Soundtrack Picks: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD is the top soundtrack to own for FEBRUARY 2019
Also worth picking up: APOLLO 13, ARCTIC, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, DEAD ANT, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE: SEASON 3, THE THIN RED LINE and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) APOLLO 13 / AN AMERICAN TAIL
Price: $29.99 / $21.99
What is it?: From the Mutara Nebula to an animated North Pole, James Horner took many incredible journeys, both historical and imagined, through a legendary musical career that’s often been heard through Intrada Records in such spectacular releases as “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” and “Balto.” Now the label finds more treasure in the composer’s archives with two 2-CD releases of 1987’s “An American Tail” and 1996’s “Apollo 13.” Tied together with Horner’s immediately recognizable orchestral sound, these subjects also reflect the heroic optimism and danger of venturing to a new land, whether it be the moon or a new cartoon world of turn-of-the century New York City with beautiful flesh-and-blood emotion
Why Should You Buy It?: With his penchant for brass and military percussion, let alone his love of flight, James Horner certainly had the right stuff to give patriotic hope to America’s space program during one of its darkest hours with “Apollo 13.” Having teamed with director Ron Howard for the sweetly spacefaring “Cocoon” and the rousing fantasy adventure of “Willow,” “Apollo 13” gave the filmmaker his true exercise of urgent dramatic gravitas and real-life heroism, for which Horner conveyed with a soaring orchestra that paid tribute to America know-how at its can-do best, his score’s military snare drum percussion and solemn trumpet conveying the very stuff of bravery, and ticking clocking brainpower, as well as the exhilaration of rocketing to the moon, with one of Horner’s most majestically developing pieces depicting the rocket launch with a suspenseful rhythmic build to the blast off of a heavenly chorus. As all hell breaks loose in space to discordant percussion, Horner’s music regains urgent control for a powerful depiction of command under pressure. With its cold, piano-based tension, “Apollo 13” plays at times as a more concerned cousin to Horner’s “Sneakers,” – minus that team’s bouncy jazz. No cue in “Apollo 13” is more haunting as the voice of The Eurhythmics’ Annie Lennox takes the capsule over the dark side of the moon, her wordless lament full of awe and despair over an opportunity missed before Horner’s orchestra comes in to remind all that the greatest goal is survival. Horner’s Oscar-nominated score (along with the equally noble “Braveheart” that same year) has lost one of its emotional power or awe in the decades since, especially given that Intrada now lets the soundtrack fully soar in the way it always should have at the time, which then yielded a song and dialogue-filled “storytelling” album. John Takis’ exceptional liner notes chart this new edition, which offers cues that appear for the first time, and are expanded upon to make up a first 76-minute CD, from the brassily discordant “Master Alarm” to the dramatic concern of “A Son’s Worries and Simulator Crash.” Of special interest is a section that features Horner’s peril-enhancing synth cues, while the exceptionally sequenced album that Horner planned (and which essentially floated around as a high priced score-only promo for decades) makes up the presentation’s second album at just about an hour, all adding to the dramatic gravitas of Horner’s brilliance at capturing the spirit of brave nobility put to the ultimate test.
Extra Special: Animator Don Bluth created his masterpiece with 1982’s “The Secret of Nimh,” which put the usual cute talking mice into truly dire situations the wondrously scarred a generation, especially given Jerry Goldsmith’s darkly magical score (also available on Intrada). Given that film made far more of a cult impression than a box office one, Bluth toned things down several cutesy notches for the Hollywood clout of Steven Spielberg to way more success with 1986’s “An American Tale.” Taken from the filmmaker’s idea of cleverly turning the particular Jewish immigrant experience into the musical form of Fievel the Mouse, Bluth turned to James Horner for a sense of ethnically accented adventure, comedy and rag-tugging emotion. Though Horner had certainly played kid-friendly subjects before with “The Journey of Natty Gann” and an episode of “Faerie Tale Theater,” “An American Tail” would be his first animated film – as it was for Goldsmith with Nimh. And like his fellow maestro, Horner succeeds by giving the colorful cell imagery the symphonic passion of any live action score, especially when it comes to the period and neo-religious details. Balalaikas and lilting violins stand for The Old Country that Fievel and family hail from, while also giving ethnic due to Ireland and China, with the evil cats being given the full Prokofiev force of Mother Russia. Ragtime conveys the scurvier elements of this mouse-infested NYC, his tin pan alley band also launching the composer’s jazzier explorations for the likes of “*batteries not included” and “Swing Kids.” When Fievel falls into none-too-menacing peril, Horner, already a master of sci-fi excitement, pours on trumpeting orchestras and cat-dodging rhythm a la the “powerhouse” style to bear heard in “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” Yet though it might get antic, Horner is sure to, never letting us forget of the mouse’s Eastern European identity, or the search for his family. For all of its energy, there’s a pure emotional magic that suffuses the score, from a chorus hails the dream of America. A theme for Fievel is tender and magical in the way of his yearning music for “Cocoon.” Given an animated musical answer to “Fiddler on the Roof” to “Yentl,” Horner teamed with songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. “There Are No Cats in America” playfully swings from Hebraic to Italy and Irish wishful thinking of escaping feline Cossacks. Christopher Plummer presages Jerry Orbach’s singing lamp with the French swoon of “Never Say Never,” joined by the kid singing voice of Phillip Glass, while Nimh’s goofball seagull Dom De Louise transforms into a the one loveable, singing cat with his gasping, chuckling operatic “A Duo.” But if anything, “An American Tail” stands tall in a generation’s collective memory as Phillip Glaser and Betsy Cathcart warble the Oscar-nominated “Somewhere Out There” as Fievel and his sister. It’s daringly off-tune, and absolutely right for two hopeful children wishing upon a star with the impact of any Disney song, especially given Horner’s flutes. Used as the film’s most memorable theme, the song gets a more vocally mature performance by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram that would arguably become the most memorable film song that Horner would be involved with outside of “Titanic’s” “My Heart Will Go On.” Even if this “Tail” might not have been as daring as “Nimh,” Horner’s score represents the child appealing sound that showed why his sound was so unmistakably magical in the 1980’s, music that is now gloriously heard in full through this terrific Intrada release that brings back memories to turn of the century, not to mention a generation of film music fans decades later weaned on Horner’s animated scores.
2) THE BRIDE WORE BLACK
What Is It?: For as terrifying and gothic as Bernard Herrmann’s work could be, there was often a wicked sensibility at place when he gave a killer a musical motif – especially when it came to ghastlier scores for the genetically deranged killer of “The Twisted Nerve” of the crazed Moog synthetisers that bonded “Sisters.” But one of the heights of his macabre subversion goes to one of his more unsung scores for “The Bride Wore Black,” which took traditional wedding bells to new heights of gonging, satisfied frenzy for Jeanne Moreau’s bereaved avenger. Now her darkly romantic fury gets new vigor with Quartet’s stunning rendition of the “Bride” under the baton of Fernando Velasquez, a composer who’s certainly no slouch himself when it comes to lush, symphonic suspense with the likes of “The Orphanage” and “Crimson Peak.”
Why Should You Buy It?: After Herrmann had gotten a creative divorce from Hitchcock following their aborted collaboration on “Torn Curtain,” the young filmmakers who sought to work with the composer were determined to let Herrmann did what he did best – namely pour gorgeously unbridled emotion into his subjects. That was no more true of cineaste admirer Francois Truffaut, who first had Herrmann bring haunting poetry to his Hollywood adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451” – a score that proved to be the most transfixing element of an otherwise dull film. Truffaut was on far firmer territory with the French-spoken “Bride’s” angel of vengeance as she takes out the boy’s club that shot her husband on her wedding day. Herrmann’s score takes waltzing, methodical pleasure in stalking her victims for the righteous coup de grace, while also psychologically haunting her with a husband’s ghost. No psycho who enjoys payback, Herrmann’s gorgeous score paints her in tragic colors – reflecting an assassin who will forever be in love with a ghost, with further death giving her the only meaning in life. But while the score is full of grim, brass and string purpose as Herrmann varies the music for each of her kills, his music is also diabolically playful with its gossamer bell percussion and plucked violins in a black widow’s cat and mouse game before the relentless pounce, and satisfaction of a diabolical jump with a bell-ringing statement of Felix Mendelssohn “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” the inimitable sound of the altar.
Extra Special: James Fitzpatrick’s re-performance of Herrmann’s brilliant “Obsession” a few years ago certainly set a high bar in bringing new symphonic blood and thunder to Herrmann’s work. The beautifully robust re-performance of “The Bride Wore Black” can hold her head up high as she lethally swoons down that aisle under Velazquez’s baton, which strikes a tempestuous band with The Basque National Orchestra, which take particular flourish in the unusual orchestration that denies trumpets and pianos. It’s a robust announcement of the group’s arrival onto the re-performance concert scene, with an added bonus of using the organ at the church featured in the film itself – and more importantly of restoring the score to its full glory after Truffaut’s slices that doomed another director relationship for Herrmann. For a composer on a macabre French honeymoon who was no doubt determined to show Hollywood that he still had his killer instinct, the passion that Herrmann gave to “The Bride Wore Black” sings like never before with bereft rage and icy cunning on her 50th anniversary.
3) THE DREAMS OF A SLEEPING WORLD / NIGHT IN THE GALLERY
Price: $10.00 / $14.57
What Is It?: From John Williams to Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner, composers who’ve established themselves first in the film arena used a concert stage to realize music that could be truly unbound by image and dialogue – if not a theme to coalesce their classical work to show their true musical selves. But if that work could sometimes be offputtingly dissonant in the way the modern classical pieces think they need to be, two new concept works from an established composer and one on the rise show just how pleasing a melodic approach can be to the concert hall.
Why Should You Buy It?: Cliff Eidelman, has always impressed with a gift for rapturous melody, from the epic (“Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country,” “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery”) to conveying the heartfelt bonds of girl power (“Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” Now and Then”) and the magic of believing in the impossible (“Leap of Faith,” “Big Miracle”). Having been sure to release a succession of concept albums like “My Muse” and “Wedding in the Night Garden” along with his film work, Eidelman now delivers two impressive concert pieces on a singular album that begins with “Symphony for the Orchestra and Two Pianos.” Eidelman sets a lyrical stage, whose rhythmic idea continues to build to a majestic conclusion, his opening cadenza having a subtle Hebraic rhythm that recalls his astonishing first major score for the Holocaust-set “Triumph of the Spirit.” The second movement beautifully starts as a piano nocturne that’s joined by strings, their dance growing with an impassioned orchestra for its third movement. While this “Symphony” certainly has a classical pedigree to be reckoned with, fans of Eidelman’s scores, especially his more fantastical ones, will particularly enjoy the chillingly playful theme of “Night in the Gallery.” Inspired by Eidelman’s quick dash through the Louvre Museum in a way that could reflect the characters of barely-seen paintings coming to life and narrating a story, those stepping unknowingly into this “Gallery” might think they’re getting a sophisticated reading of various “Goosebumps” tales. While the music certainly conveys whimsically disparate works of art, his “Gallery” also the atmosphere of a sweet haunted house, opening with syncopated rhythm a la Philip Glass before having the pianos conjure a wistful sense of spookiness. Brass instruments achieve a similar loopiness in their jazzy inflections, winds chirp like gently alarmed parakeets, and storm clouds of gothic Guignol arrive alongside pounding brass. Consider it an exceptionally gentle “Night on Bald Mountain” as Eidelman passes by masterpieces in a way that a tyke takes in the wonders of Halloween. But whether sophisticated or wonderfully whispering an unintended “boo,” the performance by the London Symphony orchestra and pianists Michael McHale and Tom Poster are excellent, giving Eidelman’s concert stage works the quality of any big screen soundtrack.
Extra Special: With an impressively growing career, Chad Cannon has gone from orchestrating on “Godzilla” and two “Hobbit” movies to show his lyrical orchestral talents for the post-Hiroshima documentary “Paper Lanterns” and the epic score for the patriotic Chinese WW2 film “Cairo Declaration.” Gifted with an affinity for Oriental subjects that have also seen him work with acclaimed Miyazaki composer Joe Hisaishi, Cannon certainly has the resources to create a tone poem that expresses “The Dreams of a Sleeping World.” Thankfully with its emphasis far more on melody than the usually tonal salvo that stands for modern classical music, Cannon’s work for orchestra and voices has a slowly building naturalism that recalls Debussy, with another foot in such contemporary styles as jazz clarinet. Divided into chapters for “The Sea” and “The Land,” Cannon’s poetic work draws its inspiration from the paintings of Japanese-Brazilian artist Oscar Oiwa, with an accent on environmental catastrophes – though that might be hard to discern from the piece’s overall poetic approach. However, darkness certainly lurks in its chants, bell percussion and brass when need be. Starting out quietly before launching into aggressive chorus and orchestration, “Dreams” certainly has a cinematic power to it, especially in swirling voices and dire world-in-jeopardy orchestrations that would be right as home atop Mount Doom as easily as it conveys the blood oil battlefield of Iraq and the corpse-strewn waters of Hurricane Katrina. It’s a world of hurt and ultimately hope in the program’s second half that Cannon embodies as well with the Middle Eastern sound of Diduk, Japanese winds and Tibetan bells, entwined with his feeling for humanity at the brink. Yet there’s an overall, soothing quality to this “Sleeping World” that makes it a quite listenable tone poem from a composer with tangible empathy for a far bigger picture. Though available on iTunes, those with the interest in seeing Oiwa’s impressionistic work and reading the concert’s lyrics should be sure to purchase “Dreams’” physical version via CD Baby.
4) HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD
What Is It?: Ever since his first animated work on “Antz” (alongside Harry Gregson-Williams), John Powell has shown an unhinged sense of inventiveness worthy of Carl Stalling. From such efforts as “Shrek” to “Horton Hears A Who” and any number of “Ice Ages,” Powell has turned stylistic ideas on a dime in pursuit of a gag with any number of wackadoo instrumental approaches – yet always encompassing his stream of consciousness within a solid thematic framework that gave a sense of grandeur to talking animals and any other amount of fantastical creatures. But perhaps the height of Powell’s adventurously madcap sensibility was his Oscar nominated score for 2010’s “How To Train Your Dragon,” which dared to imagine beast-riding Vikings by way of Scottish bagpipes, while also capturing the majesty of flight and dysfunctional family dynamics. Now after doing a fine job of accompanying a mixed bag sequel, Powell returns to put a capper in a decent trilogy ender with his most magnificent “Dragon,” and toon score yet, holding the reigns a bit tighter for a more mature approach as such as the now fully grown Hiccup faces his most dire challenge, and his jet-black steed Toothless romance with an other-dimensional albino beastie.
Why Should You Buy It?: Given the theme of Hiccup maturing into a true leader of his tribe as well as facing the equally daunting prospect of marriage, Powell takes a more mature tone that deepens his “Dragon” without losing any of its fun. While the familiar bagpipe themes resurface here and there, especially during dad flashbacks, there’s a nice feeling of pushing this musical world further, while bringing a pre-Medieval time and place to the score through his orchestrations for harp, plainsong in a touching farewell and even a bit of Kung Fu Panda Orientalism into the fractured fairy tale mix. There’s also a bigger percussive threat in a villain bent on enslaving dragons and wiping out night furies in the bargain, with Powell giving the Italian-accented baddie a weirdly slithering tone. Where the composer wonderfully summoned up the spirit of John Williams in his terrific score for the underrated “Solo,” Powell’s spirit animal in “Hidden World’s” adventurous moments is way more Erich Wolfgang Korngold, with the daring thrills and spills positively Robin Hood-ian in their brightly heroic orchestrations. Powell’s epic choruses also particularly shine here, from leading a Viking sky exodus over a jaunty military rhythm. The sky’s also the limit when it comes to Powell’s use of voices, which herald the hidden world’s waterfall portal with religious reverence before lowering to an eerily beautiful hush as we sweep among its inner neon colors. Among the many times that Powell has communicated visiting a truly magical place for live action or animation, the sense of wonder he conjures for this massive inner earth has never been more beautifully enveloping.
Extra Special: The biggest strength of this “Dragon” is its ravishing visuals, with its best sequences dispensing with humans altogether to center on the courtship between a besotted Toothless and the gossamer, not-so-easy to please Light Fury. With strings aflutter and romance literally in the air, Powell does wonders at emotionally translating these creatures’ growls from the ground to their gossamer, magical waltz through lightning-filled skies. Toothless’ extended mating dance is certainly a career highlight for Powell, where the music is front and center to match every one of his endearingly hapless moves. Powell swings between Celtic slapstick and harp-plucking hopefulness, his waltz jigging over any number of ethnic beats in the process to win a white dragon’s heart as their orchestral passion grows to a thrillingly majestic theme. It’s like the cartoon Animal Channel version of “Riverdance,” and a brilliant example of the pure, inventive joy that Powell has brought to animation, and the saga he’ll likely be remembered for as its scoring goes out on a lovely high note.
5) THE THIN RED LINE (20th Anniversary Edition)
What Is it?: With a unique ear to iconoclastic musical possibilities, filmmaker Terence Malick has approached his subjects with a dream-like sensibility, his ear often finding magically unexpected sounds amidst particularly dark historical subjects. Ironically giving a serial killer the tubular percussion of Carl Orff in “Badlands,” using Saint-Saens “Carnival of Animals” to take us from an industrial wasteland to the open wheatfields of “Days of Heaven,” or landing in “The New World” with Wagner, Malick’s use of unexpected source music nearly rivals Stanley Kubrick’s. His ability to send composers on voyages of discovery rivals that auteurs as well, whether it was letting Ennio Morricone do his poetically melancholic best on “Days of Heaven,” having Alexandre Desplat hear the cosmic roots of the “Tree of Life,” or clashing with James Horner as he had his way with the score for “The New World.” When he’d team with Hans Zimmer for 1998’s “The Thin Red Line,” this film about WW2’s Pacific war theater was a particularly auspicious event, given that Malick hadn’t made a movie in two decades, not to mention that Zimmer’s music was best known for its brash melody and percussion. The epic tone poem that Zimmer worked for two years on, completely rewriting it in the process, was essential to the haunting spell of this unique war film, one that continues to resonate twenty years later as over six hours of music composed for the picture are whittled down into an entrancing four-cd set from La La Land Records.
Why Should You Buy It?: Filled with a myriad of characters while essentially being seen through the eyes of a young GI bewitched in the island wilderness of Guadalcanal, Zimmer captures that sense of existential detachment in the midst of hell on earth with a lyrical masterwork. Setting an elegiac tone with slow, tolling bells and drifting string lines, Zimmer’s music is about a sense of wonder and horror. Yet it’s rarely overly emotional, as “The Thin Red Line” isn’t a visceral war movie in the style of “Platoon” (even if that film’s director Oliver Stone was just as much in love with modern classical music). Malick’s sensibility gave Zimmer the difficult task of writing thematic music that would comment without commenting. But there’s an undeniable heroism to some of this fine tightrope walking across a line of traditional scoring and the melodically experimental, especially with ever-building, percussive melodies that would become the Wagnerian stuff of movie trailer music to come (no more so than in the coming attractions for the Zimmer-scored “Pearl Harbor”). Of particular instrumental interest is Zimmer’s use of The Cosmic Beam, whose guttural resonance mostly served to convey the danger of space for the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and John Barry – tuned here with strings by Zimmer to reflect the awful, subterranean vibrations of earthbound battle. The Melanesian islanders serve as a heavenly chorus with their pidgin English, their blessed chants having a natural, optimistic exuberance to them – their praises as sacred as any European holy mass as Zimmer conveys their exotic environment with native voices and winds. But for the most part, aside from the orchestra’s storm clouds, the ethereally driving feeling here is one of tenderness, music for a disparate band of brothers grasping onto their humanity, as heard with the transcendental beauty of a soul rising above the bodies and wreckage below.
Extra Special: “The Thin Red Line” served as a first true tour of existential duty for Zimmer that would lead to more percussively aggressive, if similarly classically drawn psychological works, especially for the similarly attuned (if more commercial) filmmaker Christopher Nolan with the likes of “Dunkirk” and “The Dark Knight Returns.” Given Malick’s relentless experimentation, there’s much pensive purity to go around with over two hours of score as heard in the movie. La La Land’s collection also offers he original soundtrack album as well as the pin-off recording of the Melanesian chants from the blessed islands. It all adds up to a transfixing listen, a metaphysical journey of war as hell with heaven as the final destination through a director embedded in the visual, and aural possibility of filmmaking. Zimmer engagingly recollects his tour of duty for Malick in Jeff Bond’s perceptive liner notes, which also offers a forward from the album’s recently passed co-producer Nick Redman, a titan of soundtrack special editions and film documentaries – for whom this remarkable album now stands as a tribute to his perseverance at releasing Hollywood’s best work.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
Starting out in a rhythmic realm with the action beat downs of two “Raid” assaults and the dazzlingly rebooted videogame world of “Tron: Legacy,” Joseph Trapanese has impressed with the dramatic deepening of his musical worldview, especially with the mournful approach to the rapper rise of “Straight Outta Compton” and a heroic last stand against nature with “Only the Brave.” Now he takes an impressive trek alongside Mads Mikkelsen through the “Arctic” as a plane crash survivor is finally spurred to leave the relative safety of his wreckage and find rescue. For Trapanese, it’s a melodic environment that’s a place of dangerously imposing majesty as much as it is a state of mind. Trapanese creates his “Arctic” out of drifting, yet captivating melodic lines through a unique, organic ensemble comprised of tubas, flutes and samples of polar winds and cracking ice. It’s an unearthly tone that shares much with his sci-fi expeditions, music that one could easily imagine trekking though a Martian landscape (which was the film’s original setting). It’s a elegiac tone that finally breaks into percussion to pushes Mads’ taciturn hero to the edge of death and transfiguration, with whale-cry like voices, hypnotic sustains and a heartbreaking violin becoming the driving determination of a man who’s been cut off from humanity, maybe in more ways than one, who commits to the possibility of perishing to reconnect with it. “Arctic’s” score has the kind of psychological power that made Trapanese handling of the doomed firefighters in “Only the Brave” so incredibly powerful, conveying a noble fate in the face of impossible odds. It’s scoring that becomes the soul of a man who at last finds himself, even if he might not find deliverance. Trapanese’s punishingly physical and tenderly ethereal work helps “Arctic” rise to a powerful, emotional crescendo in a film where the score and sound effects do most of the talking. As heard on this generous 76-minute CD, it’s a rewarding quest that continues to opens up new creative worlds for Trapanese to conquer.
. DEAD ANT
After unleashing a rampaging fusion of orchestral and electronic scoring for a science-mutated polar bear in “Unnatural” (on Varese Sarabande), Edwin Wendler finds himself in ferocious company with critters that would give “Them” pause with “Dead Ant.” Given a way-less serious story by “Unnatural” director Hank Braxtan, Wendler runs with the satiric opportunities of having a bunch of peyote hopped-up, over-the-hill metalheads taking on armies of overgrown ants in the desert. It’s a world of drive-in worthy possibility that turns Wendler’s score into a fun, berserk mosh pit that has it every which way with the shrieking symphonic terror of the atom age 50’s sci-fi scores, 90’s hair ballads and today’s rage of atonal horror, all while enjoyably not settling on any approach for too long. Especially fun are “Dead Ant’s” loonier moments, from the approximation of a Theremin to the sounds of ‘shroom psychedelia and power guitar overdrive, all while his string attacks make the threat of getting ripped to shreds as real as the music can manage. “Dead Ant” has a rollicking, scary-in-spite-of-itself attitude that does much to help this nutty little movie achieve its bloodily anarchic goal, impressively crafting horror comedy with a pincer bite
. THE DEVIL WE KNOW / WHAT MEN WANT
While Brian Tyler continues to rock out with action mega blockbusters, many of his projects are taking him back to the more musically eclectic beginnings that marked the rise of his career with the suspenseful fusion of “The Final Cut” and the jazzy “Last Call.” Now two latter day cases that show Tyler’s versatility arrive with “The Devil We Know” and “What Men Want.” Working again with co-director Stephanie Soechtig after the weapon control documentary “Under the Gun,” “Devil” concerns Dupont’s poisoning of a local town with the chemicals used to make Teflon, It’s a sense of outrage at uncaring industrialists and the damage done on babies to be that marks Tyler’s intense, propulsive work. Combining strings and electronic sampling in a way that suggests dangerous artificial elements becoming one with humanity, Tyler’s music has a investigative drive to it as the film uncovers a horrifying truth that’s been going on for decades, a callousness represented by the company’s decision to stick with “the devil we know” as opposed to finding a money-losing alternative. Bringing in hip-hop beats, chorus and druggy sounds with percussive irony, Tyler’s thematic score draws on emotion in the same way he would for any drama– his ears here on the locals’ anger as he shifts from an electric guitar to rural strings to conveys the terrible impact on an unquestioning community. The “Devil’s” somber empathy for its afflicted subjects and humanity at might not have the profile of a superhero film, which makes Tyler scoring it all the more important in both showing the composer’s conscience and his storytelling ability.
Having captured the 40’s-style jazz swing and romantic tribulation of “Crazy Rich Asians” in a way that wasn’t so ethnically specific, Tyler truly gets his funk on with the black-centric re-imagining of “What Women Want.” Instead of Mel Gibson’s telepathic cad, we get Tarija P. Henson’s put-upon sports agent using the newfound voices in her head to get up the ladder in a misogynistic company. It’s a #metoo era reboot that Tyler hears with a soulfully energetic groove that could just as well suit John Shaft. It also helps that Tyler has dealt with cunning grooves to take The Man down with his “Now You See Me” scores. Here Tyler impressively handles all of the instruments himself to swing with rambunctious, R&B energy for drums, organ, bass and vibes that has its heroine play her newly gained macho info like a harmonica. Veering from full-blast energy to cool sexiness, Tyler’s poignant keyboard playing getting somewhat seriousness with the more emotional and sensual old school cool jazz vibe. More overtly wacky bits are giving to new age Indian music, bringing in percussion and a sweeping orchestra to let our heroine roar. Leaving any overt rom-com stylings in the dust, Tyler’s one man band knows that this woman wants for this very enjoyable score that shows him as a jack of all rom-com ethnicities with a universal sense of comedic energy and character.
. HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U
This surprise hit horror-comedy combo between “Groundhog Day” and a baby-masked “Scream” now gets a second spin with its major participants back again and again – few more valuably than original composer Bear McCreary. A musician well versed in twisty genre exercises from “10 Cloverfield Lane” to the death demon metal of “Knights of Badasssdom,” McCreary doesn’t push the autopilot button when repeating himself. Instead, he goes for broke to make this score icing on the cake for those who enjoy full-blast scares with a smile. “Happy Death Day 2U” is one epic rampage of slasher movie theatrics on laughing gas, giving a ticking clock sensibility that it will be soon be lights out for the characters unless they solve the killer continuum. Pumping on the rhythm with the symphony raging, McCreary thankfully makes his killer noise with a surfeit of melody and invention, always pushing the excitement to the next level of overkill in a way that nicely recalls the delirious excitement that Shirley Walker brought to her meta-death “Final Destination” scores. Not only do you get PG-13 level string splatter here, but also a sense of delicious enjoyment, especially when a French-style accordion joins the busy jam. McCreary’s score is the alarm bell waking up these college kids for another deadly day, and always with a new smirk and scream ahead as it runs off a cliff with exuberance, again and again in this singularly delightful score.
. LA CAGE AUX FOLLES I, II, III (500 edition)
While best known for his spaghetti westerns and somber drama among his hundreds of scores, the indefatigable Ennio Morricone has just as much of a sweetly deft touch with comedy, one that’s the most popular on the international scene with the three “La Cage Aux Folles” films. With the first “Birds of a Feather” dressing up in an Oscar nominations (with an American stage musical and “Birdcage” remake to follow), Morricone sympathetic farce depicts the loving relationship between straight-laced cabaret owner Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and his far more outrageous partner Albin – aka “Zaza” (Michel Serrault). With the original hilariously showing the complications that ensue when they try to play it straight for the sake of the marriage of Renato’s son, Morricone goes with the boisterous energy of the St. Tropez setting. With a peppy theme, the composer effortlessly swings between hooting samba pop confection and charming, soft jazz romance on the kind of dance floor used by Henry Mancini’s foreign-flavored romps. That he comes across with his own voice in a parade of humorously gauche colors says much for the maestro’s versatility in his range between the sweet and the swaggering, whether it be with a violin or a disco beat. With “Cage II” sending Renato and Zaza to Italy with spies in pursuit, Morricone gets to have fun with the kind of growling crime suspense he’d apply to more serious pursuits, with guitar, flute and overlapping strings serving as a warm up to “The Untouchables.” Darker piano and string melody brings gravitas to these unlikely targets, while an affecting love theme shows the couple’s serious bond. But if these sequel scores might not have the original’s wackiness, a harmonica send-up to Morricone’s spaghetti background certainly gets a sly laugh. “Cage III” returns Morricone to a somewhat lighter and more sentimental tone as Albin is faced with the project of a traditional marriage and a resulting baby in order to inherit a fortune. With the couple’s bonds tested, Morricone gets to their heart of their relationship with a poignant theme that the composer effortlessly varies from song to effervescence and heartbreak in the face of a far less accepting society back in the day. Peppier bits are provided with a “Flight of the Bumblebee” club groove and cooing female pop, while lush, swooning sax jazz and strings game up Zaza’s feigned attraction to the opposite sex. Though the least seen of the trilogy, it’s this “Cage” that has the most tonal costume changes to stand as the best of the bunch. Having released Morricone’s fashion-fixated score to “So Fine,” France’s Music Box Records now puts out this delightful Morricone collection on two CD’s, showing off his talent at always playing to the humanity of his characters, here no more cheekily, or sympathetically.
. THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE: SEASON 3
The most terrifying documentary series that isn’t a documentary continues to evolve as its musical enslavement of America (and potentially the multiverse) fall deeper into the despair of the fascism wrought by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Yet while this excellent series might be transfixingly gloomy, it never fails to evolve in its foes’ twisted ambition, or the musical direction of Dominic Lewis. Having worked alongside Henry Jackman at the Amazon series’ start, Lewis has continued to take it direction in a powerful, character-based approach. As mainly seen through the eyes of a female freedom fighter, a seemingly ruthless American commandant and a peace-seeking Japanese official, Lewis subtly opens up the characters’ three dimensional possibilities, as well as this season’s thematic idea of defiant hope, voices and piano joining for a beautifully haunting “Requiem” for the price that comes with revolt. Lewis’ musical clock ticks to stop the Reich’s master plans as rural strings evoke a verdant free zone where the last Jews hide. Now given way more sci-fi possibilities with the Nazis creating a dimension busting machine in a secret headquarters worthy of a James Bond villain, Lewis is able to write a nine minute “Die Nebenweld” for sinister, undulating strings and orchestra that pulsate with a villain countdown energy that would make Blofeld happy – following its symphonic crescendo with eerily aghast motivic echoing – only to build with triumph for “Lights Out.” Now with “High Castle” confirmed to end with its fourth season this year, one can only anticipate how Lewis’ powerful combination of the emotionally subtle and proudly villainous strum und drang will liberate our country, or doom it. As to how we got there in real, and fictional life, there’s no better accompaniment than that sinister, somehow empowering musical lament of American gone wrong that Lewis has powerfully built.
. NIGHTFLYERS (Original Series Soundtrack)
One of the more otherworldly and inventive under the radar composers in the experimental scoring universe, Will Bates (under the Klytus-friendly name Fall On Your Sword) has taken sci-fi scoring into haunting, hypnotic realms with “Another Earth” while taking a sardonically rhythmic look at a star-reaching belief on this planet for “Going Clear.” Now he reaches a surreal musical destination further out in many ways with SyFy’s series adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s “Nightflyers.” Long before his fantasy world of Westeros took off, the author’s starcraft-as-haunted house story was adapted into a 1987 film, its titular craft propelled by an impressively imaginative synth score by Doug Timm. SyFy’s version went to new budgetary, and storytelling lengths as passengers from a dying earth attempt to contact an unfathomable alien civilization all while dealing with a far more sinister ghost in their machine. Timm’s adventurous electronic presence is certainly present in Bates’ approach to the end of the universe. With synths and samples convey the spirits that float through the circuitry and their explosive vengeance, Bates also reflects the growing disconnect that the crew has from their loved ones, and ultimately humanity itself. Though there’s certainly horror to be had onboard in the violently chattering percussion, gnarled reverberations and twisted strings, Bates’ transfixing music is even more impressive at capturing The Great Unknown though his sonic fusion of the computerized and organic, using voices that wordlessly sing with the aliens’ god-like power. With percolating synths at once 80’s retro and state of the art, Bates’ mesmerizingly weird musical voyage once again pushes the boundaries of TV scoring for a show that will continue in the music’s imagination.
. THE ORVILLE: SEASON 1
Whether you dig Seth McFarlane’s empire of satirical snark or not, the one thing that can definitely be said is that this Grammy-winning impresario knows music – whether he himself is belting out a more than capable Sinatra tune or hiring exceptionally melodic composers to do their best. A big case now in point is “Orville,” McFarlane’s straight-laced smarty pants uniformed salute to Star Trek, where he of course puts himself into Captain Kirk’s chair. But where fans of that franchise’s once-thematic TV music had to most suffer through aimless doodling for a few decades since TOS, McFarlane has gone boldly by getting Bruce Broughton, Joel McNeely John Debney and arranger Andrew Cottee to steer a very impressive course way beyond a geeky wannabe constellation. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to tell there was any humor in the show given just how well this trio serve as the musical straight men, as heard on a two-disc collection of their top episodic work via La La Land Records, a label that’s certainly no stranger to compilations of another next gen. That Broughton and McNeely, responsible for some of the genre’s great scores during the 80’s and 90’s, have been neglected on the big screen says something about the obvious passion they put into this starship. Given a sizeable orchestra of 70, the composers run wild with brash, spacefaring exuberance, their bright symphonic music reflecting McFarlane’s love of TOS scoring and 70’s sci-fi shows like “Buck Rogers” in general. The quartet pay spot-on tribute to the Trek film work of Jerry Goldsmith and Jerry Goldsmith, from the mysterioso of flying over V’jer to the military ramp up of galactic battle. But fans will also hear the composers’ own styles clearly whether its Broughton’s western-esque martial percussion of “Tombstone,” McNeely’s rip-roaring action that seamlessly filled in on “Air Force One” or Debney’s “Cutthroat Island” swashbuckling (and even the rampaging of his “Relic”). Whether going for thrills or emotion, their sounds merge to make “Orville” a singularly thematic delight with a truly cinematic force. As with composer Jeff Russo’s unabashed turn on the real deal “Star Trek: Discovery,” this alternate Trek universe under the stewardship of a star unafraid to break the past’s prime musical directive yields joyriding results aboard their thinly cloaked salute, creating the exuberant music that should have been on the franchise’s TV voyages.
. THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD
Though he’d win his only Oscar for “The Omen” in 1976, Jerry Goldsmith would have an equally impressive dive into a more metaphysical supernatural realm the year before with “The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.” Michael Sarrazin was a college professor who gradually discovers he had an even randier, and far less likeable past life as a lothario who’d pay the price for his emotional abuse. However, “Caboblanco” director J. Lee Thompson wasn’t out to make a typical horror film, rather staging the story as far more of detective investigation, with equal parts chilling suspense and twisted romance. An ace at just about any genre, Goldsmith certainly had a background in psychological horror with the likes of his electronic-topped, Oscar-nominated “Freud” as well as employing even more freakish synths for “Shock Treatment.” Starting out with creepy buzzing and beeping electronics that would foreshadow his score to “Logan’s Run,” Goldsmith’s hauntingly thematic score is disturbing in a surreal way, his music conveying a bubbling shadow realm from which our hero /anti-hero’s nightmares emerge. As Peter begins to get closer to the truth, the score gradually solidifies into the realm of the living with organic strings and piano, the music getting a bit lighter, and lyrical with guitar and violin. It’s a rustic quality that takes us from LA to New England, conveying a lakeside world of idle rich mansions and tennis clubs in a rustic way that would befit the positively homegrown subjects of Goldsmith’s bucolic scores for the likes of “Lilies of the Field” and “A Patch of Blue” – yet given the strangeness of synths and fuzz guitars. As forbidden love arises between a reincarnated dad and his past life’s daughter, Goldsmith conveys a feeling of something that’s beautifully star-crossed and unholy at the same time, and finally tragic with a dash of his trademarked staccato action in a rush to pre-ordained fate. With its shockingly succinct ending, Goldsmith displays “Peter Proud” as one of his most bravura examples of shifting tones and orchestration for a score, and film that never descend into the obvious, instead finding a powerful, spookily lyrical twilight zone in between. Where Jerry Goldsmith fans thought “Peter Proud’s” score was lying in a watery grave for decades, Intrada resurrects his genre masterwork with far better sound than the muddy bootlegs of before, with half of the score in true stereo, and the other in affected mono, which only adds to its creepy quality. Goldsmith expert Jeff Bond and Intrada head Douglas Fake, who oversaw a similar release of the composer’s seemingly lost “Damnation Alley” for the label, provide a captivating history on this cult film and the way it was ultimately shown the sonic light of day.
. THE VIKINGS
A composer whose work burst with an epic sense of symphonic manliness and a hauntingly lush sense of history, Mario Nascimbine was also one of the first Italians to break the waves of scoring Hollywood pictures like “Alexander the Great,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Quiet American.” His touch at handling both widescreen scale and torrid emotion (latter from “Solomon and Sheba” to “One Million Years B.C.” made Nascimbine ideal to sail to Norway at the impressed request of star and producer Kirk Douglas for 1958’s “The Vikings,” Richard Fleischer’s exuberant entry into the sword and sandal genre as such – here tackling Norway’s famed marauders with as much authenticity as possible. No instrument was as synonymous with the Odin-worshipping warriors as the regal sound of a giant horn, whose brass presence gives Nascimbine his main theme that practically sings in its rising tone to the Valhalla, a majesty that plays into the royal blood of father Ernest Borgnine, his lusty one-eyed son Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis’ half brother by way of pillaging. Capturing the neo-biblical spectacle of Miklos Rozsa and presaging the likes of Basil Poledouris’ “Conan” in creating a sound of pure, unrelentingly advancing barbarian might, Nascimbene’s score is full of romantic, sword-swinging blood and glory that’s all about the joy of battle – its might impressively mapped out by “Lawrence of Arabia’s” Gerard Schurmann. The setting might be the fjords and shores of England, but the grand orchestral spirit is all about the Teutonic gods of Wagner. Carving out truly memorable motifs, Nascimbene’s “Niebelungen sound is exhilarating, throttling stuff as it veers between marauding and nobility as French horns trumpet wrath, drums pound out waves of sword-swinging berserkers with a wall of thematic orchestral might that fills the widescreen for all of its musical worth. Given that its original soundtrack was released back in the day with a decidedly unimpressive recording, it’s no wonder that producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and The City of Prague Orchestra and Chorus wouldn’t want to pick up “The Viking’s” mighty oars again, especially after their rousing re-performances of such legendary epic scores likes of “Quo Vadis” and “The Alamo.” Their passion blazes like never before on this sumptuous rendition of Nascimbene’s great work (while adding a suite from “Barabbas” for good measure), with Frank K. DeWald’s always-informative liner notes adding to the score’s historical import. There’s no better music to once again light up a Viking funeral with a Valhalla’s hall worth of singing Valkyries.
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