January Soundtrack Picks

‘Solaris’ One Of The Top Soundtracks To Own For January, 2011

Also worth picking up: Amalia, 48 Hours, The Mechanic, Oldboy, Puppetmaster, The Way Back, The World Of Warfare: Cataclysm And Yellowbeard

To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover

1) DEDICATO AL MARE EGEO (1,000 edition)


Price: $19.95

What is it?: We all know about Austin Powers’ affinity for the sexy-hip grooves of Quincy Jones and Burt Bacharach. But if that randy agent was looking for another composer to provide his groovy bachelor pad with the perfect shagging music, then he’d be wise to turn on with Ennio Morricone’s absurdly orgasmic score for DEDICATO AL MARE EGEO (a la DEDICATED TO THE AEGEAN SEA), music which confirms il maestro could be as capably hands-on in the Italo soft core genre as he was for that country’s spaghetti westerns and Giallo thrillers.

Why should you buy it?: Made in 1979 by Japanese author-turned-director Masuko Ikeda, DEDICATO starts out like Morricone in straight-laced dramatic mode, its main, ever—present theme at first embodied with a languidly beautiful violin, child-like bells and the haunting voice of Edda Dell’Orso, whose angelic tones graced such classic Ennio scores as THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. But you quickly get a sense of DEDICATO’s Greek-set carnality as a sultry sax belts out the main melody. Soon enough, the score descends into full-blown sex madness as Dell’Orso becomes a giggling nymph tip-toe’ing through the chiming tulips, then a woman wracked with heavily breathed climaxes. DEDICATO wildly alternates between mondo sensuality, disco struts and the kind of tender, achingly beautiful melodies that fans associate with Morricone at his most profound. It’s a mix of the thematically sacred and the kitschily profane that makes DEDICATO a particularly eccentric notch among the dozens of films the composer has notably bedded.

Extra Special: Morricone’s score had only been released in Japan before Spain’s Quartet Records got the rights to release a complete version of the music that holds a special place for hardcore Ennio collectors. This release of all of DEDICATO’s naughty bits are sure to arouse numerous places among fans, especially when their eyes bug out at what’s likely the hottest packaging to accompany any movie soundtrack, even as the infinite variations of orgasmic giggling takes listeners to the point of madness.

2) 48 HOURS (5,000 edition)


Price: $19.99

What is it?: While James Horner showed he could go where no Enterprise scorer had gone before with his breakthrough, nautical-styled space adventure for 1982’s STAR TREK II, it would be that year’s 48 HOURS which truly showed him off as being far from a one-note composer. If audiences hadn’t seen this kind of hilariously foul-mouthed, squib-filled “buddy cop” movie before, then they certainly hadn’t heard the vibrant, ethnic spin that Horner put on the genre- a ferociously energetic approach that made KHAN’s musical wrath sound positively sedate by comparison.

Why should you buy it?: Horner likely keyed off of the manic urban energy that filled Eddie Murphy’s star-making performance, an inner city ‘tude that would be represented by Caribbean-style kettle drums and a wailing sax, its percussion conjuring the funky mean streets of San Francisco. But Horner’s wisest choice would be leaving the humor to Murphy and Nick Nolte’s convict and cop fisticuffs, infusing his score with a true sense of danger that would ratchet up the suspenseful stakes, with a wall of sound backed by synths and orchestra. It’s a near-uncontrollable energy packing the true improv nature of movie jazz, minus any of its film noir niceties. 48 HOURS pioneered an urban groove that Horner would continue to expand upon for Arnie in COMMANDO and RED HEAT, not to mention ANOTHER 48 HOURS, whose similar music was just about the only thing that didn’t play to diminished returns.

Extra Special: Intrada fills in a major slot in Horner’s early discography, with a sound that packs a fresher punch than ever. Better yet, The BusBoy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” is finally here to rock the house. It shows off song supervisor Ira Newborn as the good cop in 48 HOURS prowl of informant-filled dive bars and juke houses, joints blasting with the honkytonk, blues, jazz swing and red-hot country fiddling for “48 Hours,” “New Shoes” and “Torchy’s Boogie”- all of which make this an album that will appeal as much to Horner fans as retro song collectors.

3) THE MECHANIC


Price: $19.99

What is it?: While Mark Isham’s a jack-of-all-genres who has no problem with such musical niceties as THE COOLER’s dreamy jazz and MIRACLE’s orchestral inspiration, it always seems to be the high velocity likes of RUNNING SCARED, DON’T SAY A WORD and KISS THE GIRLS that draws some of his most enjoyably gnarly work. Now after putting new sound and fury into “remake” scores like THE GETAWAY and THE CRAZIES, Isham’s darker instincts return with newly fueled vengeance for this rebooted MECHANIC. So if you’re looking for the long-winding, psychologically troubling string lines that Jerry Fielding provided for the assassin team back in 1972, you’d be wise to find that Intrada album, as Isham’s score is all about rhythmic heat of the hit.

Why should you buy it?: Though it’s doubtful any studio these days would have the patience for Fielding’s far darker, and less conventionally pleasing approach, that doesn’t mean Isham’s score is any less effective in being multiplex modern. Isham’s always been able to conjure an symphony’s worth of impact with his surreal samples, and the his suspenseful beds here that blend guitar feedback, techno pulses and menacing strings into his own unique pads consistently keeps the MECHANIC entrancing, the score going for a simmering lull until the big metal guns to come out. This is a score that’s as much about it’s time as Fielding’s was for a musical era when audiences still had the patience for longer builds before the kill. Yet fans of Isham’s powerhouse work on THE HTCHER and POINT BREAK are also sure to dig his MECHANIC’s tonal callbacks to those seminal action scores for a new soundtrack that’s as much about atmosphere as it is wanton, rocking mayhem.

Extra Special: THE MECHANIC definitely starts the composer’s new record label Mark Isham Music off with a bang, with as many special editions are there are ways of killing people- including a Complete Collector’s Edition, an Assassin’s Edition wherein Isham improvises on his score and The Double Barrel Limited Edition, which includes both soundtracks, as well as the music on a USB stick, behind the scenes video of his scoring sessions and a specially signed “bonus item”- one whose potentially lethal nature one can only imagine given the subject of this killer score.

4) PUPPETMASTER: THE SOUNDTRACK COLLECTION BOX (2,000 edition)


Price: $44.95

What is it?: Wrapping up a year of stupendous box sets that were dedicated to the highfallutin’ likes of Alex North’s SPARTACUS, Dennis McCarthy’s ST- TNG and all that is Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, there’s something gleefully wrong about getting a five-disc set dedicated to the scores that have accompanied the films of Andre Toulon’s unstoppable marionette avengers- the figures who will likely be the most iconic creations of exploitation king Charles Band. Yet Blade, Pinhead, Leech Woman and their unstrung ilk have inspired worthy thrills from such composers as Richard Band, Jeff Walton, John Massari, Peter Bernstein and Robert Alpert, whose eight PUPPETMASTER scores get loving tribute across five discs, courtesy of Perseverance Records.

Why should you buy it?: Though he’s always shown a memorable wealth of themes for his brother’s small-budget productions like GHOULIES, TROLL and DOCTOR MORDID, the PUPPETMASTER theme stands tall as one of Richard Band’s most delightful creations, using a whimsical, circus-style melody and ratcheting percussion to convey Toulon’s tiny army. It’s Band’s five scores that make up the bulk of PUPPETMASTER’s music, a wash of sly, theme-driven melodies that skitter about, poke around corners, and warm up their blunt metal bits before rending human flesh. There’s a simmering vibe of enchantment that powers these anti-heroes, with the added addition of darker military tones when the puppets took on the Axis during the series’ most interesting detours into WW2. The sounds of a dark, twisted carnival suffuse Walton and Massari’s work on the CURSE and RETRO scores (the latter of which also has Robert Alpert contributing a memorable Grand Guignol piano piece). The most ferocious score of the lot might be Bernstein’ action-filled, yet still Christmas toy-sounding score for the had-to-happen clash of PUPPET MASTER vs. DEMONIC TOYS. But if one thing ties these soundtracks together, it’s the fact that practically no symphonic strings were attached to their music, which only shows off the musical creativity, and cohesion of composers who rose to the challenge to believably animate these usually slow-moving, if still-formidable action figures.

Extra Special: With most of the PUPPETMASTER scores consisting of a disparate blend of tracked, and original music, album producer Robin Esterhammer has done an impressive job of giving a pleasing musical flow to the five CD’s. Topping off this nicely packaged box set are thoroughly entertaining liner notes by Brian Satterwhite, which collects the frequently hilarious quotes of the series creators, and composers as they recall the low budget hijinks they endured. There’s little doubt this series will as well, given Charles Band’s never-say-die love for all monsters great and small- a proclivity that practically ensures there will be another eight-CD PUPPETMASTER box set in just a few years to come.

5) SOLARIS


Price: $ 15.98

What is it?: Ever since composer Cliff Martinez broke the sound barrier of “indie” scoring with the similarly eccentric Steven Soderbergh on SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE, their collaborations on such films as KING OF THE HILL, KAFKA, TRAFFIC and the upcoming CONTAGION have resulted in near-hallucinatory atmospheres of melody, rhythms so fragile that they seemed in danger of breaking with a listen. That’s why there’s no better example of their hypnotic partnership than the crystalline vibe of Soderbergh’s 2002 remake of SOLARIS, a score wherein Martinez also brought in the larger sound of a 90-piece Hollywood orchestra, while using it in similarly offbeat ways.

Why Should you buy it?: If anything, Martinez and Soderbergh are the only two people who could have made the haunting minimalism of Andrei Tarkovsky and Eduard Artemyev’s original even stranger. But then, we can be thankful to Soderbergh (at least when he’s in “art” mode) for telling Martinez to defy the musical conventions of Hollywood, no more so than for what we’d normally expect in sci-fi scoring (even for a movie produced by James Cameron). Martinez’s gorgeously minimal take on SOLARIS is about playing the unfathomable nature of space as opposed to hitting onscreen effects action, Delicately balancing the orchestra with the percussion of Baschet crystal and steel drums, SOLARIS alternates between moody passages and exotic rhythms. It’s a transfixing sound that gives listeners the same out-of-body feeling that the space station’s inhabitants must feel when confronting the ghosts of the past become transitory flesh, made palpable by the unfathomable living planet below them. Yet never once does Martinez try to create music that will let you figure it out. With tentative, ever-sustaining strings that draw to mind Kubrick’s use of Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Atmospheres” in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Martinez just might have conjured just film scoring’s ultimate trip here.

Extra Special: While it’s long been a favorite of soundtrack cognoscenti, as well as directors and music editors in the know, SOLARIS’ original release on the Trauma label has been nearly impossible to find for years. That will make the many who’ve been caught in Martinez’s cosmic spell welcome La La Land’s new release, with Julie Kirgo’s incisive liner notes including reflections by Martinez and Soderbergh on their unique musical alchemy, a collaboration who’s spellbinding sound has always seemed like it came from some other universe.

ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:

AMALIA

In Portuguese, the musical form of “Fado” is translated as “fate.” And while soundtrack fans might not be familiar with its mournful tunes, or the acclaimed performer who evolved them for the 20th century, they’ll likely feel for Amalia Rodriguez’s artistically turbulent life upon listening to this lush orchestral score by her countryman Nuno Malo. With his passionate approach for AMALIA and JULGAMENTO (also released by Movie Score Media), Malo is rapidly bringing the technical polish of Portugal’s film scoring scene to the international ear. Perhaps it’s because Amalia herself broadened Fado with an orchestral that Malo concentrates more on lush string turbulence than acoustical sets here, his tragically beautiful symphony conveying the song-possessed sadness that nearly sends Amalia over the edge, an angst that’s joined by tender pianos and ghostly voices. Yet Malo is sure to allow for plaintive guitars, a cello lament and samba rhythms to give Amalia her national identity, with a tune by the singer herself ending the album. AMALIA is certainly as grandly emotional as any American biopic score, but with the kind of soaring feeling which composers across the Atlantic seem to have less problem diving into. Amalia, or Portugal, couldn’t hope to have a better calling card than this introduction to Fado’s feeling, if not exactly it’s form.

FIRST BLOOD

This might not be the first time that Jerry Goldsmith’s inimitable action score has been released, but it likely won’t get better than Intrada’s “ultimate” edition, whose two CD’s feature FIRST BLOOD’s original cues and composer-sequenced soundtrack album. While Goldsmith would grow with Rambo’s transformation into a muscle-packed fighting machine, perhaps none of the composers’ three scores for the series packed the vulnerability, and even dare say tenderness, of a character that started off as a killable human being. But it doesn’t take long for this mournful trumpet and guitar compassion to give way to Goldsmith’s way with the gracefully pounding rhythms that distinguish his best action scores, as electronic percussion combines with piano-topped orchestral adrenalin for a score that’s more about brutal wilderness adventure than it is war. That music surely enough comes to the small Northwestern town for my favorite cue “No Power / Night Attack,” in which Goldsmith’s ever-escalating orchestra and military percussion tensely build before unleashing hell. FIRST BLOOD more than ever comes across as the kind of theme-driven action score they don’t make anymore, especially the type that’s topped off with a memorable, theme-based ballad like Dan Hill’s “It’s A Long Road.” As added bonuses, Intrada’s release of the title that’s led to its 25th anniversary features a “Road” demo, the original advance trailer music to 1984’s RAMBO and Goldsmith’s BLOOD-based music for the Carolco Logo, its imperious motiff promised a glorious body count to a generation of Stallone fans. There’s certainly a lot of love as displayed in the liner notes by Intrada head Douglass Fake, who engagingly details his company’s origins, as well as the gleefully grueling process that it took to painstakingly assemble what will likely be the last note on Goldsmith’s origins with John Rambo.

LITTLE FOCKERS

It’s not easy to follow in the footsteps of Randy Newman, even for Randy Newman, given the diminishing returns of the sequels to the undeniably great MEET THE PARENTS. And while the third time isn’t a charm for the at-times amusing LITTLE FOCKERS, composer Stephen Trask certainly does his darndest to make things funny. Given his broadest comedy to score for his fourth pairing with director Paul Weitz after their clever work with IN GOOD COMPANY, AMERICAN DREAMZ and THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT, Trask makes the wise choice of stepping into Randy Newman’s shoes at first. It’s a nice job of replicating the previous scores horn-topped menace that stands for the inevitable screw-ups that Greg Focker will make with his ever-disapproving, ex CIA father-in-law Jack Byrnes. Most of FOCKERS plays the comedic, orchestral brooding of the impending beat-down that Greg’s going to get, especially given Jack’s elevation to GODFATHER heights here (also allowing for no end of Nino Rota parodying). Trask’s cute, antic score also pours on the acoustic energy, with a bit of Latin and Indian energy to spare. But easily the funniest music on display is a collision of Hanukkah Harry and St. Nick’s classic melodies for “Oy Vey, Chistmaka,” a mash-up that hints at the should-a, could-a seditious sequel that FOCKERS may have been. But given the expected slow-burn pratfalls he’s got to hit, Trask never fails to fulfill the story’s expectations with tuneful enthusiasm.

OLDBOY (1,000 edition)

Korean cinema, and scoring got hammered into the map with Chanwook Park’s twisted tale of a revenge years in the offing. But what also distinguished OLDBOY was how composer Cho Young-Wuk took a truly offbeat road to musical revenge by using tangos and waltzes for the film’s dance of psychosexual destruction. While a score of this type literally couldn’t get classier with its sonorous violins and piano, Wuk also employed near-mournful suspense, electronica and stormy combos of strings and synths to deliver the genre goods without letting its characters off the hook for their depravity. With its impressively strong use of themes and melody, OLDBOY’s music more than confirms its place in both the annals of world cinema. First available as a Korean import, and then as a download, Milan now gives OLDBOY’s soundtrack its first, limited English-realm release on a hardcopy CD, which makes it all the better to knock some good-old fashioned jewelcase sense into your hallway enemies’ heads with.

THE TEMPEST

Julie Taymor’s longtime muse Elliot Goldenthal has made surreal music out of her gloriously crazed visual imagination for such soundtracks as FRIDA and ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, not to mention unleashing the bizarre dogs of war for her last Shakespearean adaptation TITUS. But if that score could remotely be described as a combination of warrior-worthy orchestral pomp and the mock jazz excesses of Bertold Brecht, then their latest Bard mosh-pit for THE TEMPEST could be called a rock opera in the most easily-defined turn of that musical phrase. Fans of Goldenthal’s metal-centric scores to HEAT and SWAT, as well as the surreal horn excesses of his career-defining experimentalism on DRUGSTORE COWBOY, will definitely get their long hair groove on here. Sharp, stormy chords join with more subdued strings and ethereal atmospheres to convey the turbulent, and now-female emotions that Helen Mirren’s Prospero unleashes on Taymor’s wacky island. Through it all, you never knowing just where the always-eccentric Goldenthal is heading with his music. It’s a quality that makes this score especially captivating when Goldenthal turns Shakespeare’s poetry into weirdly lyrical alt. songs like “O Mistress Mine.” Sure this might not be your schoolteacher’s Shakespearean music, let alone movie. But if The Bard’s words are to continue attracting for the rave generation, then Taymor and Goldenthal’s anything-goes attitude is likely to do it.

UNFORGETTABLE (1100 edition)

It seemed only natural that Christopher Young’s talents for melodic darkness would evolve from the satanic strains of his HELLRAISER-ish scores, and put him on the more “respectable” map of the romantic mystery thriller, a genre he was particularly prolific with in the 90’s in such scores as COPYCAT, DREAM LOVER, HUSH and JENNIFER 8. But perhaps Young’s most interesting, and romantically yearning score during that decade was 1996’s UNFORGETTABLE. John Dahl’s now-cult film saw Ray Liotta using a memory regressing drug to ferret out his wife’s killer, a process whose elements of sci-fi and horror allowed Young to use the full bag of musical tricks that had made his Hollywood bones. Hushed voices flash back with an aching violin, the mind fills with walls of ever-building thematic tension that tenuously hang between dissonance and melody, while bursts of metal guitar and block percussion unlock a murderer in the mind’s eye. It’s a gripping journey into a haunted past that makes UNFORGETTABLE just that in Young’s prolific resume. Previously released as a composer promo that made it a rare prize, Perseverance has now remastered UNFORGETTABLE’s complete score even adding two jazz ensemble pieces. With Young, Dahl and music editor Thomas Milano reminiscing on the score for Randall Larson’s incisive liner notes, UNFORGETTABLE more than ever confirms Young as a master of innovative suspense with this unnerving, yet poignant headtrip.

THE WAY BACK

It’s been a twelve-year trek for Burkhard Dallwitz to re-unite with director Peter Weir since THE TRUMAN SHOW. And while Dallwitz certainly didn’t undergo the trans-continental travails of THE WAY BACK, the stirring empathy that he gives to his second, and long overdue collaboration with Weir certainly pays tribute to the need for freedom, one that drove the film’s characters from Siberia to India. As the soundtrack starts out with an eerie mix between dark orchestral sustains, gnarled chords, subdued ethnic percussion and an overall aura of unknowable doom, you might think you’re listening to a soundtrack about Gulag escapees making their way across the surface of Mars, or the ruins of the post-apocalypse. But as their musical journey progresses, Dallwitz subtly brings in the string emotion, percolating guitars and more apparent Oriental atmospheres, conveying an aural landscape with vast stretches of fateful beauty to get across, That’s not bad for a score that Weir barely seems to use in quest for documentary realism. Nevertheless, Dallwitz brings the journey to an end with an orchestrally thematic T.K.O that transforms his threatening start into the sound of spiritual transcendence. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait so long before this remarkable duo’s next cinematic journey.

THE WORLD OF WARCRAFT: CATACYLYSM

While I don’t know if I’ll ever be a WOW addict in line for a pwn’ing, there are certainly enough gigantic stylings on this album to suck in a game music novice, let alone anyone who appreciates operatic fantasy scoring. That’s fitting for a CATACLYSM which unleashes a dragon who’d give Smaug a run for his money into WOW’s massive on-line universe, allowing the composing team of Russell Brower, Derek Duke, Neal Acree, David Arkenstone and Glenn Stafford to suit up in ragingly melodic armor. CATACLYSM is awash in a thrilling tone familiar to anyone who’s ever imagined themselves a manna-made hero in a LORD OF THE RINGS-ish universe, battling with your band of brothers against thousands of creatures to the majestic tones of ancient choral hosannahs, clanking castle-siege percussion and heroic themes. But where Howard Shore’s approach to that kind of Middle Earth could be gravely dark, CATACLYSM is a bit less imposing. It’s more about the fun of taking on The Enemy as opposed to the saving-the-universe jeopardy of it all, allowing bits of eccentric humor, and gentleness to play their part in over 70 minutes of all-encompassing nobility and scaly evil. For anyone who doubted that videogame music couldn’t have the orchestral blast of a full-on Hollywood epic, CATACLYSM’s powerful recording lays any remaining doubts to ash.

YELLOWBEARD (1,000 edition)

Composer John Morris has romped through the past with such comedically rousing scores as BLAZING SADDLES, THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE and HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART 1. But Morris’ symphonic lunacy truly hit its swashbuckling height with YELLOWBEARD. Even if this Python-esque pirate spoof displayed more fool’s gold than the comedic riches that Mel Brooks had provided him with, Morris still invests a terrific, glistening majesty to a score that plays like Erich Wolfgang Korngold chasing after Bugs Bunny. Anchoring this infectiously nostalgic score is a march theme that sounds like the start of Warner Brothers logo, with THE SEA HAWK to follow. Except it’s Graham Chapman’s maniacal blaggard who’s the good guy, the loping humor of his skullduggery evading the blue-blooded pomp and circumstance of Her Majesty’s pursuers, who engage their foe with rollicking thrusts and parries- complete with harpsichord and castanet accompaniment. If YELLOWBEARD reminds keen-eared listeners of Morris’ equally trumpeting score to SPACEBALLS, it’s further proof of how the Korngoldian adventure he’s paying loving tribute to here would evolve into the stuff of STAR WARS. Quartet’s complete release also adds a rollicking vocal version of the end credits, showing off YELLOWBEARD’s score as finally unburied treasure, an infectiously fun jewel among the riches belonging to one of Hollywood’s great comedy composers.

THE YOUNG RIDERS

Whether it’s ROAR or THE CAPE, television has unabashedly turned every bigscreen hit from BRAVEHEART to BATMAN into show’s whose themes were just discernable enough to avoid legal outrage, Such was the case of this YOUNG GUNS-esque adventure that ran from 1989 to 1992. The concept here was to turn teen outlaws into equally hot Pony Express riders, whose saddles would be filled by the likes of Stephen Baldwin and Josh Brolin. Another growing talent would be John Debney, who was sowing his musical oats on such movie spin-off shows as FAME and POLICE ACADEMY before taking on RIDERS with gusto. Though there’s a definite feel of Anthony Marinelli’s hip, anachronistic approach for YOUNG GUNS in RIDER’s rocking guitar action and synths, Debney would also get to show off the orchestral action chops that would lead to the bigscreen likes of CUTTHROAT ISLAND and SUDDEN DEATH. Drawing from the Americana string, trumpet and harmonica well that Bruce Broughton had invigorated the film western with in SILVERADO and TOMBSTONE, Debney achieved a scope as big outdoors for the small screen, with the kind of themework that’s made RIDERS’ music stick around long in enough in fans’ memories to now get this thoroughly enjoyable CD compilation. With highlights including both the expected guitar chords as well as such unique touches as Negro spirituals for an episode that would win him an Emmy, YOUNG RIDERS ends up being a tribute to the kind of old foggie western music that was around on TV long before any whispersnaper thought to pick up a rock guitar.

CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes. Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Perseverance, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande

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