral menace – as performed by an arguably better symphonic performance than even Williams received. Previously released as an abridged promotional CD, this new presentation of Small’s shark from snout to tail is a real revelation, perhaps most of all for diehard “Jaws” score fans who will get to hear just how well a composer can use a classic work to swim on his own thrilling steam.
. THE JOURNEY INSIDE
While best known for such conspiratorial scores as “The Conversation” and “All the President’s Men,” David Shire also created wondrously symphonic expeditions into both the dark fairy tale realm of “Return to Oz” and the historically soaring skies of “The Hindenburg.” But perhaps no flight of fancy that Shire has taken was more commercially obvious than this sweeping Imax score celebrating the Intel Pentium Processor, even if some aliens find it a threat. No expense was spared in both terms of recruiting talent, or orchestra members for this outsized project, whose very big screen Shire filled with optimistic, epic melody. Indeed, this is the kind of rapturous work that never need be upgraded for fans of big fantasy scoring (even if the computer the score celebrates has progressed many times over). For this sci-fi tinged spin on Shire’s classic “Oz” score, the composer uses heavenly choruses, sweeping Americana orchestrations, a lurching bad guy theme and a youthful, often-playful sense of exploration into the technological unknown, all while assuring the audience that things will turn out all right for its plucky protagonist. “The Journey Inside” fits quite nicely into Intrada’s recent releases of such lush, youthfully heroic genre pieces as Bruce Broughton’s “The Boy Who Could Fly” and Craig Safan’s “The Last Starfighter,” while being the most unknown, and surprising score of these melodic flights of fantasy.
. SHOCK WAVES
Arguably the greatest Nazi underwater zombie movie ever made, Ken Wiederhorn’s creepily atmospheric movie has lost none of its nightmare inducing quality from the kids of my generation who blundered onto it during the late night CBS Friday movie. Now given a special edition blu ray, “Shock Wave’s” 1977 elements have been brought up to chapped skin snuff, especially its all-important force of creepy musical nature, as conjured for this Florida-made film by New York City-based composer Richard Einhorn. This beyond-creepily effective score marked the debut of this modern classicist, who spent his first scoring years in the independent horror genre with the lives of “Don’t Go in the House,” “Eyes of a Stranger” and “The Prowler.” Yet none were as purely strange, or disturbing as the synthesized tonalities of “Shock Waves,” for which Einhorn served as an eerie one-man synth band straight out of Columbia University. Fashioned from equal parts music concrete and melody as a tribute to Gil Melle’s pioneering electric score for “The Andromeda Strain,” Einhorn’s own computer experimentations are best at giving the listener the feeling that they’re trapped underneath buzzing, piercingly high or concrete-thick waves of digital water, surrounded by the howls of the damned. Einhorn goes even further with his unsettling effects by adding in the sounds of seagulls and Sieg Heil’s for good measure, creating a truly unearthly altered state that still slogs to shore as one of the pioneering genre scores. And it would be fair to say there’s a fun, unavoidably dated cheesiness to “Shock Waves” as well, particularly in its alternately lurching, or creeping Theremin-like melodies that are pure chiller theater stuff. With such other retro-synth scores under Howlin’ Wolf’s pelts like “The Boogey Man” and “Cyborg,” the label does a nice job of rescuing Einhorn’s goggle-wearing water-troopers from the abyss with all of their unnerving resonance intact, and lovingly mastered in mono no less, to remind us of the power of old-school circuitry music.
Unlike some soundtrack journalists who subscribe to the Woody Allen axiom of “those who can’t teach,” Brian Satterwhite is a man who can put his money where his mouth is. Beyond being an estimable soundtrack journalist, Satterwhite is longtime composer in his own right with a focus on documentaries, His catchily rhythmic approach has often accompanied truth-seeking subjects, from a zillionaire determined to put himself into space for “Man on a Mission” to seeing what’s truly netted inside the raw industry of “Sushi: The Global Catch.” Now joining these two scores among Satterwhite’s available discography is his drivingly rhythmic work for “Switch,” wherein a scientist goes on an energetic quest to see the many sources that fuel an increasingly overpopulated planet. But rather than taking stances that Greenpeace or Exxon might approve of, this is no doom-saying documentary or finger-pointing score. Instead, Satterwhite’s vibe has a pleasant brightness to it. Sounding much like a power station’s happy computers jamming with earth-generated percussion, “Switch” has a beeping, buzzing sense of fun and discovery, thematically travelling the world-wide instrumental grid from Indian singers to Irish pennywhistle and accordions, it’s more pensive moments conjured with grinding guitar chords, dulcimers and a creative array of rhythm instruments. But overall, “Switch” has a welcome sense of gentleness to it, conveying the ideas of problems that can hopefully be fixed as opposed to darker oil slicks of hopelessness, all making for a winningly propulsive score powered by clever enthusiasm and an overall vibe of hope.
. THE TOY SOLDIERS
Not to be confused with a classic early 90s movie about terrorists invading a boy’s school, this is instead an epic-length 80s look at the events during the closing night of a titular roller rink, during which five stories boogie down on teen angst. The soundtrack is certainly spot-on for the period, beginning with its underscore by Nathaniel Levisay (“Fading of the Cries”). He’s a composer who’s certainly listened to a lot of Tangerine Dream, circa their classics like “Risky Business” and “Miracle Mile.” He does an exceptional job of recreating the especially icy, pulsing groove. But it’s one thing to emulate, and another to put new soul into it, something that Levisay’s work does get better at when it starts going beyond the retro synth gear approach for more emotional, guitar-topped cues that bring out the inter-connected character’s sense of ennui, along with a more traditionally string-driven approach that stands for the composer’s own voice. It’s an overall muted, nicely introspective approach with a near religious sense of angst, its soulful pain coming across in shamanistic voices and church organ-like samples to go beyond the Edgar Froese mock-ups that at first limited it. The final song section of the “Soldiers” soundtrack is equally effective, with the bands Daily Bread and Gliss impressively raising the ghosts of such proto-Goth bands as The Psychedelic Furs and The Cure – their excellent vocals and guitar-rock grooves for teen pain so rhythmically, and romantically palpable that you can practically smudge the eyeliner from them. In any case, it’s nice to have a soundtrack where it sure ain’t disco pushing its young skaters down the rink to angst.
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