June Soundtrack Picks: ‘A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: LIMITED EDITION‘ is the top soundtracks to own for June, 2015
Also worth picking up A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN, ADVENTURES IN BABYSTTING, DOCTOR WHO: SERIES 8, INSIDE OUT, MANIAC, THE SABATA TRILOGY, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: LIMITED EDITION
What Is It?: Throughout their collaborations, John Williams and Steven Spielberg have often captured childhood with a sense of optimism and magic, shimmering bells, sweet winds and gentle piano-driven themes conveying innocent, human souls on their journeys to long-awaited reconciliations with family and friends, their (and the audience’s) wish for a happy ending. All of these feel-good things filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was not, an auteur whose reputation came from cold, twisted satire and a bleak worldview that was anything but conducive to making what anyone could call a kid-friendly movie. Hence, one could see how he was attracted to Brian Aldiss’ story about a boy robot that just wants to be loved, only to be horribly betrayed at every turn. As such, “Artificial Intelligence” stands as the gutsiest genre film that Steven Spielberg has made with this brilliant, posthumous favor to his friend – creating a film of such unremitting sadness that it was little wonder that Spielberg’s fans retreated in confusion – if not an outright sense of betrayal as to the cold purity of enacting Kubrick’s vision. If any factor of “A.I.” stood at letting fans know they were in fact watching a Spielberg film, then it was John Williams’ score, as correspondingly dark as it often was. For even if the future world was cruel to its ageless, tin boy, Williams’ helped bring out David’s quest for empathy, and humanity that also makes “Artificial Intelligence” one of Spielberg’s most moving, and misunderstood creations. Now Williams’ vast network of themes and feelings that comprised David fully revealed on La La Land’s astonishing triple album.
Why Should You Buy It?: Spielberg and Williams were in a sort of adult sci-fi renaissance at the time of “A.I.” with their collaborations on “Minority Report” and “War of the Worlds.” But “A.I.” stands as their most adult, and subtle work from the period, especially with the eerie way in which Williams begins to bring out emotion from David – an emotional mimic whom at first comes across with a combination of the magical and sinister. Dark strings cross with haunted synths for a fusion of the organic and artificial, lullaby bells and piano echoing poignantly across beautifully lush strings. It’s a sense of yearning bordering on heartbreak, yet with a \ rhythmic discovery that reflects a robot absorbing its world, and the cruelty that goes along with it. Wlliams skillfully develops his themes during “A.I’s” first act in a way that’s deliberately non-showy, the music ever-darkening with David’s uncomprehending missteps, until pouring on the wrenching anguish of the boy getting ripped asunder from a family that no longer wants him. Literally thrown into the wilderness, Williams’ writing takes on a new level of dramatic urgency, no more so than in the piercing strings, unholy chorus and rampaging action of a carnival specializing in robot vivisection. David’s voyage of self-discovery to find the answers of his existence also push Williams into some of the most exciting directions of his latter career, especially in the gloriously rhythmic John Adam’s minimalism that takes the boy robot and his talking teddy from the future pleasure dome of Rouge City to the booming, grand orchestra that announces a sunken Manhattan that Williams glides over with chattering percussion. However, the Mecha World only holds awful revelations for David as Williams’ haunted use of voice and dissonant walls of sound push the score into Gyorgy Ligeti territory that brings to mind the Stargate sequence of “2001.” The concluding chapter of “A.I.” is a return to the womb of sorts for the composer, as heart-rending strings, a sing-song female voice and angelic chorus propel David into a ghost future where robots have become life itself, granting The Blue fairy’s wish of the son-mother relationship that the robot has always wanted. With all darkness banished, Williams shows just how beautifully infinite his lattice of themes can be as gossamer strings yield the sound of death and transcendence in the embrace of a warm, gorgeously poignant son-mother theme. At nearly eight minutes, it’s simultaneously one of the most tearfully beautiful and gut-wrenching passages in the Spielberg-Williams cannon as the artists delivering their expected waves of twinkling, familial warmth, but in a still tragically subversive wrapping that Kubrick would no doubt have appreciated.
Extra Special: It says something that “Artificial Intelligence” stands as one of the most affecting collaborations in a partnership that has yielded any number of Oscar-winning classics – especially given how misunderstood “A.I.” remains among the general public. But there’s no doubt that the score, and film’s reputation will be enhanced with this excellent release that clocks in at three hours, one of which is devoted to alternates and source music. Its highlights include “For Always” a gorgeous vocal version of the son-mother theme, performed solo by Lara Fabian, and then as a duet with her and Josh Groban (how this didn’t achieve “My Heart Will Go On” success confounds me). John’s son Joseph provides a pop-industrial groove for “The Biker Hounds,” while the ethereal, electronic atmosphere “Inside Dr. Know’s” might be the closest that John Williams will get to scoring “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” as David ticks through his lifelines. Graphic artist Jim Titus follows up La La Land’s excellent release of the similarly misunderstood Spielberg epic “Empire of the Sun” with another eye-catching booklet, featuring excellent liner notes by Jeff Bond that pay full tribute to a film that showed just how mature Spielberg could be in tackling science fiction, an adult Pinocchio principal for which John Williams composed a beguiling fairy tale score that resonates with sadness at its most enchanting, and moving power.
2) MANIAC (500 Expanded Edition)
What is it?: Given that every 80s horror antihero worth his butcher knife / finger blades / chainsaw has been given a reboot, it was only a matter of time before the women-scalping mama’s boy of the infamous 1980 slasher “Maniac” got a new translation – but rarely with such a Euro-art twist of the knife. Franck Kahlfoun’s French-produced 2012 remake artily gentrified the NYC sleaze of the William Lustig original with a high gloss vision. Instead of casting exactly the kind of similar, sandpaper-skinned star to recall the inimitable Joe Spinnel, it was everyone’s lovable, baby-faced Hobbit Elijah Wood who took on the role of Frank Zito, all of which made this “Maniac” almost as objectionable to critics as the original. If Jay Chattaway’s score from the electronic day wasn’t in the thematic league of John Carpenter’s score to “Halloween” (the composer’s music for the 1989 Judd Nelson slasher “Relentless” was far more interesting) you could at least say that Chattaway’s crude, pulsing approach at least showed how much nastier slicing synths and twisted childhood bells tended to make single-minded killers. It’s a love of retro keyboards that certainly hasn’t gone out of fashion, as recent scores to such throwback homages as “The Guest” and “It Follows” have demonstrated, with even Carpenter getting back into the game with his concept album “Lost Themes.”
Why should you buy it?: Even if you don’t have the twisted desire to put yourself through this “Maniac,” there’s much to recommend in listening to this state-of-the-retro-slasher score from “Rob” – i.e. Robin Coudert. Having recently impressed with his far more orchestral work to the excellent supernatural revenge thriller “Horns,” Rob signaled loud and clear that he was an eerily groovy star on the rise here. With the rock albums “Don’t Kill” and “Satyred Love” to his credit, it was more than obvious that this member of the alt. group Phoenix knew his way around old school computers, enough to channel the ghosts of Carpenter along with Chattaway and every other composer who resorted to electronic inventiveness in lieu of actual instruments. One might even dare say that horror scoring was more innocent during this original explosion of graphic gore by mostly playing outright, pulsating melody as opposed to hitting every stab and dismembered limb with dissonance. With that approach in transfixed, tormented mind, Rob’s thematic approach to “Maniac” is a lesson in horror scoring as evil, rhythmic melody. Electro-spewing pulses, original old school keyboards, eerie piano and above all a strong sense of thematic determination propel “Maniac” to his kills with an unsettling feeling of awe in the act, our musical complicity made all the more unsettling as Rob creates a force of crazed personality to complement the movie’s first-person perspective, But beyond doing a spot-on take on prog-rock horror scoring that Goblin would admire, Rob also takes cues from Philip Glass and Giorgio Moroder, repetitive voices jamming with cool pulse-pace. If anything, the strong hooks that propel “Maniac” are far closer to the latter composer’s “Cat People” than “Suspiria,” giving the feel of murder at the disco, a club vibe complemented by the song “Juno.”
Extra Special: Previously available on digital and vinyl, Music Box’s increasingly hard to find hard copy limited edition adds some particularly gnarly, pulsating tracks that further grasp all the female terror of running through an empty subway station, its sonic walls constructed out of charged, trance club neon. For a movie so self-consciously aware of itself. It’s Rob’s music that not only gets inside the head of a psychopath to create a cold, groovy killer at once as old as the hills and as state of the synth art.
3) INSIDE OUT / JURASSIC WORLD
Price: $11.88 / $14.98
What Is it?: Michael Giacchino is a prolific composer who manages to convey a million-dollar sense of joy in his job, even when the films themselves might not be nearly as rewarding. But while Giacchino started out the year with soaring, yeoman work on the otherwise crashing disappointments of “Jupiter Ascending” and “Tomorrowland,” he can now confidently fly high as his music’s quality matches the cinematic success of “Inside Out” and “Jurassic World,” a contrast at scoring the interior, and exterior if there ever was one.
Why Should You Buy It?: When you think about it, a composer is the final member of our cinematic headspace who gets to pull the levers of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. When it seems that latter emotion has prevented many musicians from really yanking on those unabashedly melodic controls, Giacchino has thankfully had little problem pulling with just the right strength on his manipulative skills, especially on such glorious Disney scores as “The Incredibles,” the Oscar-nominated “Ratatouille” and the trophy-winning “Up.” It’s very likely that he’ll be a candidate reaching for the gold again with “Inside Out,” which reteams him with “Up” director Peter Docter (along with co-filmmaker Ronaldo Del Carmen). But while “Inside Out” might appear to be cartoony kid stuff from the outside, Docter is thankfully operating at a far more adult level here, allowing Giacchino to start with a score of almost deceptive sunniness. If anything, “Inside Out’s” score is wonderfully piloted by Joy, full of bouncy, retro jazzy rhythms straight out of some bright Henry Mancini / Michel Legrand-era romantic comedy, complete with a harpsichord right out of “The Thomas Crown Affair.” It’s all about the optimism of youth, with Giacchino accompanying this wonderful perkiness with the ethereal (though not spooky) electronics to complement the film’s ingenious, surrealistic premise, while tinkertoy percussion accentuates the instantaneous building of memory lands. He even ingeniously creates the bumbling circus rhythms for a Dada-ist best kid’s friend Bing Bong. But as things start going south for the teen under emotion’s sway, Giacchino ups the dramatic stakes, while brilliantly creating the reversed-sound of “Abstract Thought” (his second time-warped musical Coup de Theater after the spaceship trip of “Tomorrowland”). Bells-and-whistles eccentricity gives way to a delicate, unbearably sad piano theme for a young woman lost as “Inside Out’s” dizzying array of feeling shows itself to possibly be Giacchino’s most astonishingly inventive and heartfelt score yet, eliciting its musical tears with honesty and gossamer melody. As a bonus, “Inside Out” also offers up the lovely song for the disarmingly moving short “Lava,” which the ukulele backed vocals of Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Makua, with melodist / lyricist / director James Ford Murphy fashioning a new, moving land mass from IZ’s now way overused Hawaiian take on “What A Wonderful World.”
Extra Special: Michael Giacchino couldn’t be more at home than back in “Jurassic Park,” as his music for “The Lost World” videogame waaay back in 1997 was one of his very first efforts – while showing an ability to emulate the John Williams sound and spirit well beyond his years. That promise pays off nicely in “Jurassic World,” the first truly non-Williams score in the saga (as Don Davis essentially, and terrifically adapted Williams’ for the last film). Of course, Giacchino wouldn’t let the occasion slip without dutifully reprising the iconic Williams themes. It’s all pretty much joyful, epic reveals as we’re introduced (via the eyes of two truly annoying kids) to a place that holds boundless, prehistoric wonder, the sumptuous orchestral music practically jumping to the head of the gyrosphere line. But of course the dinos are going to hit the fan, and Giacchino lets loose with dynamite ferocity, all gnashing primitive percussion, howling trumpets, tribal drumming and frantic symphonic scampering. It’s essentially Godzilla music on uppers, and it barely takes a breath in its frenzied movement. While Giacchino’s work might not exactly have the memorable themes or Williams’ finesse here in match gliding delicacy with reptilian terror, the rampaging brass, pianos, chorus and non-stop symphonic movement is a veritable ton of fun that only gets more exciting, and interesting as it rolls along, especially buoyed with a sense of how crazy-ridiculous this effects-a-palooza is. Both Giacchino, and the film satisfactorily deliver the popcorn thrill ride we came for – complete with jaunty theme park source music in tow. One can only hope for the potential bonding sequel between Chris Pratt and Blue to hear how the composer might handle a Jurassic romance. In the meanwhile, this exciting, gnashing business will do especially with such awesome cue titles as “It’s a Small Jurassic World,” “Raptor Your Heart Out” and “Pavane for a Dead Apatosaurus.”
4) THE SABATA TRILOGY (500 edition)
What is it?: The lethally squinting Lee Van Cleef, along with some actor in a sombrero, helped pave the way for The Spaghetti Western with the likes of “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” Given his status in this distinctively dubbed Italian offshoot that gave new firepower to a once-American genre, it was only natural that this intense character actor would become the star of his own series as “the man with the gunsight eyes” (and practically no dialogue at that), raking up a truly fearsome body count with “Sabata” before leaving the killing to Yul Brynner in “Adios Sabata,” then coming back for “Return of Sabata’s” wild gun down. With composer Marcello Giombini accompanying Cleef and Bruno Nicola giving imposing presence to Yul Brynner, the “Sabata” films also offered truly energetic, and downright crazy Spaghetti stylings that stand as some of the peculiar art form’s most deliriously energetic and wonderfully clichéd music, now collected for the big musical gundown on a terrific three-CD set by Quartet Records.
Why should you buy it?: The dust-buster musical tropes of the Spaghetti Western were effectively spelled out by Ennio Morricone, a Tex-Mex blend of soaring trumpets, fuzz guitars, wailing voices and elegiac orchestras building to the final showdown. If these productions didn’t have half the budget of their Hollywood counterparts, then all the better at evoking a sense of sandy, Spanish-shot grit and realism into the usually lush sound of their American counterparts, painting a musical picture of true antiheroes who’d just as soon shoot you as save you. But if Morricone essentially wrote the new way of scoring westerns, it didn’t mean the formula wasn’t open to powerful variations, as the “Sabata” series proved with the initial music of Giombini, a composer well-skilled in such other wildly Italian genres as barbarian pictures (“Gladiators 7”), softcore sex (“Emmanuelle 3”) and ghastly horror (“Anthropophagus”, not to mention no end of gun slinging pasta (“For a Few Dollars Less”). For “Sabata,” Giombini had a terrific, guitar strumming, jazzy horn theme that propels most of the score, whose vocal versions ask “Hey Amigo, c’e’ Sabata!” followed up by a devilish laugh. Giombini makes especially good use of this instantly memorable motif and a brassy, fate-filled orchestra that pounds with swirling fate, getting across a twisted sense of satire in a supergun-wielding avenger who’s only humoring villains before the slaughter. While the usual instrumental suspects are on hand, “Sabata” offers up a harpsichord, where a rival fighter named Banjo of course receives those rapid-fire chords With Van Cleef stepping into Brynner’s “Magnificent Seven” shoes so that bad-ass bald star could play Sabata (go figure), “Adios Sabata” was given to ace spaghetti gunslinger Bruno Nicolai. Having conducted for Morriconne on such classics as “For a Few Dollars More” beyond proving his own spaghetti mettle with Django on “He Who Shoots First,” Nicolai’s take on the gunslinger is very much in The Man With No Name Tradition. Coming up with a terrific fast-draw theme for a whistle voice and hushed vocalese, Nicolai goes for more of a military bent as Sabata takes on the army, his arsenal loaded with fuzz and Spanish guitars, portentous strings, moaning voices and lurking pianos. It’s as emblematic as Spaghetti scoring gets, and all the more fun for it.
Extra Special: The best, and most batshit “Sabata” score is saved for last with Giombi and Van Cleef’s “Return,” announced straight off a hilariously out-of-control lounge lizard that you’d swear was Bill Murray, complete with a chorus signing repeated verses of “pom pom pom’s”. If this score is far more befitting of a circus than the old west, then it’s because Sabata is a carny sharp shooter here. Giombini’s theme unleashes marimbas, banjos jolly strings and pizzicato spills befitting some swinging Italo sex comedy stylings. Giombini’s gonzo, jazzy approach makes “Return” as crazy as a fox as voices slither and sing out the name, pan flutes add exoticism and an organ leads to a Handel-esque Hallejulah chorus laying praise to Sabata. When the theme gets played for a harpsichord-surf guitar groove, you know the joke is definitely upon the ever-piling bodies of the bad guys. The fact that there’ve been saner scores on Godzilla movies of the era will give a tip of the hat to what might be the most delightfully unhinged Spaghetti score I’ve heard, which is all the more reason for the uninitiated to grab this set, which not only features terrific sound and copious title tunes, but exceptional liner notes by Randall D. Larson that put the musical, and cinematic saga of Sabata in spaghetti context as Sabata’s climactic musical exploits will likely have you laughing all the way to the grave with the fastest gun in the west.
5) THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (15th Anniversary Edition)
What is it?: In 2000, Francis Coppola’s daughter Sofia showed she was a talented chip off the family filmmaking block – even if “The Virgin Suicides” threatens to remain her “Citizen Kane” all these years later. But before artsy pretentiousness quickly descended on her work that had little appeal to anyone’s orbit outside of the Chateau Marmont hotel, Coppola brilliantly captured a dreamy sense of suburban angst as disaffected 70s teens watched a family of beautiful young blonde women poetically implode about them. Just as important as introducing a young female director was “Suicide’s” revelation of a group that took alternative scoring into new realms of psychedelic, poetic possibility – an atmosphere of trippy retro consciousness breathed by a French collective called Air.
Why should you buy it?: Formed in Versailles by architecture and math students Nicolas Godin and Benoit Dunckel, Air reached back to the progressive sounds of Pink Floyd, Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream in their miasma of organs, voices, funk guitar and ethereal Moog melody, creating a transcendent, muted electronica groove that marked them as next step in alt. scoring. It was music as much about a place of mind as a throwback groove – both qualities the put them in excellent stead to bring out the groovy noir aspects as the neighborhood kids try to decipher the seemingly insane acts of the five Lisbon sisters – each of whom meet fates out of some twisted fairy tale. But Air’s score isn’t about gloom and doom. Not “scored” as such to any action, Air’s work here is truly about atmosphere, conveying suburban wasteoids living in a dream, touched by ethereal presences not meant for this earth. But like the best film composers (or rock bands for that matter), Air knew how to come up with a great melodic theme, in this case the winding, mellow, somewhat sinister “Playground Love,” music that conveyed the haunted feeling of remembrance. Adding to its power was singer Thomas Mars (also a performer in Coudert’s band Phoenix), with engineering by future “Hannibal” TV composer (and Coppola collaborator) Brian Reitzell. There’s an undeniable sense of religious power to “The Virgin Suicides,” A hypnotic organ, whispering voices and a full chorus create some kind of neo-Christian parable in a stoner, guitar strumming Babylon. It’s a transfixing, poignantly weird tone poem that certainly made “The Virgin Suicides” into smart, one-of-a-kind classic in the genre of disaffected youth pictures, while announce Air as an impressive next-wave evolution in retro scoring (even if they’re still not nearly as busy as composers as they should be).
Extra Special: Even if Sofia Coppola barely used the score in the film, “The Virgin Suicides'” left a musical impression as big as the picture itself. It’s a score that truly doesn’t get old, locked in its own groovy sense of 60-70s eternity just like the memories of the Lisbon sisters are in the boys they’ve touched. A classic album of its type, Air’s remastered score proves to be as cool and transcendent as ever in its ethereal melodies and rhythmic grooves. For this 15th anniversary edition, “Suicides” adds on two demo tracks, and a second disc of Air’s live performance from a 2000 concert for indie radio station KCRW – reprising the score, but with an open-air edge. It’s a slightly grittier, sometimes improved spin on “Suicides,” minus the studio sheen, but containing even weirder emotion to its psychedelic spiral into eternity, its synths and altered dialogue samples all the more hypnotically bizarre as the cues rock out with a sense of ritual. Their spaced out sacrifice of psychedelic innocence is accompanied by cheering fans here – many of who were reacting purely to the music (though urged by the bandmates to see the film itself).
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING
While he was renowned for distinctively brassy action (“Die Hard”), trumpeting historical adventure (“Robin Hood”) and the samba’ing sounds of future dystopia (“Brazil”), fans might not have pegged Michael Kamen for being a composer equally adept at the Chicago school of 80’s teen comedy – which makes Intrada’s unexpected release of “Adventures in Babysitting” all the more of a delightful revelation. “Goonies” writer Chris Columbus’ made his 1987 directorial debut with this comedy-adventure that took its characters from the rich suburbs to the big bad city, gaining a devoted following for its snarky kids, skyscraping-hanging antics and the first appearance of Thor (if you will). 1987 also marked an especially suspenseful year for Kamen with “Someone To Watch Over Me,” “Suspect” and his action breakthrough “Lethal Weapon.” Perhaps as a result, his approach to “Adventures” plays way more adult than one might think, from the eerie electronics of “Halloween” to a “Tire Blow Out” and “Chase To Albert’s” that has all the ferocity of Mel Gibson taking on a horde of drug dealers (though the villains here are slightly less lethal gangsters). There’s real suspenseful weight to “Babysitting” that’s distinctively Kamen, resounding with imperious strings and heroic horns in a way that seems like a warm up for Kevin Costner as opposed to Elizabeth Shue. But it’s by realistically playing the danger of a teen trying to wrangle her charges that makes the score especially powerful for a fairly lightweight genre, where another composer’s approach might well have been to use carefree electric keyboards (though Kamen does throw in a few pop-friendly rhythms). However, it’s not as if Kamen doesn’t have a sparkle in his eye for the absurdity of the situations, with pizzicato comedy suggesting Wile E. Coyote being foiled again, using a satirically, soaring operatic approach at other junctures, and a jazzy, finger snapping “Rumble” which goofs on “West Side Story” via West Side Chicago. One of the best Michael Kamen scores you wouldn’t expect (especially as most of it went unheard until now), Intrada’s chock-full, near 80-minute release also collects the soundtrack’s classic 50’s R&B songs with The Crystal’s “Then He Kissed Me,” Edwin Starr’s “Twenty Five Miles” and the swinging blues groove of Percy Sledge’s “Just Can’t Stop.” But if “Adventures” has stood the test of time for one wittily memorable number, then it’s the whitebread Oak Park hero and her darned kids getting up in front of a an audience and singing “The Babysitting Blues” to a “Mannish Boy”-esque accompaniment of guitar, harmonica, rhythm section and chorus. You half expect Jake and Elwood to join in with blues star Albert Collins for this delightful performance that’s remained an out-of-nowhere highlight in the vaunted ranks of 80s teen comedies.
. A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN
He might have ended as a cultural footnote upon his death in January. But during his lyrical heyday, Rod McKuen achieved the distinction of being both a hit songwriter for film (“Jean”) and the pop charts (“I Think of You”) and the spoken word realm of poetry. As hugely popular as he was, McKuen certainly wasn’t a hit with the critics who called his work “kitsch,” the constant brickbats likely contributing to his clinical depression. In other words, it’s hard to imagine a better songwriter to accompany a character as dissed in his own world, but loved by the public outside of it as Charlie Brown. McKuen was one of the main songwriters who accompanied Charles Schultz’s put-upon character when he attended the national spelling bee, going from the small to the big screen with 1969’s “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” (a film scored, like his TV shows, with the Schroeder-like wonder of jazzman Vince Guaraldi). Even if Charlie might have blown it like always, a “Boy” was a good opportunity for McKuen to release his songs, along with his other film tunes, on an album now given renewed CD release by Varese Sarabande. For the most part, McKuen has a Linus-esque appreciation of our hapless hero, coming up with a nostalgic, soft-shoe theme for “Champion Charlie Brown.” The unexpected, ooo-wee-ooo of an Ondes Martinot gives a weird background to the lilting strings and piano of “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” which empathetically finds his everykid normalcy, with the nastily funny “Failure Face” capturing the bullying quality of Lucy on a bad day. But while McKuen certainly captures the mostly charming satire that made for “Peanuts” popularity, there’s perhaps even more of a French quality than you’d expect to his deceptively simple melodies, making it no wonder that McKuen rose to popularity through his translations of the works of Jacques Brel, a quality that comes through his lush, romantic collaborations with Henry Mancini on “Natalie” and “We” (tunes garnered from the largely forgotten film “Me, Natalie”). There are also numerous, sweet light jazz-inflected instrumentals on hand, from the dive-bombing “Something for Snoopy” to the high-pitched electronics of the “Moon River”-esque “I’ll Catch the Sun,” the easy listening strings of “Jean” and the antique, big band medley of “Joanna.” Alternately goofy, heartfelt, genuinely affecting and pleasantly nostalgic for those who appreciate this sort of stuff (the Oscars certainly did when they gave McKuen and the songwriting team a nomination for Song-Score), “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” is a pleasant introduction to a singer / composer who sought to kick his own football of self-respect – an engagingly humorous, self-deprecating attitude to sometimes-greatness that McKuen chronicled himself for this edition’s liner notes before his passing.
. CINDERELLA: THE LEGACY COLLECTION
Walt’s Legacy collection of their animated classics continues to be a boon to lovers of the Disney songbook, gorgeously designed and bound CD sets that not only offer the complete tunes and underscore of their classics, but also the numerous numbers that didn’t make it into the pop culture consciousness. A veritable treasure chest of unused melodies helps distinguish their new release of 1950’s “Cinderella,” whose Oscar-nominated soundtrack by Oliver Wallace (“Dumbo”) and Paul J. Smith (“Pinocchio”) provided swooning, princely romance that announced the belle of the ball, while capturing her dreams as the virtually imprisoned victim of the worst stepfamily imaginable. If practically every Disney movie into this century was based on the prototypical princess hoping to be swept into the impossibly romantic arms of a prince, then the gorgeously lush “Cinderella” set the wonderful, wishful tone, especially given how its tunes were integrated as story-telling themes into the score. “A Dream is A Wish Your Heart Makes” has a lovely wistfulness to it. And who can forget the proto-chipmunks “Work Song” as Cinderella’s mice friends help her with the chores, or the equally busy, Oscar-nominated fairy godmother singing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” the first great Disney nonsense “magic” song that would conjure the likes of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” But then, “Bibbidi” has the kind of catchiness that could only come from the “Tin Pan Alley” trio of Al Hoffman, Jerry Livingston and Mack David (who’d go on to co-write “Beware of the Blob” with some guy named Burt Bacharach). Though “Cinderella” would have relatively few (if highly memorable) songs, the second disc offers any number of wonderful contenders, following the Legacy formula of offering up the piano demo with a fully performed song. Subsequently, you’ve got a “Cinderella” that might have been just a bit more 50’s jazz anachronistic, from the bouncily carefree washing song “I’m in the Middle of a Muddle” to the prince-pining of “I Lost My Heart at the Ball.” “The Mouse Song” might not be processed a la Alvin and Theodore, but it’s a delightful song for rodent equality, while “Sing A Little, Dream A Little” somehow finds joy in the midst of slave-like conditions. “Dancing on a Cloud” and “The Face That I See in the Night” is a lovely duet for Cinderella and her shoe-struck admirer (sung by no less than future talk show host Mike Douglas). Cinderella becomes even more emo and developed as she remembers “The Dress That My Mother Wore.” Where Wallace and Smith’s wonderful score might sound its sonic age on the first disc, the second offers a beautifully lush, 65-piece re-performance by J.A.C. Redford (“Oliver & Co.”) from the 2005 album “The Music of Disney’s ‘Cinderella.'” It goes to show just how well the original composers incorporated the song’s themes into their work, while also providing chirpy, swooning suspense that makes impressing a man of your dreams at the big dance into a life-or-death cliffhanger.
. DOCTOR WHO – SERIES 8
Murray Gold has been in the good, ever-changing Doctor’s company for eight years now in Steven Moffat’s winning re-invention of the series that sought to take the time-honored series way beyond kid’s stuff. As a result, the death-defying show has never been so popular, with a principal key to keeping the Time Lord’s energy up being Murray’s, dexterous orchestral approach, one that’s sought to play the Gallifreyan, his friends and foes for real as it were, creating a musically cosmic seriousness in the process with all of the show’s humorous charm intact. It’s a glorious symphonic sound about as far from the loveably cheap synths of yore as imaginable. Now that the franchise has returned to the old days with a truly mature Doctor in the personage of Peter Capaldi (whose nervous driven if personified by an antsy four-note theme) Gold’s re-vitalizing abilities are truly at their fore with the actor’s slightly crustier attitude when facing sci-fi TV’s most bizarre gallery of antagonists. Having now run through Season 8, Silva Screen has collected Gold’s work into a terrific three-CD set that shows the universe-wide playing field that Gold is able to operate on, from the subtle, period sound and haunted female voice of “In the Forest of the Night” to the dire, chilling menace of “Dark Water / Death In Heaven.” Electronic propulsion and sensitive orchestrations show there can be such a thing as a decent killer robot for “Into the Dalek,” while a tip back to men in tights land allows Gold to show his penchant for rousing period adventure in “Robot of Sherwood,” or bring on clanging, cliffhanging percussion and noir jazz for the “Mummy on the Orient Express.” Conversely, child-like bell percussion and an eerie echoing piano allow for some of his most chilling moments in “Listen.” But one event that fans look forward to every year is the Doctor Who holiday special, with Santa being the star of “Last Christmas.” And it’s perhaps the best work of Gold’s on ample display, slyly incorporating Saint Nick’s musical personage into epic, orchestral action percussion a la a “Transformers” movie, with giant gonging ghosts and a robust waltz melody that pitches itself to the rafters, the surprisingly dark tone climaxed with joyous sleighbells of course. Just how much wry humor Gold shares with the most persnickety doctor in a while can be hilariously read in this most welcome set’s lavish booklet.
. THE FIRM: LIMITED EDITION
When it comes to solo instruments that can express a full symphony worth of emotion, a piano ranks high on the scale for conveying danger, romance, melancholy or pastoral bliss as its 88 keys alternately hammer or gently stroke away on the chords. Yet while having a solo piano composition is the norm on the classical concert stage, it’s still a real high wire act to solely rely on one for an entire film score, especially given how the sound of a full orchestra is expected when it comes to truly “opening up” music for the big screen. While it’s not like a sole piano score hasn’t been attempted on such “art” films as “Peeping Tom,” “The Winter Guest” and “It’s My Party,” going that route for a major Tom Cruise thriller was truly something new in 1993, the year when jazz great Dave Grusin moved a very naïve Harvard grad to Memphis to unwittingly soldier for a law firm that just happened to front for The Mob. Grusin’s stripped down, Oscar-nominated approach was suspensefully fresh then, and just as resonant now as “The Firm” again makes a strong case for unplugged scoring with this two-CD release on La La Land Records, which compiles both the complete score, its song-filled album and a number of notable alternates. Grusin had worked with “Firm” filmmaker Sidney Pollack on such diverse, and instrumentally fleshed-out film noir scores as “The Yakuza” and “Three Days of the Condor” (not to mention the Oscar-nominated comedy “Tootsie’). There was certainly a dangerous intimacy to “The Firm” that made this daring approach seem absolutely right, much in the same way that such conspiracy scores as David Shire’s “The Conversation” and Michael Small’s “The Parallax View” barely rose above the whisper of piano and strings. For in its restrained, drifting notes and steadily escalating rhythms, Shire conveys the creeping betrayal of a bright-eyed hero who fails his own moral litmus test. A beautifully delicate romance theme conveys the bond between him and his wife for all of his transgressions, while stride piano gets across the fun, Memphis bounce of “The Firm’s” location. Yet Grusin isn’t afraid to “cheat” on his musical conceit either, as subtle, electronically sampled piano percussion conveys the deepening morass our hero is falling into, while additional, metal-on-piano sampling gives the necessary climactic feel to Cruise’s impromptu high bar escape from “The Firm’s” decidedly illegal contract killers. There’s a clear voice and intent to Grusin’s approach that brings a true, adult sophistication to thriller scoring. It’s an almost now-brazen idea of saying more by using musical simplicity at its finest, especially when given the amount of memorably thematic, clear-cut melodies that “The Firm” has, all given virtuoso performances as Grusin show just how much emotional range a piano has as its own evocative orchestra.
. 5 FLIGHTS UP
More often than not when it comes to his comedy assignments, David Newman is called upon to run about like Carl Stalling, creating manic, joke-a-second energy in scores like “Matilda” and “The Flintstones” that are always nothing less than wonderfully exuberant. But it’s also nice to be able to slow down from the helter-skelter kid’s stuff and take a relaxed climb up the stairs to more sophisticated, older adult comedy – a genre that Newman has equally excelled in with such scores as “Life or Something Like It.” “5 Flights Up” is an especially welcome, sweetly melodic opportunity to take a breather, as the not quite-geriatric couple of Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman experience the exasperation of the NYC housing market while trying to find a new apartment. Not exactly the kind of earth-shaking stuff that would cause Newman to unleash the cosmic thunder of “Galaxy Quest” or the sugar-high rhythms of “Daddy Day Care.” Instead, there are nice, steady themes for guitar and piano that get across a sense of lived-in romance for this cutely retorting couple, creating a sense of bittersweet regret that comes from trying to move from a place one has known for decades into the real estate unknown. It’s measured, gentle and beautifully pleasant stuff that’s all about winsome nostalgia. But even if Keaton and Freeman have more than a few grey hairs by now, Newman still invests them with rhythmic playfulness, putting a spring in their step along with lyrical realization of an apartment door being closed, and a new one opening. “5 Flights Up” is full of this lovely, sweet intimacy that reaffirms Newman as one of Hollywood’s top melodists, whether the rhythm is bouncing off the walls with a full orchestra, or having tenderly lush, neo-Americana guitars and strings longingly glance at the space that gave two lives meaning – if with a bit of playful pluck in hand.
. FROM EARTH TO MARS
Movie Score Media has done a particularly good job of revealing the talent of several Latin composers from Marc Timon Barcelo (“The Shadowless Tree”) to Nuno Malo (“Backlight”). Now of particularly ambitious note is the space-spanning work of Mexican musician Arturo Rodriguez, who takes flight from MSM’s release of “The Maid’s Room” to a far bigger musical expanse with this journey from “Earth to Mars.” It’s made even more impressive by the fact the collected, sumptuous works on this album were written for the concert stage (as well as a building opening) as opposed for the big screen – though you’d likely not know it given how well Arturo harnesses the bright, adventurous orchestral spirits of such composers as John Williams, Bruce Broughton and James Horner. Primarily working in Hollywood as a conductor for the likes of “Furious Seven” and “Assassin’s Creed IV,” Rodriguez certainly has the star-stuff for solo journeys. Written in 2000, the album’s opening “Gate of Creation” accompanied the unveiling of the Universidad de Monterey’s Center for Art, Architecture and Design. Given Rodriquez’s formidable, ever-reaching music, one might be expecting the bottle-christening for a Federation spaceship, given his sumptuously melodic, Horner-esque meshing of the epic and the noble, as smashing brass approximates the thrill of lift-off – in this case of students’ future imaginations. The dawn of a new century also got Rodriquez a commission to musically tell the story of the hoped-for colonization of Mars, which the composer played for all of its magical, adventurous worth with a massive 80-piece orchestra and choir, once again conveying a sense of hope and bravery, but with the Holstian danger of interstellar travel as well to the angry red planet. There’s thrilling propulsion to be had here that shows Rodriguez could easily be accompanying sci-fi space battles, even if the orchestra’s performance often has problems keeping pace with his writing. Thankfully, Rodriguez’s 2012 piece “The Face of the Moon” is played with beautiful assurance, as his “personal meditation” brings forth a tender, gossamer spirit that echoes with the lyricism of Debussy, while once again making lush, emotive use of the orchestra. Where so many concert pieces dive into abstraction that takes pride in being atonal, the bountiful melody on display here impresses with its accessibility, and a talent for concert pieces that could easily be mistaken for actual scores – their roots springing from the heydays when full, symphonic scores gave power to flights of fantasy.
. INDECENT PROPOSAL
Listening to a romantic John Barry score is like entering an impossibly gauzy musical universe, lush strings creating dreamy bonds of eternal love, delicate pianos singing for melancholy and regret, and soaring orchestrations telling us a couple can somehow survive the unlikely temptations that life offers them. It’s a beautifully stylized world constructed of strong, memorable “song-like” themes, so strikingly written that we they never tire of them despite their continual repetition. On those notes, 1993’s “Indecent Proposal” stands as the sum total of John Barry’s remarkable work in a genre that includes such impossibly sensual scores as “Somewhere in Time,” “Out of Africa” and “Until September,” an approach that was perfectly suited for the stylized sensuality of Adrian Lyne, a director who’d gone for more heated, clothes-ripping eroticism with such past outings as “9 ½ Weeks” and “Fatal Attraction.” But if those films were about sweatily doing the nasty, 1993’s “Indecent Proposal” was all about smooth, slow seduction, asking the question about what an attractive, hard-up couple would do when offered a cool million by an incredibly handsome billionaire, the payment being scoring with the beautiful young wife. Yet in Barry’s gorgeous, piano-playing hands, there’s nothing vulgar to be found in the score. Rather, it’s music that sings with impossibly posh elegance and intimate regret, though certainly not lacking the soaring strings that bring to mind the music he’d composed for “Indecent” co-star Robert Redford as he flew over the African Savannah with Meryl Street to Oscar-winning effect. It’s almost incredible that “Indecent Proposal” didn’t at least get a nomination, but then Barry was transmuting glossy, soap opera stuff into sophisticated art here. For when you hear the yearning beauty that infuses the “Proposal” of Redford’s zillionaire, it’s music that tells us it isn’t so much a carnal act as it is of some inwardly damaged man seeking human contact. As such, this gorgeous score is all about romance as opposed to sex. Previously issued in a song-filled album, Intrada’s underscore-only 74 minute CD is similarly all about John Barry, using the opportunity for a complete score and numerous alternates to reveal even more suspenseful, emotional stakes to “Indecent Proposal,” which now ranks high indeed in the composer’s unabashedly melodic repertoire, The price here is certainly worth it.
. INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3
Having raged with his twisted take on the dissonance of Gyorgy Ligety and Kryzstof Penderecki for “The Conjuring,” “Annabelle” and “Dark Skies” (when not actually scoring himself as his film’s hell-spawned demons), Joseph Bishara can claim his stake as the composer in residence for Blumhouse Productions – possessing their unkillable franchises with screaming strings, unholy atmospheres and general, nerve-shredding sonic madness. The root of his musical evil there began with 2010’s “Insidious,” strangling his orchestral instruments like a psychotic would do to a cat, while also evoking a terrifying sense of spare loneliness to evoke the void that is “the further,” hearing an awful sense of isolation far worse than un-death. All of Bishara’s dependable demons, and then some, are once again in their favorite haunt for “Insidious Chapter 3.” But what makes this entry different is that it’s not only a prequel to set up Elise Rainier’s psychic ghost-busting business, but it’s also an insidiously way more emotional approach at that. Sure there’s the string-mass equivalent of an very enthusiastic cast member at a haunted house going way over no-touch bounds, anxiously, often and always assaulting you out of nowhere with his knife-strings to maximum seat-jumping effect. However, “Chapter 3’s” power resonates from unexpected empathy for a teenage girl who desperately misses her recently departed mother – only to meet up with a distinctly unfriendly spirit who’s determined to make her near-death experience a permanently possessed one. Without overstating the emotion in a way that would make his approach a completely different animal, Bishara uses poignant, beautifully subtle melody to get this series’ music likely as moving as it can become. Even The Further is given an eerie sense of harmony, as if sadly whispering in the spook-house darkness. When the big exorcism comes, the shrieking, horrifying sound masses aren’t as powerful as Bishara’s rising, soulful chamber orchestra or heart-breaking solo, echoing piano of a bereft, and finally comforted young woman. It might be the experimental music that freaks us out as always, but for the first time with “Chapter 3,” it’s really the surprisingly moving power of thematic emotion by which Bishara commands us.
. THE LIBRARIANS
Joseph LoDuca has scored enough television shows to open a musical bibliothèque , and Varese Sarabande has been there to collect most of his voluminous efforts from “Hercules” to “Xena” and “Spartacus” and their attendant TV feature spin-offs. TNT’s “The Librarians” takes the reverse path of taking a bunch of hit made-for’s into a series, with LoDuca’s music being their happy constant for over a decade, especially in this thrilling depository from the show’s first season (and now entering its second). For these ersatz Indiana Joneses traipsing about the world in search of rare, and often supernatural artifacts, LoDuca’s music has a sense of fun that’s as much hipster spy music as it is John Williams-style adventure. That jokey spirit was certainly in evidence for LoDuca on such heroically tongue-in-cheek cult shows as “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.,” “Jack of Hearts” and “Cleopatra 2525.” Now the ambitious scope of “The Librarians” really allows LoDuca to show off just about every other energetic style he’s honed, from spectral, swooning strings and a female voice to glistening emotion, Saturday morning serial peril, magical choruses and Danny Ocean fat jazz, with all given an exceptionally well-performed symphonic work-out. There’s also a sense of honor to the music, reflecting just how important these characters’ searches are in spit of the energetic, sparkling humor that infuses the album. Certainly one of the most entertaining show collections in LoDuca’s career that continues to stuff the melodic musical shelves to dizzying overflow, “The Librarians” big screen, thematic sound certainly makes it a most definite add on to your collection.
Few composer’s really hit that new-millennia sound of patriotism like the South African born, Yes member Trevor Rabin. With a strong sense of brass-led Americana and a proud, flag-saluting orchestral sensibility, Rabin’s scores for the likes of “Remember the Titans,” “National Treasure” and “Gridiron Gang” sang with the bold, proud possibilities of our country’s spirit, whether standing inspirationally tall for sports or action. It’s a talent that makes Rabin particularly well suited for the “Max,” a score that treats an Iraqi vet with post traumatic disorder with all of the faith and bravery deserving of a member of the armed forces. That said serviceman is a German Shepard shows just how well Rabin can engender a salutary spirit in all of God’s creatures. While occasionally humorous and sweet, “Max” never tips its hand that all of this emotion is being written for a noble pooch, an uncondescending approach that makes “Max” into one of Rabin’s better scores since his music helped “Titans” make a winning play as a classic of its kind. Given that film’s writer-director Boaz Yakin is also behind “Max,” it’s no wonder that Rabin would be bringing a similar, rousingly melodic tone and forward momentum to “Max.” It’s a cross-training score that serves both sports-minded emotion and military service equally well. What also serves to differentiate “Max” from “Titans” is this film’s modern day, southern-flavored pop sensibility, as well as some especially hairy action involving drug runners, which lets Rabin engage his specialty in rhythmic chases to the score’s climax. But in the end, it’s all about saluting the flag and healing its hero’s psychological wounds, something that “Max” does with heroic commitment. Pulling off the real pet trick of playing a dog with all the humanity of a wounded warrior in a way that Lassie couldn’t imagine, the no-nonsense, thematically emotional uplift of “Max” definitely makes this into more than your average mutt score.
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