Soundtrack Picks: ‘THE REVENANT‘ is the top soundtrack to own for January, 2016
Also worth picking up ASH VS. EVIL DEAD, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 3, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, 13 HOURS, THE WIND GODS and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) ASH VS. EVIL DEAD / PAY THE GHOST
Price: $11.99 / $12.49
What is it?: Ever since his rampaging, Necronomicon-opening debut with 1981’s “The Evil Dead,” Joseph LoDuca has been writing the horror score playbook when it comes to musically conjuring all sorts of pesky demons, ghouls and pissed off spirits (not to mention the monster-battling Amazonian fury of Varese’s new “Xena Warrior Princess” box set). No two new scores better represent LoDuca’s musical broomstick when it comes to treating the undead with Bruce Campbell’s’ hilarious swagger, or hearing the real scary deal by doing the DTV sweat with The Cage.
Why should you buy it?: Both Joseph LoDuca and Sam Raimi’s careers were made in a backwoods cabin, a place that proved extreme gore could successfully flow with over-the-top humor. It’s a combo that’s replicated to hilarious, pitch perfect delight for Starz’s “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” proving that the cult movies’ creative team have lost none of their smart-assed energy on the small screen. If anything, the anything-goes boob tube opens up a whole new world of crazed creativity in LoDuca. Given an exceptional, full-on orchestra that’s even more epic than “Army of Darkness,” LoDuca jumps right in with insanely seriousness that practically blasts off the TV set, capturing the series’ outrageous tone with exclamation point music one could imagine accompany a 1950’s drive-in monster flick. LoDuca wields spaz attack dissonance, rampaging brass stabbing strings and subtler elements like creepy female voices with winking effectiveness. His hopelessly vain, likable idiot of a he-man is given trumpeting superhero music that plays Ash’s can-do Deadite- slaying strains. LoDuca is just as brilliant when the music is outrightly laughing at itself, from hitting the slapstick violence with all the mayhem of Bugs Bunny cartoon, hearing the psychedelia of a demonic acid trip or speeding down a highway to hell with heavy metal. There’s even a nice tip of the Spaghetti Western sombrero hat, but with just enough sincere drama to give some emotional weight to a guy realizing he’s a death sentence to everyone foolish enough to join him “Ash Vs. Evil Dead’s” compilation album is a groovy, gonzo delight that shows there’s new, furious musical life to be had in the Necronomicon, not to mention horror television that doesn’t have to be so damned serious all the time.
Extra Special: There’s nothing to laugh at, and quite a bit to get creeped out by in LoDuca’s score for the Nicolas Cage thriller “Pay the Ghost.” Say what you will about so much of the over-working actor’s prolific output ending up on iTunes, but most of it is actually quite entertaining, especially this “Ring”-ish tale of a professor trying to retrieve his witch-napped son from the Twilight Zone. It’s any father’s most unlikely fear, and LoDuca’s relentless use of razor-scraped metallic effects accounts for must of “Ghost’s” completely unsettling effect, its samples joined with hushed, mumbling, gasping children’s voices, as well as the eerie sing-song voice of an Irish sorceress. The Crone’s ethnicity is conjured with striking use of the fiddle, and an organ-backed Gaelic chant of “The Portal Song. And even if “Ghost” can’t pay for the kind of orchestra at “Ash’s” disposal, the intimacy here brings out real ingenuity from the most nightmarish recesses of LoDuca’s sample-driven imagination. While you might smile a bit at its eccentric NYC street marching band music, this “Ghost” is all about jump-scaring the hell out of you at effective and disturbing frequency, plunges the listener into Halloween’s witching hour.
2) EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (Expanded)
What Is it?: From “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to “Sleepy Hollow,” no collaboration between composer and filmmaker has yielded the darkly enchanted fairy tale worlds of Danny Elfman and Tim Burton, even if said land happens to be beautiful downtown Burbank. But that was the charm for the1990 classic “Edward Scissorhands,” in which a dangerously misshapen, cookie cutter man-child found himself adopted into a winter wonderland of candy-colored conformity. At once as beautiful as a snow globe and ironic as a Tupperware party, perhaps the most overriding emotion of “Edward Scissorhands” is the poignant, painful sadness in its parable of how the misunderstood outsider is doomed to fail, something that two iconoclasts like Elfman and Burton likely felt before the made macabre geeks things to be admired. Still arguably the most popular work of these outsider artists, especially given its magical choral theme, “Edward Scissorhands” now gets a gloriously complete release via Intrada Records that’s resplendent in its soaring, melancholy enchantment and sinister suburban-ism.
Why Should You Buy It?: “Edward Scissorhands” was brilliantly conceived by writer Caroline Thompson and Tim Burton as a play on such iconic fairy tale elements as the forbidden castle, helpless maiden and frog prince, as spun for its director’s humorously seditious imagination. The same can be said for Elfman’s music box of a score, from its gossamer, bell-percussion to forbiddingly romantic strings and an alternately magical and gloom-filled female chorus. But the most important element of “Edward Scissorhands” is its gloriously tragic theme that pleads to the heavens for its impossible relationship between cheerleader and construct to work out, its crystalline notes gently falling over their iconic ice grooming scene like snow itself, replete with waltzing magic and the knowledge it will soon dissolve before harsh reality sets in again. That much of “Edward Scissorhands” sings with Gothic repression says just as much about how much Elfman and Burton loved the idea of misunderstood monsters and freaks trying to impossibly adjust to modern worlds they never made, a malefic air that’s pure foggy, old-school horror music stuff, as capable of running from the villagers as it is vengefully attacking them. But in spite of Edward’s travails, it’s the goodness of his heart that proves the stronger emotional force. Sure it’s unbearably sad, yet there’s a sense of hope, and purity that rings through Elfman’s score, capturing the impossibility and attraction of beauty and the beast, as musically imagined as a big ironic commentary to the real creatures that lay in the houses ringed with well-manicured hedges. It’s a sense of absurdity that Elfman is just as gleeful with, from a hair-cutting tango and Gyps violin to the pokey, tinkertoy symphony of its suburban mechanoids heading to work.
Extra Special: Previously available in a the Elfman “music box” set (the special composer salute to end them all with its insane frills), Edward Scissorhands” now gets a stand-alone, far more affordable release that creates a brand new assembly of the score to boot, making it worthy indeed for the many Goth-attuned fans who worship at the Elfman-Burton altar. Original box set book writer Jeff Bond is back as well to elaborate on “Edward’s” musical origins for a presentation that only makes its macabre poignancy an all the more of a lyrically twisted Xmas bedtime story.
3) THE REVENANT
What is it?: Not so much a film as it is a 4-D environmental experience director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” is the definition of haunted, existential filmmaking that packs a brutal, poetic punch at every life-threatening turn. It’s also the first movie he’s made where pretention doesn’t get the better of him, especially when it comes to the music, as could be heard to “Birdman’s” incredibly distracting drum score. That is most definitely not the case for The Revenant,” which often plays above a whisper, all the better to mesmerize viewers with its gorgeous, icy visuals.
Why should you buy it?: “The Revenant” counts the triple-threat of Japan’s Ryuichi Sakamoto (“The Sheltering Sky”), German conceptual electronic composer Alva Noto (aka Carsten Nicolia) and Brooklyn-born Bryce Dessner of the Grammy-nominated band The Nationals. While their talents might cross continents, there’s a seamlessness to their music, as natural in its approach as wind rustling through dead leaves, the flow of water, or the haunted limbo between life and death – a place that the a bear-pummeled trapper spends a hypnotic eternity crawling his way through to avenge an native son. Ghosts fill “The Revenant” when people and animals aren’t being murdered at every turn, a portrait of humanity at its most primitive, their callous brutality made all the more powerful by the contrastingly serene, minimal quality of much of the music. Given the most solo spots on the album, Ryuichi Sakamoto is the most symphonically conventional composer making the musical trek here, with such gorgeously lush works as “Wuthering Heights, “Little Buddha” and the Oscar-winning “The Last Emperor” to his credit. His symphonic expressiveness is certainly toned down, but to no less effect in his gentle, mournful theme and slow string melodies, conveying a lyrical sense of regret, if not outright tragedy. Dressner strikes out on his own to impressive orchestral effect for the growing sustains of hallucinatory buffalo, or the creeping, then pounding realization of a commander’s betrayal that a man abandoned to certain death is in fact far from it. But for the most part, “The Revenant” employs its composers in various configurations as it varies from a chamber approach to more emotionally fleshed-out scoring. Poignant strings, feverish rhythms, reverberating electronics and exceptionally subtle tribal percussion and winds occupy space with reversed, buzzing sampling that wouldn’t be out of place accompanying some video instillation piece at a modern museum. Except here, it’s visual hypnosis that you could pretty much spend hours watching.
Extra Special: “The Revenant” is a striking, collaborative combination of muted tradition and ambient high concept that’s completely different than what one might expect from a “western” score. Yet “The Revenant” certainly delivers one in its hauntingly weird way. It’s as much of of a sad, rustic lesson on the futility of violence as you might’ve heard back in the day when western soundtracks were starting to realize the futility of violence – not that nature was playing by any moral rules to begin with. “The Revenant” is as utterly unique and transfixing as the film it accompanies, showing how music and image can be a fully, immersive physical experience without the help of glasses or quaking theater seats. That this Golden Globe winning score has somehow been disqualified from Oscar contention is almost as wrong as getting humped by bear before being buried alive.
4) STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
What is it?: Just as Max Steiner’s thunderous symphonic score for 1933’s “King Kong’ created fantastical film scoring (and film scoring itself) at the dawn of sound era, there can be no underestimating the earthshaking importance of John Williams’ revival of that gloriously melodic, full-blooded approach for 1977’s “Star Wars.” Not only did his majestic, theme-driven approach essentially put orchestral scoring back on the studio map, but it accompanied an equally iconic movie that inspired the imaginations of a whole new generation of filmmakers. Now the circle is essentially complete as Williams returns to the saga that justifiably made him a household name, going from the last, unjustly maligned prequel to truly continue the saga for this wildly overpraised, yet still entertaining film. But if its director J.J. Abrams was hell-bent on essentially packing the plot of the first two “Star Wars” pictures into one, at the least he’s reprised Williams as the continuing voice of these movies’ grand, cosmic scheme of familial betrayal and togetherness. That his music succeeds far better as a listen outside of the “The Force Awakens” than as part of its big, noisy wash of confounding characters and nonsensical plotting says much about how a man who’s arguably the greatest film composer of all time can remain a vital and essential voice of the epic he helped create, even if his cinema-changing musical force might not exactly be with him like before.
Why should you buy it?: “The Force Awakens” isn’t quite on the level of “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back” or even “Return of the Jedi.” But set yourself up in front of two loud speakers, and there’s much to be impressed by in what “The Force Awakens’” soundtrack does achieve. The first “Star Wars” was a wake up call to Korngoldian action, encouraging little and grown-up kids alike to leap about like Robin Hood, piloting a spaceship as opposed to swinging on a Sherwood Forest vine. So even if we might not be getting something on the eternal musical order of Death Star attack, an asteroid field chase or the fateful love theme of Han and Leia, what we do get here is certainly thrilling, action packed and emotional. The sparkling percussion of the Millennium Falcon is powering the thrusters, the brass is blazing with the blasters, music that strongly delineates the swashbuckling forces of good and the imperious horn section of the bad guys (complete with evil, moaning chorus). Perhaps it’s because Williams is more about hitting the frenetic action and forced character interactions that the music does very well by the moment as opposed to the longer haul, a repeat-and-rinse hollowness of the script that the music can’t help but reflect, with the classic themes doing their best to bridge old and new whenever a familiar friend shows up.
Extra Special: The litmus test of any “Star Wars” score is if it makes us feel the magic that started it all. And that undeniable joy and vitality are very much apparent in the strong, if not instantly classic melodies of “The Force Awakens.” Impeccably performed with all of the soaring lushness that signifies the Williams trademark, it’s a score that proves that even if you can’t go home again as the movie relentlessly tries to, having that emotional thrill of the moment, as scored by the thankfully continuing voice of the “Star Wars’” musical saga, is certainly is far, far away from a bad place to be.
5) TOTAL RECALL” 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION
What is it?: With his manly, raging brass, God and country patriotism and blazing, syncopated action writing, Jerry Goldsmith’s music could exude sweaty, old-school testosterone like few composers in the business. And no score, or director gave his exuberant tendencies an awesomely excessive workout like Paul Verhoeven in 1990’s “Total Recall,” an Arnold Schwarzenegger epic that sent the secret agent Austrian to Mars to kill a few thousand people and liberate the planet. An eye-popping, balls-out, mind-bending delirium of a sci-fi action film, Verhoeven’s gonzo taste for awesomely staged carnage meant that Goldsmith’s music was running for its life with breathtaking momentum, one thrilling cue ramping into the next chase. Or at least that’s the way we’ve mostly experienced Goldsmith’s score with all of the best rhythmic stuff put together into one cd. Yet what distinguished “Total Recall” was just how smart it was in its seditiousness, putting actual, Philip K. Dick-ian thought about the matter of self-identity in between its carnage, eerie, psychological suspense that Goldsmith played just as effectively. Now Quartet Records unleashes all the atmosphere of Goldsmiths’ titanic work for this dazzling two-CD edition of “Total Recall,” finally giving all the air to both the score’s excitement, and food for thought.
Why should you buy it?: Goldsmith’s machine-gun blazing heroism for Carolco’s “First Blood” and “Rambo” put him in excellent stead for their next, and most ambitious action machine. But what made “Total Recall’ a more interesting proposition for Goldsmith was that its gunplay would be its trippy sci-fi elements, opening up the possibility to really bring mysterious electronics into the mix, along with a sense of cosmic grandeur. Having used spacey synth work to good rhythmic use in “Logan’s Run,” then conveyed the fusion of symphonic and surreal majesty for “Star Trek- The Motion Picture” before throttling through a Jupiter-adjacent mining colony in “Outland,” Goldsmith was in exceptional musical shape for the stylistic demands of “Total Recall.” With the score fully restored on its first CD, we get to appreciate the thematic build-up, as Goldsmith uses ominous strings and bubbling, ultra-computerized music to suggest a machine-enhanced dream state, with danger lurking about every Terran corner, even using synths to replicate radar pings. When the bullets start flying, Goldsmith’s symphonic might explodes with smashing, soaring exuberance. But it’s not like you’re really supposed to take any of this seriously, as Verhoeven’s sly way of handling the graphically violent shenanigans also transfer to a sense of humor in Goldsmith’s score, the composer really throwing himself into the crazy, bombastic quality of the production in a way he’d never quite done before. Yet there’s an undeniable grandeur that does takes this stuff seriously, from the soaring reveal of an alien ice-melting machine, or the probing, Theremin-like electronics that try to discern reality from a dream state.
Extra Special: The oft-issued “Total Recall” has stood as one of Goldsmith’s most popular cd’s with such cues as “Clever Girl” and “The Big Jump” often on fan’s repeat button. With the original Varese presentation heard on the set’s second CD, this ultimate edition goes beyond the last ultimate one, offering up more of the suspenseful, identity-question material that gradually springs the surprise on our hero, Particularly fun \ new inclusions include Bruno Louchouarn’s future disco source cues for the mutant strip club, as well as Goldsmith’s enticing commercial jingles with the inimitable refrain of “For the memory of a lifetime, recall, recall, recall.” But most importantly of all, “Total Recall” has never sounded better under the ears of album producer Neil S. Bulk and of original Goldsmith mixer Bruce Botnick, with Jeff Bond’s expansive liner notes, hilariously revealing (though definitely not so at the time) how the staggering amount of notes that Goldsmith wrote made mincemeat out of the first scoring attempt with Germany’s “Graunke Orchestra,” (just a bit of their work heard here). Filled with such gems, this ultimate edition of “Total Recall” shows that it’s definitely time for fans of Goldsmith’s classically over-the-top score to get their asses back to Mars.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. 13 HOURS
Whenever our true-life cinematic soldiers are besieged by enemy hordes in Africa or the Middle East in such films as “The Hurt Locker,” “Black Hawk Down” and “American Sniper,” they’re battling impossible odds on sure, if expected musical footing of dark electronic-orchestral percussion, tribal rhythms and the swelling melody of absolute patriotism. While Lorne Balfe might not be breaking any new ground, he’s certainly at the top of it as he accompanies the undeniably brave, CIA-contracted soldiers of the Global Response Staff as they hold off the better part of Libya’s Islamist forces from slaughtering an American compound. Capturing the a forbidding Arab-African vibe far more in spirit than with an overtly ethnic sound, Balfe’s score works in the same way as Michael Bay’s stylistic and ferociously exhilarating, if surprisingly non-jingoistic direction. It’s a lean, mean fighting machine of a score, full of blasting, suspenseful ramp-ups that are packed with the determination to survive, a single-focus energy on taking down the attackers that define its character’s professionalism under fire. Balfe’s certainly proven he can do these action rhythms in his sleep with the likes of “Terminator Salvation,” and the fact that they retain interest through one percussive machine gun blast after the other says something about the score’s effectiveness on that adrenalin-pumping action end. The forbidding Libyan turf is giving a chilling atmosphere, as well as a sense of hopeless tragedy, especially with the score’s use of electric cello. But amidst the kind of relentless, neo-industrial rock action that Balfe brings on, it’s the score’s forceful emotion that truly gives “13 Hours” its power as Balfe captures the bond of this band of brothers. In the most effective cues, strings rise to play the emotion of a possible military rescue that doesn’t come, a single piano the pull of families back home, or a noble trumpet emblematic of sacrifice. Though having the orchestra and brass do some flag waving at points to paint an undeniably noble portrait of its soldiers, Balfe’s potent score is most powerful in its downtime when playing a muted sense of duty, if not an ultimately pyric, mournful feeling of fighting a way out from an intractable conflict that’s grown the world over.
Mutant sleaze, NYC-set indie cinema makes a puss-drenched return from the days of “Street Trash” and the horrors of Tromaville as a bunch of freak squatters get turned into a bunch of toxic maniacs who engage in murderous tenant control. And that’s as good an excuse as any for composers Daniel Davies and Sebastian Robertston to create an appropriately grungy retro, John Carpenter-inspired sound for the ensuing, squalid synth-centric insanity. Listening to the guttural, weirdly percussive atmospheres, grinding guitar chords, relentless beat and purposefully cheesy electronics, as well as the creative warping of such organic instruments as the piano and organ, you’d feel like you were in some NYC penal colony sub-basement too gross for even Snake Plissken to search. But given that both musicians played on Carpenter’s “Lost Themes” album, it’s no wonder at how well they’ve simultaneously souped up and debased The Master’s chilling grooves to plunge listeners into a mesmerizing hell hole where music and sound design are slashing each other up in a battle for grotty supremacy. “Condemned” also offers some unexpected treats as well, from a cool jazz ensemble to disco kitsch before bringing on the hammering, slimily electro-metal bloodbath. Born from the loins of The Kinks’ Dave Davies and The Band’s Robbie Robertson, but sure as yellow slime sounding nothing like their dads here, “Condemned’s” effectively succinct and twisted album announces the duo as Carpenter acolytes to reckon with, expanding and debasing that rhythmically atmospheric sound to play like a sleazier, unhinged, ultra low-rent version of the way spiffier and spotlighted retro adherent “It Follows.” And that’s a compliment.
Chip off the old squint Scott Eastwood has it both ways as he goes gunning for “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “High Plains Drifter” in an effectively nasty western that Quentin Tarantino would likely approve of, especially as any speck of humanity gets made mincemeat of in a thoroughly devilish way. Given that “Diablo” is way more horror than spaghetti a la “The Hateful Eight,” composer Timothy Williams only provides just a bit of those aforementioned musical tropes (a la whistling and steel guitar), and with a twisted point to them at that. For the most part, “Diablo” is fearsome, heavy duty psychological stuff, loaded with madness to spare from feverish fiddling, darkly mysticism and rampaging percussion (complete with clicking shotgun), yet balanced with a sense of the striving, wounded emotion of a nice guy just trying to get his wife back. But by the time this starts playing with all of the menace of Jason Vorhees packing a six-shooter instead of an axe. Williams reveals just how skillfully his score has subverted the heroic expectations he’s set up. It might not sound quite as western as the music that accompanied Clint’s gunslingers who rode into town, with hell coming with them, but the attitude is very much there in this purposefully disturbing, malefically pounding score the ends with an evil howling smile. And while western scores might not be known for their songs, Zelia Day gives “Diablo” a truly memorable one in “Bloodline,” her fateful, rocking voice backing a melody that’s pure Spaghetti goodness, rife with guitars, hoots and trumpeting brass. It’s a tune that Man With No Name would be proud to enter a showdown with.
. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 3: VENGEANCE IS MINE
Revenge is a dish best served musically cold with an array of searing, blunt instrumentation by Edwin Wendell as he delivers the goods for sleaze exploitation’s most notorious title, a franchise that just keeps giving on its reincarnation’s third go-around. But even if you might not be up for the continued adventures of a female avenger giving raping male pigs what’s coming to them, there’s quite a bit to be intrigued by in Wendler’s score, which skillfully blends moments of dark, melodic psychology with relentless sound design shocks. Having used a battery of these effects to savagely powerful effect with the killer polar bear of “Unnatural,” and the hilariously self-referential slasher antics of “Tales of Halloween’s” best segment, Wendler’s way with industrial metal and electronics makes him a Nine Inch Nails-worthy engine of punishment for “Grave,” at once beating, and challenging the brave soundtrack buyer with sheer, always-intriguing relentlessness. His state-of-the-art sound warping also manages to capture a retro synth grindhouse sensibility from whence this series sprang. But “Spit” also has actual feeling beyond its jangled, screaming nerves, as Aeralie Brighton’s mournful female voice and a troubled, effective theme paint a cutting portrait at the price of inflicting deserved punishment, his point explained by Zach Tow’s thoughtful liner notes for Howlin Wolf Record’s impressive packaging. Dare to say it, but “I Spit on Your Grave” 3 has a ballsy sense of both melody and punishment that, like a sticky-seated Times Square cinema from back in the day, delivers the goods to those listeners asking for it.
The SyFy channel challenges the green screen gods with this mythical TV quest very much in the tradition of “300” and its children “The Immortals” and “Spartacus,” as a young man faces Herculean tests that will allow him to unseat a host of warriors, overlords and assorted monsters from the Greek pantheon. In his own rise through the music editing ranks of “Tin Man,” “Alice,” “Elysium” and additional music on “Chappie,” to becoming a composer worthy of this sort of scoring mantle, Richard Walters proves himself worthy of this visually audacious genre with evocative music that hits the expected beats, while marking its own identity. Ethnic winds (of course driven by the mighty Diduk), siren-like voices and hip, Middle Eastern rhythms dreamily echo about, with evil king and creature battling left to manly shield-beating percussion, as backed up with more subtle than expected orchestral-sample presence. Sure Xerxes and Zeus have gone into battle with this sort of musical armament before, yet it’s this often poignantly haunting quality to Walter’s evocative sound that makes “Olympus” play like its taking place in its own distinctively melodic mountain, one intoxicating its listeners with the sorcerous, hallucinogenic vapors of The Fates themselves, while losing none of its Hero’s questing determination in the process. It’s often quite lyrical music that conjures in the series’ evocative imagery in the listener’s mind, perhaps even more potently than what a visual effects artist might conjure.
. PRESSURE / GAMBA
A British composer who’s done much world travelling with his impressive work with the Viking fury of “Hammer of the Gods,” the tragedy of “Bhopal” and Iranians yearning for freedom in “Desert Dancer,” Benjamin Wallfisch now impresses in playing the crushing ocean depths before opening up to a fantasy land of animated adventure. But then nothing tends to bring out a composer’s creativity like being placed among few characters in the depths, as Alan Silvestri and Ilan Eshkeri have proven on “The Abyss” and “Black Sea.” Having shown a particular talent at combining symphonic melody with unique, and often eerie electronic atmospheres, Wallfisch pours on “Pressure’s” suspense with both beauty and danger. An immersive score if there ever was one, Wallfisch’s use of pounding, electric rhythms and ominous brass conveys a ticking clock, air-running-out desperation from what’s essentially a chamber drama. In such seemingly hopeless situations, it’s a given that the score will express seemingly last regrets, hopes and sorrow that are especially lyrical here without letting the tension slip, the unknowable darkness outside always a menace. “Pressure’s” inventive score sucks you into its battle of escape with haunting, almost mystical ambience for the character’s visions, yet in a way that’s doesn’t prove darkly suffocating as a listen, especially given its clever use of air hose samples and gasping voices to conjure its environment, building to a transcendent rise to the surface. Lyrical salvation is also provided by the gentle, water metaphor filled song “Satellite” as written and performed by the composer’s sister Joanna.
Where “Pressure” is as enticingly dark as the ocean depths, all manner of musical color wonderfully explodes from “Gamba,” a Japanese anime in which a brave town mouse is called upon to liberate a weasel-ruled island. It’s the kind of challenge that an American rodent named Fievel Mouskewitz knew well, but given the distinctly Japanese subplot here of avenging a blood oath, While Wallfisch captures this heightened sense of drama, “Gamba’s” score is more about bright action and revelatory wonder. It’s more of a traditional James Horner-esque style as opposed to the wackier, if equally effective John Powell approach that’s now the in-demand sound on these animated shores. The result for “Gamba” is a beautifully performed, truly grand symphonic score replete with memorable themes, epic reveals and dastardly villainy, as played with a big heart. It’s an accent on emphatic, wondrous melody that’s a sheer delight, especially for fans of the dearly missed Horner, Wallfisch crafts a score that immediately reaches to the little one’s heartstrings, but with his big ears on the dramatic stakes that are anything but childish.
. RABID DOGS
A French composer as capable of tenderness (“Copperhead,” “Winnie Mandela”) as he is hard-ass DTV action (“Rage,” “Momentum”), Laurent Eyquem now travels a new road that remakes the Mario Bava’s 1974 hostage thriller “Rabid Dogs” (also known as “Kidnapped” in its U.S. release). Certainly original composer Stelvio Cipriani (“Taxi Killer”) didn’t have the kind of electronic gear to give pulsating menace that opened up a whole new, sinister world inside this new car of vicious criminals and their seemingly helpless captives. It’s a darkly pulsating place that Eyquem knows quite well given his previous beat-downs for Nicolas Cage and Olga Kurylenko. Here the bank robbers’ percussive action is even more twisted and metallic – sinister rhythms and samples that are as cold as ice as they threaten to rip apart the quivering string melody of its captives. Better yet, Eyquem maintains this tension with a clever all-synth retro sound that reaches back to the classic Italian 70’s exploitation beat, if with way more gritty technical sophistication, especially when its organ kicks in. Throttling with menace throughout, Eyquem’s has put all of the grinding, growling parts together for a gripping road trip from hell that impactfully follows its souped up synth path.
. THE SETTING SUN
From Arabia to Africa and America, Maurice Jarre stands as one of film composing’s great ethnomusicologists. In his energetic quest of combining cultural winds and percussion with a western symphonic approach, the region of Asia held increasingly spectacular results for Jarre, as was evident in the visits of “Red Sun,” “Shogun” and “Tai-Pan.” As it turns out, one of his most formidable voyages to the land of the rising sun lay completely under the soundtrack radar until now. But thanks to Intrada, who’ve done an impressive job of putting out unsung, late-era Jarre scores like “Solar Crisis” and “Distant Thunder,” we can finally hear “The Setting Sun” in all of its Imperial Army “glory” as such. This expensive 1992 film about a forbidden WW2 romance between a Japanese spy and a rebel was consigned to a forgotten dvd, even given such stars as Diane Lane (as a Chinese rebel leader) and Donald Sutherland (playing “John Williams” no less). As set against Nippon-occupied Manchuria, Jarre is given the chance to combine both cultures, as the delicate strings of the Japanese shakuhachi and samisen meet the Chinese sheng, a delicacy that’s formidably contrasted by some of the most massive drum percussion Jarre commanded (including the world’s largest drum, the da-daiko) full of the rhythmically angry might of the invading forces. Jarre was usually never one for being a shrinking violent when it came to playing emotion, and “The Setting Sun” has ravishing thematic melody to spare, as well as subdued electronics that alternately shout passion and danger with cliffhanging effectiveness. Jarre is at his epic, romantic best here, especially given a terrific orchestral that makes this his most powerfully performed Asian score, one that resounds with the composer’s joy in creating a musical canvas as emotionally rich as two lands in collision. A true revelation in Jarre’s discography, “The Setting Sun” is what Jarre’s big screen scoring was all about in any musical language.
. A TALE OF TWO CITIES (Limited Collector’s Edition)
It is a far better better thing to listen to Serge Franklin’s beautiful costume drama score for Charles Dickens’ oft-made tale, here tailored for a French-English TV miniseries from 1989. Brimming over with lavish themes for one of literature’s greatest sacrificial acts of pure love, “Cities” effectively segues between the more mannered British countryside to the Baroque, sometimes humorous music of the French aristocracy, which will soon enough turn to the far darker suspense of desperately trying to avoid the blood thirsty jaws of the revolution’s Madame Guillotine. A prolific French composer who should have branched out far more into English-language scoring shores beyond this adaptation and a few “Saint” TV films, Franklin’s “Cities” brim over with exceptional, elegant, symphonic-like melodies. It’s a musical tale of Channel-crossed attraction, the panicked danger of revolution gone wrong, and finally of a dead ringer’s noble end, with a stirringly choral, requiem-like angst (richly performed in Budapest) that you’d imagine catching Beethoven’s notice when he was still capable of hearing. As the definition of the kind of ultra-sumptuous thematic scoring that defines literature as opposed to plain old writing, Franklin’s tale is pure melodic class.
THE WIND GODS
Turkish composer Pinar Toprak continues to prove that she’s been touched by the gods of symphonic melody as she continues to show herself as a rising, impressive voice in Hollywood’s way under-represented world of female film composers, talent that can be heard in Movie Score Media’s gently soaring “Lightkeepers” and Caldera’s release of the darkly religious score to “The River Murders.” Caldera once again shows Toprak’s way of catching soaring, excitingly melodic gusts with their release of her sumptuous score for the 2013 American Cup documentary “The Wind Gods.” Given that she’s playing the do-or-die effort of Oracle zillionaire Larry Ellison to win this sport of sailing kings, no expense has been spared in filling The Hollywood Studio Symphony’s canvas to push this music to the listening win. But then, the success of “The Wind Gods” soundtrack comes from the fact that this music could accompany just about any sports film in how it captures the spirit of competition, especially one where it’s man versus nature as well as each other. Given lush, exceptionally well-defined themes rhythmically pushing the boats forward (especially well interplayed in the aptly named “12-Minute Cue”), Toprak also beautifully captures the blue environment with contrasting moments of still lyricism, a lushly poetic sensibility that brings to mind Thomas Newman’s bucolic Americana style in the best, competitive way. “The Wind Gods” is as exciting as it is emotional, especially in its sense of discovery for a composer who’s really about to blow that hatches down with the upcoming mega-disaster movie “Geostorm.” Consider this the poetic calm before it.
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