Soundtrack Picks: ‘THE TALL MAN’ IS ONE OF THE TOP SOUNDTRACKS TO OWN FOR JANUARY 2013
Also worth picking up DAVE, GANGSTER SQUAD, HOOSIERS, JOURNEY, MAMA and TRON UPRISING
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
What is it? Jerry Goldsmith was always pushing the musical boundaries of every genre he scored, sometimes applying seemingly anachronistic approaches where only a symphony would seem right. Perhaps no movie is a bigger case in points, or passes for that matter, then 1986’s “Hoosiers,” in which Goldsmith applied the kind of synthesizers he’d most often used for sci-fi to the holy Midwestern sport of basketball. Along with Vangelis’ Oscar winning “Chariots of Fire,” Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated work here would help change the game of scoring sports movies, creating a soundtrack as venerated as his similarly, boldly stylistic work on “Planet of the Apes” or “Patton.”
Why should you buy it? For a composer steeped in traditional orchestral techniques, Jerry Goldsmith was likely the biggest gearhead among his peers, his experimentations in electronic music reaching its peak in the mid-80s with all-synth scores like “Criminal Law” “Rent-A Cop” and “Runaway.” Yet, Goldsmith realized that sheer computerized sound might have been a bit much for a movie set in 1954 Indiana, a place with the kind of rural setting he’d so beautifully played in scores like “The Homecoming” and “A Girl Named Schooner.” Even more incredibly, Goldsmith had never scored a sports movie before. The composer’s solution was to evenly split both approaches, with strings and horn taking up the essence of Americana nobility. The use of hard-hitting rhythms that usually propelled the incredible feats of Rambo or Supergirl was truly inspired in capturing the energy of “Hoosiers’” real-life superheroes, creating a breathlessly energetic pop-drive that perfectly matched the tempo of the players and the rapid-fire bounce of a basketball (which Goldsmith sampled), music that becomes an Appalachian hoedown at its most inspired for “The Pivot.” But not even the best music technology (if wonderfully dated now) would work if it didn’t have a great theme. And Goldsmith’s was a humdinger, capturing the rousing power of sports to transform the human spirit from loser to winner, especially in his music for “The Finals,” in which Goldsmith makes play after thematic play, keeping the music in a continuous state of ever-varying flight for fifteen minutes of pure, soaring exhilaration.
Extra Special: Intrada makes a full-court, complete spread with Goldsmith’s classic score, which has never sounded more glorious than with this new mix. As patriotic as any military score he composed, or bucolic as any heartland family his melody gave hope to, (with Goldsmith’s even more moving, orchestral “Rudy” yet to come for the pigskin), “Hoosiers” showed a off newfangled, inspirational sound that was no small player in making the film ranks as one of the greatest sports movie ever made- as well as one of the composer’s best populist works to boot.
2) LES MISERABLES
What Is It?: Even when musicals deal with less savory subjects like dueling New York gangs or starving English orphans, there’s always a romantic layer of production polish to give our delicate sensibilities a comfort zone from the muck and grime of real life. But by immersing viewers in a sewer of excrement along with its lovestruck duets, “Les Miserables’” shouts aloud that it’s a stage-to-screen game changer. There’s an unheard level of primal scream singing here that throws us into the gutter along with Victor Hugo’s period Parisians, who sing about the lack of justice (or the psychotic belief in it) for endlessly elongated close-ups, all while the film attempts to carry a near-continuous tune. But while this operatic speak-singing isn’t “pretty” in the traditional sense, musician Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricist Alain Boubili’s phenomenon packs an undeniably impressive emotional wallop that benefits from sometimes raspy delivery and squelched notes- as would be the case of any actor recorded live trying to belt out a ballad while defending a barricade or single-handedly hauling a ship from the sea.
Why You Should Buy It?: As the only “Les Miz” star with a Tony next to his loaf of bread, Hugh Jackman gives Jean Valjean’s numbers an impressive, defiant authority that’s quite a change from his stage turn as “Boy from Oz” Peter Allen. But even when his voice soars in soliloquy, Jackman is sure that his delivery isn’t too polished. Delivering an incredible one-shot performance of “I Dreamed A Dream,” Anne Hathaway redefines acting as performance for a heart-ripping song that will likely win her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Better known for his band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, Russell Crowe certainly has the anger thing down for Javert. And while some have lambasted him for that star golden star throat thing, Crowe befits himself admirably as the unyielding French supercop, especially when his purpose is suicidally ripped away. In a far better musical than her last Abba-centric singing turn in “Mamma Mia,” Amanda Seyfried shows her suitably angelic talents as Cosette, while Eddie Redmayne’s voice is a bit less certain as her instantly smitten revolutionary beau Marius. But if there’s one performer here with the Miz street rabble cred, then it’s Samantha Barks, whose jilted Eponine just might have the heartbreaking highlight with “In My Life.” Otherwise, the orchestra does a fine job with Schonberg’s music, which swings between tunes that stubbornly refuse to fall into by-the-numbers Broadway, and others that deliver comedic toe-tappers (“Master of the House”) to rousing show-stoppers (“Red and Black”), with the multi-vocal march to battle in “Drink With Me” serving as “Les Miz’s” ersatz spin on Sondheim’s “The Rumble” from “West Side Story.”
Extra Special: The most successful “show” soundtracks are able to musically tell a story in song. Given that its nearly three-hour running time is mostly done with the latter, “Les Miserables’” album is impressive for how well it sums up the film’s epic emotional arc, and best numbers within the space of 65 minutes. Much of them will no doubt be copiously replayed by the movie’s fans, as well as the show’s decades-old Broadway cult, who will hear their beloved highlights given to a new, cinematic level of resonant rawness here.
What is it?: As innovatively great as videogame scores have proven to be, they’re often anything but relaxing. But then, the musical Zen equivalent of a Japanese water garden isn’t exactly apropos to accompany the slaughter of first person combat or raging fantasy battles that are the stuff of the major game studios. So it’s no wonder that the relaxingly adventurous score of “Journey’s” flowing robe figure was originated by the indie Thatgamecompany, who’ve given composer Austin Wintory the opportunity to compose a soundtrack that’s taken the genre to a new level of melodic poetry, not to mention acclaim by a mass audience not used to such beatific pursuits as reaching a holy mountain.
Why you should buy it?: A prolifically rising composer who made equally strong impressions between the humanistic Arabic tones of “Captain Abu Raed” and the eardrum eviscerating horror of “Grace,” “Journey” just might be Wintory’s most transcendent achievement amidst other game score of his for “Horn” and “Kinect Party” (with “Leisure Suit Larry” to follow). Taking place in a mystical sand-covered world where the journey is the destination, Wintory’s music is as much about stillness as the flowing-robed movement of its stick-figure voyager. The silken wealth of a lush, string-driven orchestra mixes with a melange of exotically tuned wind instruments, electronics and voice, fusing neo-Oriental, Arabic and Medieval sensibilities into a hypnotic world music sound. The tonal equivalent of Haiku in a game where musical notes serve as communication, “Journey” speaks softly with a continuous sense of wonder and discovery that’s nicely reminiscent of such mystical travelogue movies as “Baraka,” all while avoiding the sand pits of new-age massage room music. While there are wisps of darkness to give the game a necessary sense of dramatic conflict and challenge, it’s a sense of gossamer joy that fills Wintory’s work, creating a sound that dazzles with the musical possibilities that the genre offers beyond body counts.
Extra Special: With this kind of evocative, appealing sound, it’s no wonder that “Journey” is essentially the first videogame score to get a Grammy nomination, bringing a level of pop respectability to an arena most often wrongfully regarded as kid’s stuff. But whether you own a system or not, “Journey” plays equally well as a tranquilly evocative musical adventure in its own right, the kind of soundtrack capable of conjuring blissfully exotic quests of the imagination without the need for a controller.
What is it? If hell hath no fury like a familial ghost scorned, then one quickly rising composer who knows how to play a potent mix of the demonic and paternal is Spain’s Fernando Velázquez. First impressing with the chilling score for a mother’s encounter with ghostly tykes in “The Orphanage,” and then opening up a world of satanic suspense within the confines of an elevator for “Devil,” Velázquez has lately explored the real-life terror of “The Impossible,” wherein a family’s bond overcame a Tsunami’s catastrophe.
Why should you buy it? The elements of shock and emotion mix very well for “Mama,” who’s not exactly welcoming of her kids’ new caretakers. A composer who’s proven he knows how to mix fright and melody to maximum emotional effect, Velázquez plays a child-and-ghost game with the sympathy of tender strings, pianos lullabye bells and children’s voices, only to jump in with hair-raisingly dissonant “Boos!” But for the most part, “Mama” is done with chilling subtlety where the ghost of such great horror melodists as Jerry Goldsmith and Christopher Young are very much alive.
Extra Special: Climaxing “Mama” is a tour de force thirteen-minute cue, self-explanatorily titled “Final Reel.” Where many genre scores can become blaringly wall-to-wall for the big showdown, Velázquez terrifically brings together all of his dramatic and ghastly motifs together, charting the specter’s emotional progression from rage to religious deliverance as the score reveals its true, epically supernatural intensions as kid’s voices become a biblical chorus, while his restrained use of strings turn into a Straussian symphony. It’s a textbook example of extended musical storytelling that takes “Mama” to a new, thrilling dimension with a score that firmly marks Velázquez as a major talent capable of treading the line between fear and feeling.
5) THE TALL MAN
What is it?: After the deadline’s closed for my Best-Of Score list every year, there’s always a movie which blows me away, whose accompanying soundtrack I wish I would have included- a la the Best Director nomination that usually accompanies the one for Best Picture. Such is the power of an excellent score to truly take a film to new heights, especially when seeing a picture that looks like every other dreary genre offering that I felt I could easily skip (hence the delay)- and turns out to be something quite else. So thanks to Netflix Instant, my retroactive “wish I could have” score award for 2012 goes to “The Tall Man” and his composers Todd Bryanton, Joel Douek and Christopher Young. Together, their work seamlessly congeals into the dark cloak of a fabled child murderer, their music twisting about to reveal the trappings of a horror score that ends up being about entirely different, heart-rending emotions.
Why you should buy it?: One would expect Pascal Laugier, the French filmmaker behind the hyper-violent child-napping “Martyrs” to provide more of the stylish same with this similarly-themed tale for his American debut. And for a bit, the score is cut from similar horror music cloth. But even though the brass swirls and the percussion relentlessly swing into action, this is still exceptionally well-knitted material, getting off to a bang with a hammeringly suspenseful main title that immediately makes one pay attention to what will follow- the kind of red alert music that plays like the start of a latter-day “Psycho” (complete with particularly nifty onscreen graphics). A sense of continual dread fills “The Tall Man’s” score, voices, eerie bells and sampled effects turning its backwoods town into a haunted landscape from which anything can pounce. Yet as the film’s true nature is revealed, the all-enveloping spookiness goes away, the orchestral musical jumps replaced by lyrical guitars, pianos, a humming child’s voice and the moving, melodic anguish of every parent’s worst nightmare. It’s a hat trick that pushes “The Tall Man” way beyond genre conventions in a way that will make the view, and listener, feel grateful, instead of being ripped-off. While it’s easy to tell the poignant, piano themes and urgent strings of horror vet Christopher Young, lesser known composers Bryanton (“Surveillance”) and Douek (“Egypt Unwrapped”) are equally impressive at conjuring the powerful trappings of a boogeyman score, whose equally devastating destination makes one reach for the Kleenex instead of ducking under the seat.
Extra Special: “The Tall Man” is truly of the e-ether with its digital-only release (though it’s certainly deserving of a hard copy), as well as being instantly watchable at Netflix HERE. In any case, hats off to Movie Score Media for concentrating on releasing small, and greatly deserving under-the-radar scores for films, and soundtracks, that are wealth worth seeking out and discovering- if not after the fact on my part next time.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: VOLUME 4
ABC spared few expenses when they tried to create the small-screen answer to “Star Wars,” especially when it came to giving Stu Phillips a lavish orchestra (for TV that is) to recall the John Williams sound. But as opposed to taking a swashbuckling, Korngoldian route to send the Cylon refugees to Earth, Phillips guided Adama’s fleet on a more mythological path, delivering on “Galactica’s” military action as well as its biblical allusions of reaching the Promised Land. “Battlestar’s” best episodes to deliver on these counts were its two-parters “The Living Legend” and “War of the Gods,” the quadruple of which are now delivered for Intrada’s final volume of some of the best sci-fi scoring that 70s cult television had to offer. The first CD offers the full-throttle martial music for Lloyd Bridge’s Commander Cain, whose Pegasus shows that the Galactica isn’t the only Battlestar in town. Having written a main theme as memorable in its own way as Williams’, Phillips delights in putting the Battlestar melody into full-throttle launch for the series’ best action music. When not in daredevil flight, Phillips’ suspenseful orchestrations reflect a commander whose seemingly suicidal taste for battle verges on the unhinged. Military drum rolls and countdown percussion abounds, along with the dastardly Cylon motifs and the warmly humanistic melodies for the colonists helped give cinematic structure to the show.
A guest star of a far nastier sort was Patrick Macnee’s Count Iblis, who proved to be a devilish false prophet in “War of the Gods.” It’s a terrific opportunity to explore “Galactica’s” holier implications, starting with an especially striking theme for swirling orchestra and eerily percussive effects as light balls lead the Galactica to the deceptively white-robed Iblis. Using malevolent string flourishes with synths and bright strings, Phillips lets the audiences’ onto Iblis’ true intentions, his music ultimately taking on some of “Galactica’s” most terrifying, and snarling brass writing for the big, negative image reveal of Iblis’ true identity. But leave it to the majestic musical miracles of an angelic chorus, a plucked harp and glistening bells to show that colonists who worship many gods are in reality sending their praise to a Supreme Being. There’s much to be praised in Phillips’ ability to create an epic mythos for the small screen here, as well as Intrada’s excellent packaging. John Takis ends his liner note quest with the colonists to this soundtrack series’ most rewarding release, while Mike Mattesino makes sense of the copious music that went into assembling the release in his “tech talk,” – complete with lightship sound effects and the chirpy space Muzak of Rising Star Celebration among the music re-recorded for “Galactica’s” TV and feature movie spin offs (minus the Sensurround effect).
One of the few modern movies to successfully translate Frank Capra’s 30s spirit of can-do government optimism into a delightfully romantic, and gently pointed political comedy, 1993s “Dave” inspired a sunny sensibility in all of its players. One in particular was composer James Newton Howard, who’d deliver this symphonically bright, feel-good tonic of a score that’s the musical equivalent of seeing hope in The White House for the first time. Having risen in the Hollywood with a lush, pop-orchestral sensibility that gave a song-like quality to such audience pleasing scores as “Pretty Woman,” “3 Men and a Little Lady” and “Prince of Tides,” Howard’s “Dave” arrived with a breezily melodic pedigree that turned the benign escapades of an imposter president into the stuff of a comedic romp, as opposed to a capital crime. If you immediately recognize the score’s positively gushing waltz-like theme, then it’s because its constantly changing gossamer tempos have made “Dave” the perfect trailer montage music, not to mention ideal music to insert into any film score (while influencing legions of other comedy soundtracks to come). The gentle sweetness that Howard provides even gets the usually pompous brass and drums of “presidential” scores to crack a smile, his often speedy rhythms pulling off the rare sound of sophisticated adult comedy with a sense of fun, all while still acknowledging the importance of “Dave’s” higher office, and the power for it to do good for those who are just of heart. Howard’s score also benefits from a sense of poignancy, resulting in what still stands as one of the composer’s most touching love themes for strings and piano. A State of the Union address in the significance of thematic melody to create a breezy score that still has a sense of merit and duty, La La Land’s “Dave” offers the entire amendment of Howard’s score, including variations from its original issue on Big Screen records, and a surfeit of ‘Hail’s” to The Chief.
. GANGSTER SQUAD
Take a composer whose good guys are out to bust metal heads, then throw him into the late 40s Los Angeles. Chances are you’re not going to get a score like “Chinatown,” which is exactly the point of hiring one of Hollywood’s big rhythmic guns to musically envision a rogue LA sheriff’s department as Autobots pitted against the Decepticon mob goons of Mickey Cohen. While film noir purists might cry foul at a score that fits nicely into Jablonsky’s “Transformers” cannon as opposed to Jerry Goldsmith’s, Michael Bay’s go-to musician has accomplished his mission of hipping up old school crime fighters with the darkly propulsive sound of today’s multiplex action scoring, which most often reflects heroes who are often one shade away from being as villainous as what they’re fighting. “Gangster Squad” spills over with suspenseful intensity, showing the City of Angels as suffocating under a cloud of ominous, orchestral evil, strings samples and a subtle rock guitar relentlessly ticking away like a time bomb until the next propulsive gunfight occurs with blasting, bad-ass heroism. But while there’s no Goldsmithian crime jazz to be found in Jablonsky’s action dojo, the spirit of Morricone’s “The Untouchables” is heard in dulcimers, a harmonica and end-title trumpet that further send the film’s archetypes back to the old west days of sheriff versus outlaw, a nice musical touch that salutes the classic gang-busting movie that this “Squad” aspires to be.
David Buckley’s more than got the third-generation Hans Zimmer throb down after assisting that composer’s protégé Harry Gregson-Williams with propulsive suspense on the likes of “The Number 23” and “The Town,” while effectively striking out on his own with the impressive diversity of “The Forbidden Kingdom’s” fantasy-fu, “Blood Creek’s” zombie horse rampage and the kidnap countdown of “Gone.” So there’s no doubt that Buckley’s lean, mean rhythmic approach won’t swing into badass action along with Jason Statham’s consummate confidence. But where “Parker” clicks most enjoyably is after that whole left-for-dead thing is over, and a far lighter con game begins with the anti-hero’s new identity. Buckley has a lot of fun with the blues-funk thing, adding a lean action rhythm that motors with toe-tapping energy. There’s also some effective Clapton-esque guitar and string eeriness that gives complexity to the kick ass before it’s back to business with Buckley’s ace rhythmic chops, which effectively veer from symphonic to sampled beats-per-pummeling. Sleek and smart as it goes about its expected business, “Parker” has a cool, contemporary action groove that climactically rocks with its character’s lean, mean attitude.
. SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE
It’s never too late for Xmas music, especially when it’s just about three hours full of Henry Mancini cheer at its most unabashedly joyous. Positioned by the mega-producing Salkinds as another iconic, family-friendly epic in the tradition of their last hit “Superman: The Movie,” this big, red-wearing legend didn’t exactly fly to those heights aboard a reindeer-powered sleigh. But you’ll believe a man can fly, or at least seriously consider Santa’s veracity, given the fairy tale magic that fuels Mancini’s score. Though capable of far darker stuff with the likes of “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Wait Until Dark,” nothing seemed to make the composer happier than when engaging in Panther-esque slapstick for Blake Edwards, the kind of brightly lush strings that infuse “Santa Claus.” Where other composers might have treated the material with kids’ stuff condescension, Mancini approaches this altogether pleasant movie with the same kind of relevance that John Williams (himself no slouch at Xmas) gave to Clark Kent’s alter ego, conjuring music here that’s cute without being cloying. Whether it’s an elf march, a tinkerbell-topped theme or the near-religious relevance of the songs, “Santa Claus” has the warm, comforting feel of a storybook page gently being turned for the little ones, regaling them with one enveloping ribbon of orchestral warmth after the another. “Santa Claus: The Movie” just might be the sparkling, pixie dust height of Mancini’s love of glistening melody. Having started off the their label with a single release of “Santa’s” original album, Quartet does it three times better in one deluxe edition, collecting Mancini’s complete score, alternates and the 1985 LP release, where Sheena Easton’s romantic “It’s Christmas All Over the World” and Raja’s pop-funk “Shouldn’t Do That” remain great chestnut examples of how every Xmas movie of the decade demanded top-40 ready singles. But after the charmingly listenable “Santa Claus,” the one song that you surely won’t be able to get out of your head is the very enthusiastic, knowingly commercial kids’ chorus for “Patch Natch!” The special edition’s picture-filled booklet offers pleasant liner notes by Jeff Bond that adults will admire as their cherubs’ ears are filled with the true magic of gloriously melodic film music.
. SILENT HILL: REVELATION 3D
Just like every zombie-hardened heroine who inevitably gets pulled into a Japanese video game-turned-movie nether-realm, composer Jeff Danna has racked up enough points to start his own tour guide business after his contributions to “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” and “Silent Hill.” Now six years after he abetted the original game themes of Akira Yamaoka, Danna returns to the town that dare not speak its name to give even more original musical meat to the eerie fairy tale bells that’ve stood for the franchise long before it became film. Danna certainly has his crash-bang percussion work cut out for him with the swing swords of the story’s triangle-headed behemoths, as well as wailing klaxons that announce the arrival of a revengeful little witch- now grown here into an angst-ridden teen. Danna certainly has all of the horror score chops down, particularly when it comes to making the genre’s typical twilight zone of sound design and music far more interesting, and evocative than most such offerings. Blaring metallic effects, monk chants, rock rhythms, warped samples and a haunting piano are deftly woven into Yamaoka’s eerie, music box waltz melody. But it’s Danna’s own, real-world emotional talents on scores like “O” and “The Boondock Saints” that bring a pleasing human touch into this madness with a beautiful piano and flute-topped theme that provide deliverance, at least until Danna graces the next (and hopefully better) sequel. As much of a haunted house score as it is a cursed town’s, the always-evocative “Revelation” end with two powerful rock songs by Yamaoka, the first a haunting NIN-like song with “Rain of Brass Three Voices Edit.” Elizabeth McGlynn also provides driving vocals for the metal ballad “Silent Scream,” a tune which conveys the cool quality of the kind of rock anthems that ended far more straightforward 80s horror fests.
. TRON UPRISING
Oft times when the next-big-thing techno / pop artist is brought in to “score” a film, it’s usually a relatively uncredited composer who makes matters musical, not to mention score-like. So if you’re judging by how electrifying Joseph Trapanese’s cue collection is from this CGI toon spin-off of Disney’s “Tron Legacy” is, then it’s likely you’ll regard him as the real Flynn of this soundtrack grid. Trapanese and Daft Punk evolved Wendy Carlos’ already Avant-garde approach for the original “Tron” to the next, 21st century level by mixing a monolithic orchestra over state-of-the-art trance and techno club beats, putting a cold, rhythmic grandness into the OCP’s domain. While not importing any of “Legacy’s” themes per say into “Tron’s” new TV platform, Trapanese has made the sound of that zillion-dollar feature even bigger and better. The musical world behind Flynn’s Arcade is certainly more perilous, and empathetic with its symphonic rage against the machine. More than then ever, these programs have an emotional soul, from their strings to the haunting use of a human voice. But above all, “Tron” is about throbbing, digital pulses that paint its neon-colored computer world in mesmerizing, exciting shades of atmosphere and action, the album’s rhythms ending up on the rapid-beat glo-stick stage with remixes by Opiuo and David Hiller. Trapenese’s “Uprising” is a defiant answer to the usual thought process that big-sounding scores have got to sound smaller when taken to the cartoon medium of kid’s. If anything, this composer treats it like the most exhilaratingly musical light cycle race yet.
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