Check into the creative terror of “Psycho III” and “Willy’s Wonderland” among such notable soundtracks as “Banning,” “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” “Below Zero,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mortal,” “Raya and the Last Dragon” and many more!
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BANNING: Limited Edition
(Quincy Jones / La La Land Records)
As the first black composer that Hollywood treated in a color-blind way when it came to scoring subjects from “The Deadly Affair’s” espionage to the intimate romance of “John and Mary,” Quincy Jones could make just about anything musically interesting, if not groovy. One big case in point is the decidedly unexciting game of golf, which he hit a hole in one for with 1967’s “Banning.’” Given one of the first big movies of an understandably small pack to deal with a slow-moving sport, Jones used the country club and bedroom arenas of ambitious pro Robert Wagner to exercise the swinging jazz chops that got him into the business. The sultry Oscar nominated theme song “The Eyes of Love” (co-written with Duke Ellington hit-maker Bob Russell) drives the score with a golf bag full of clever variations, ranging from sultry trumpet to cooing vocalese, and lounge lizard combos, all enchanting the ladies into Wagner’s boudoir. It’s smooth, fun stuff that you never get tired of as the ladies are put to bed, music that’s very much about the swinging man’s world of that Hollywood day, as played by a scoring session wrecking crew that included the likes of Maynard Ferguson, Dave Grusin and Artie Kane. While the glistening orchestra adds to the kind of lush life that Ty Webb would admire, “Banning” also takes some interesting tees into dramatically exciting, neo-spy scoring for the country club backbiting with spare percussion and suspenseful brass. Jones does a particular amount of rhythmic heavy lifting for the big end tournament to reflect golf as a mental game of strategy, creating energetic, tricky, spotlighted flourishes for strings, bongos and trumpet, music at once hushed and swaggering as the score bounces between suspense motifs transformed from its romantic melodies. With many of Jones’ seminal 60’s efforts worthy of release, it’s great that this relatively unsung score for a film that never hit the box office hole in one finally gets its day on the CD green, courtesy of a continued winning partnership between La La Land Records and Universal, here featuring great sound and always pro liner notes by Jon Burlingame. It’s a game of groovy golf well worth playing as only a hep master could.
BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR
(Christopher Lennertz and Dara Taylor / Milan Records)
As old score pro and rising soundtrack star joined at the guy / gal comedy culotte hip, Christopher Lennertz and Dara Taylor have been making merry music together in any number of styles with the likes of “Uncle Drew,” “Sausage Party,” “A Bad Mom’s Christmas” and “Tom and Jerry.” But in terms of sheer, seditiously wonderful outrageousness, there’s no project that show what duets are for like “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” co-star Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s spin on a Fargo-nian Romy and Michelle meeting Dr. Evil for the lack of a better high concept description given the many surprises in store via the colorful direction of Josh Greenbaum (maker of the hysterical George Lazenby docu-mockumentary “Becoming Bond”). A score where satirical spy-suspense and Elfman-esque horror stylings meet Margaritaville by way of Afro-Latin jazz is just the tip of the banana boat when it comes to the utter, zany delightfulness that Lennertz and Taylor have conjured in this shrimp loving slice of Florida. With a brassily brooding orchestra that doesn’t so much pronounce its albino villainess’ plans as much as they exclaim it with a near-warbling chorus, wilting violin and death gongs ahoy, the music is deliciously absurd. Better yet, it’s also nicely thematic with a rhumba action motif for a nefarious scheme that dances around the otherwise jolly vacation of the mid-lifer best pals, whose longing is given legit sweet pop, string and piano vibes that would pass muster in any other rom-com score but is even more sweetly effective here given how the music swings from chick flick to Bond supervillain and warbling brass nightclub-Cubano shtick on a dime. It’s all in the school of serious / not-serious comedy scoring that’s even funnier the bigger it gets, all while still being nicely emotional for the lifelong bud bond that really drives the film beyond its wackiness, a nice feeling of sincerity that’s anything but mock. But there’s no downplaying the hilarity of the catchy tunes (including a disco rave version of “My Heart Will Go On”), from a welcome to “The Palm Vista Hotel” to the heart-ripping, guy ballad of “Edgar’s Prayer” that keeps pointing out the seagulls among every physical description of the sandy dance number. And I can already see the crime of Richard Cheese’s adjective rich “I Love Boobies” not getting the Best Song Oscar it richly deserves. They’re tunes that bare the quite funny imprint of the musical team of Andrew Feltenstein and John Nau, who contributed the songs and score to Wiig’s delirious soap opera spoofs “The Spoils Before Dying” and “The Spoils of Babylon.” But in the end, the biggest deliriously inventive charm of “Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar” is that you’ll have no idea of what soundtrack you’ve travelled to– let alone what kind of movie you’re watching.
(Zacarias M. de la Riva / Movie Score Media)
Spanish composer Zacarias M. de la Riva has shown a particular flair for slow-burn suspense as highlighted in such Movie Score Media releases as “Imago mortis” and “Heiro” while also impressing in English language films for the real-world war horror of “The Kill Team.” Now with Netflix’s major influx of foreign, commercially minded films and miniseries taking over a homebound America, “Below Zero” serves as a great taste for our bingers to Riva’s impressively thrilling work, here in a pressure cooker of a prisoner van under icy attack by a vengeful assailant. With a chilling mixture of orchestral instruments and electronics, Rivas sets a foreboding tone which of course percussively takes out truck and fellow cops. An icily dark metallic sound ratchets up the intensity with heartbeat-pounding relentlessness. When this sort of hybrid sound is the international rage, it shows something for Rivas’ talent as to how captivating he makes it, especially as the cop who once guarded the convicts ends up in the back hot seat as a vehicle goes under the ice lake. With the killer’s very human goal revealed, Rivas brings in a feeling of sad, twisted humanity with a horn, and then unexpectedly with organ and strings with the entrance of true symphonic melody into the score that gets surprisingly epic in a “Shawshank” escape way, a nice surprise given the relative, unplugged danger that Rivas starts this trip with. Rivas thematically plots his approach here in way that’s both environmental and inward with mournful darkness that delivers its human cargo with a vengeance, even if the music is chillingly mournful, and even transcendent in the face of doom.
THE CROODS: A NEW AGE
(Mark Mothersbaugh / Intrada Records)
Mark Mothersbaugh’s family-friendly scoring style has certainly progressed since his days as a Devo front man preaching the gospel of De-evolution, his soundtracks growing from an eccentrically percussive sound to become a rhythmically primitive and gloriously orchestral highpoint of “The Croods: A New Age.” Journeying over four decades as the composer for the sweet tinkertoy music of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” to the playfully rough-hewn “Rugrats” and the retro synth wonderment of “The Lego Movie” and “Thor Ragnarock,” Mothersbaugh’s “Croods” is indeed a new age in just how well he’s mastered a traditional orchestral sound that reaches a peak with this ultimate throwback movie. Even a Neanderthal can get the stylistic instruments that are needed as Mothersbaugh picks up the stones from Alan Silvestri’s original 2013 score for a sequel that’s even better by taking more of a character-oriented focus as the cave family’s primitive manners and hygiene run into a pleasantly passive aggressive “future” family whose Shangri-La depends on a continuous banana supply to face-punching monkeys – which of course gets disrupted with Kong consequences. By leaping right off the bat with a joyful, brassily trumpeting theme that brings in tribal drums and chanting voices, Mothersbaugh effortlessly makes this not-so modern prehistoric family his own. With “Kung Fu Panda” storyboard artist Joel Crawford making an impressive directorial debut here with more of a screwball slant, the film’s ample split-second sight gags give Mothersbaugh the chance to have at it with amped-up Khachaturian, jigs all while being sure to bring in caveman instrumentations for a bouncy sense of time and place. But while the cartoon energy is there in abundance, what’s particularly nice is how Mothersbaugh keeps his focus on the characters’ emotional wonderment at finding a fruit-filled paradise. There’s also play harpsichord-like recall to his Wes Anderson work, as joined by Les Baxter-esque lounge jazz (complete with whistling and slide guitar) for the pleasantly obnoxious new age Betterman family who’s rather the Croods be anywhere else. Mothersbaugh is happy to leap about any number of wildly creative stylistic paths in a way that makes the score, and film a particular delight, especially with anachronistic rock guitar anthems for the films’ spin on female avengers or the demonically chanting chorus for a punching monkey throwdown. There’s certainly a direct line from Mothersbaugh’s start to “The Croods” in how well he throws wacky stylism into the pot alongside symphonic tradition, a mix of toon antics and era-setting majesty that gives this exceptionally well performed score its epic sense of fun as well as emotional heart, with a sense of instrumental inventiveness that’s energetic enough to discover fire with arguably the best score to grace this age-old toon genre. Then there’s the icing on the fruit cake as Jack Black throatily belts out Sonny and Cher’s “I Think I Love You” for the Intrada album.
. THE GERALD FRIED COLLECTION: Vol. 1
(Gerald Fried / Dragon’s Domain Records)
Gerald Fried will live forever with arguably the most famous brass and percussion smackdown ever written, one that’s gone way beyond the mortal combat madness of Pon farr in a prolific career that really got its start with Stanley Kubrick. Now Dragon’s Domain offers two exceptional scores from the composer, beginning with the 1978 TV movie “Cruise into Terror.” Made-for’s at the time were offering no end of childhood-scarring horror shows, and this one with a “Love Boat”-ready cast dealing with a cursed mummy’s sarcophagus definitely stuck in my memory, now re-jiggered by Fried’s devilish score that may not owe just a bit to Damien Thorne. When you’ve got rhythmic brass” and Dies Irae-like melody whose chanting of satanic lyrics suddenly turns to bouncy 70’s big band pop at the next cue, you know this is going be a fun nostalgic ride. Snarling horns and haunted house-esque organs steadily unleashing the supernatural in a way that hearkens back to the jeopardy that Fried put the U.S.S. Enterprise in, his “Amok Time”-esque strains rising to the surface in a shark attack with style, all becoming a witch’s brew of menacing brass that’s only missing a giant cat to show up. Far gnarlier, but distinctly on its own path is Fried’s music for 1976’s “Survive!” Having conducted Fred Myrow’s orchestral score for “Soylent Green,” Fried took on this notorious dramatization of the lengths that a Uruguayan rugby team go to after an icy plane crash, a story later told with far more Hollywood polish, and sensitivity in “Alive” (even though this first take was released via Paramount from the guys who’d later produce “Grease”). Fried was called in to replace the original score for this literal trek of inhuman endurance, starting with a jaunty, heroic theme, a 70’s action-pop approach that soon hits the Andes. Given what its survivors are forced to, Fried takes a noble, emotional approach that impressively conveys a sense of tragic endurance. The score varies between the never-say-die attitude of his main theme and strong, elegiac writing, particularly during the film’s most notorious moments that was the real reason people dared to see it. But while “Survive” might have been born in exploitation, it’s an exceptionally strong work in conveying humanity under pressure in all of its poignance, revulsion, and determination to make it back to civilization. This true voyage into terror is an example of Fried’s thematic strength, and an equally welcome discovery in the striking repertoire of an enduring composer, particularly when it came to giving symphonically soaring dramatic class to an exploitatively minded disaster film.
. THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION: Vol. 1 / THE ALBERT GLASSER COLLECTION: Vol. 1
(Marlin Skiles, Leigh Stevens / Albert Glasser / Dragon’s Domain Records)
Just because one had no budget for orchestral scoring back in the good old days didn’t mean that musicians didn’t give it their over-the-top all-in service of the little cinematic guys trying to sound as huge as possible. Three composers and four cases in point span outer space to Japan with these great Dragon’s Domain releases that spotlight 1950’s space age babes and manly Caucasian in Asia adventure with non-stop symphonic bombast that offers nostalgic listening entertainment to spare. First up on their sci-fi CD is Marlin Skiles’ score for the Golden Turkey Zsa Zsa Gabor classic of 1958’s “Queen of Outer Space,” in which crew-cut spacemen find themselves on a giant spider patrolled, Amazonian-ruled planet. Using the orchestra like an exclamation mark, Skiles’ glistening, suspenseful strings, Theremin-like vibes, gong-ringing military marches and some truly zany xylophone percussion portray a man-hungry forbidden planet. But you know the macho spacemen will come out as the stronger sex given lushly seductive melody that spells B (or Z) movie excitement. Next on deck with that same spider is 1956’s bigger budgeted “World Without End,” in which an all-man crew gets zapped through the time barrier to an apocalyptic earth run by mutants as opposed to apes. Composer Leith Stevens certainly had a sci-fi pedigree having scored the classic George Pal-produced “War of the Worlds” and “When Worlds Collide.” While not at that level, Steven’s unmistakable voice for shivering, dramatic suspense and perilous orchestral action is on irradiated deck. The score’s constantly panicked rhythms are mainly concerned with the astronaut’s survival than their chances with the ladies, though his use of high, yet poignant strings, with an emphasis on the violin makes more of pleading case for repopulating society than a lascivious one. In the battle of the planets, “World” shows its sonic age more than “Queen.” Genre liner note ace Randall D. Larson provides an informative look back at two fun scores that radiated a feminine quality to be conquered in the perilous space mating race.
Best known to genre fans for his deceptively giant scores for “Mr. Big” director Bert I. Gordon like “The Spider” and “War of the Colossal Beast,” Albert Glasser tirelessly gave any number of scores a huge amount of drama and energy, whether it was insects, pirates of in this case the square-jawed, Filipino rebel-busting hero of 1956 “Huk.” A delightfully strident punch in the face, Glasser provides enough brassy chest-beating cliffhanging thrills and spills for Skull Island here, while still leaving room for glorious travelogue music, lilting romance and even a charming swim before the relentless action swings in. A case where too many notes still isn’t enough, you have no idea how the players got through “Huk” without collapsing. On a bit more a dramatic even keel is 1951’s “Tokyo File 212,” an RKO picture in which Yanks bust up a Commie spy ring in postwar Japan. Ethnic instrumentation and rhythms by way of a big western symphony provides a more Asian-appropriate backdrop, with Glasser building on the suspense and romance as opposed to blasting it right off the bat, even offering a fun jazz montage with Russian embassy dance and Kabuki vocals. Themes are more prevalent here as well, including a sweet romantic one that will end tragically. Way more hard-boiled than noir in his musical approach, Glasser does a fine job approximating the Far East underworld with determination and energy to spare in the days when music might not have been subtle, but sure provided a workout.
HARD RAIN: Limited Edition
(Christopher Young / La La Land Records)
With the roaring, full-blooded Lament Configuration score that put Christopher Young on the Hollywood map with 1987’s “Hellraiser,” the composer has never been more energetically fun then when going big, brass orchestral balls to the wall – or wall of water in the case of one of his most deliriously rambunctious scores for 1998’s “Hard Rain.” In this Irwin Allen-esque disaster spin on the “’Die Hard’ in a…” genre that was the rage that decade, it was up to lone wolf cop Christian Slater to stop Morgan Freeman and his gang from absconding with loot from a rapidly flooding town, evading and taking them out one by one via waterski and electrified wire. Sure Young has been capable of beautiful subtlety in such works as “Haunted Summer” and “Bright Angel,” but this sure as heck wasn’t the case in a film whose relentless action could really let Young’s symphonically gang-busting instincts go town. Comprised of one swaggering, exhilarating cue after the next with the harmonica playing of “Midnight Cowboy’s” Toots Thielmans to give the score rural flavor, “Hard Rain” has a dizzying, relentless drive to its set pieces, all built on strong themes that build and build in ways that made the oft-used idea of James Horner’s idea “Bishop’s Countdown” in “Aliens” seem like pikers. Given dark flourishes where one might think a Cenobite has dropped into the frenzy. Young’s propulsive orchestral scoring is a blast of fun, made even better by the melodic content which distinguished the composer’s work, and would reach even more dizzying heights in his outright global disaster film “The Core.” With La La Land’s release unleashing the complete scope of “Hard Rain” with fine sound and Jeff Bond’s incisive liner notes, Christopher Young’s work stands even taller as one of his most breathlessly exuberant works.
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
(Mark Isham and Craig Harris / WaterTower Music)
Mark Isham has chronicled the sometimes-crushing injustice that black people have historically faced in such scores as “The Express,” “Crash” and “42,” though usually with a sense of justice triumphing by the end to melodic enervation. His co-score with Craig Harris for “Judas and the Black Messiah” is infinitely more nightmarish and musically abstract, if no more powerful for it. Given the true story of a snitch’s set-up of a Black Panther leader to be assassinated by the FBI and Chicago cops, Isham makes his own voice distinct with a low orchestra, his shivering strings creating both a sense of mourning and foreboding for a conspiracy whose evil will pay off. Just as distinctive is the pure jazz approach of Harris, whose dissonant, experimental approach captures a Miles Davis vibe. Using an aboriginal digeridoo alongside brass to establish a proud, menaced black identity for the panthers, Harris’ approach becomes progressively more Avant garde with its piano, bass percussion and militaristic explosions of brass, a sound that approximates the sirens and battle rhythms of the continuous harassment and busts unleashed toward Hampton and his compatriots. It’s an eerie, unnerving mood, conjuring the kind of feeling for defiant urban warriors who don’t know when the door will be kicked in, or worse. Not an easy listen by any stretch, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is a strong, confrontational score that offers no uplifting fist-shaking payoff, instead choosing to convey a feeling of injustice. The strong contrast between Isham’s traditional orchestrion and Harris’ jazz abstraction make an excellent, outraging film experience all the more powerful.
THE KID DETECTIVE
(Jay McCarrol / 2543402 Records DK)
A movie and score that definitely would’ve been on my Top Ten last year had I cracked “The Kid Detective’s” case then, the collaboration between filmmaker Evan Morgan and composer Jay McCarrol is a droll delight that sleuth’s through an arch premise to a surprisingly serious conclusion. That the segue in a Nancy Drew-esque takedown to something way more seriously adult is seamless in tone is in no small part thanks to this exceptionally well produced retro music. It’s cohesive from start to finish as McCarrol makes the Mayberry-esque surroundings into something far more film noir larger. Beginning with music with all the cheerfulness of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, McCarrol thematically goes down the road of 60’s era John Barry that plays the grown-up, gone to seed antihero with the telegraph-like percussion and lush strings befitting Harry Palmer trying to ferret out an undercover agent. Pokily sweet instrumentations that spell out juvenile comedy mix with jazz that would be at home in Twin Peaks, while lounge like music with female vocals continue the score’s time warped satirical brilliance that continues to go down eccentric avenues with fuzz guitar and even Philip Glass-esque minimalism. Yet for all the sultry doings, what also impresses is the fairly serious place the score ends up at, its continued cheerfulness ringing with poignant irony that makes a long simmering case finally getting solved anything but satisfactory. In the hipster genre of “Brick” and “Mystery Team,” “The Kid Detective” works by digging deeper beyond musically taking down and paying tribute to its adult, hard broiled archetypes and going for something psychologically deeper. It’s an investigation that McCarrol pulls off with style and unexpected emotion to spare.
KING OF KINGS
(Miklos Rózsa / Tadlow)
Miklos Rózsa wrote the book on how to score sin-suffused religious epics, particularly when it came to ones that spiritually radiated with the power of Jesus Christ and those who fervently believed in his majesty – or defied it to their peril. But that being said, it wasn’t easy for him to rewrite the “King of Kings” after just winning a Best Score Oscar for depicting “Ben-Hur’s” barely glimpsed savior, an acclaimed mountain that this Hungarian summitted which gave way right afterwards in 1959 as “Rebel Without A Cause’s” Nicolas Ray shown the full spotlight on a Herod-angering Jesus, as played by the O.G. Captain Pike – if to ultimately far less beatific critical results. Though the problems of “King of Kings” were readily apparent, let it not be said that Rózsa didn’t magnificently take on that challenge with another spiritually gorgeous score, complete with a soaring hosannahs and an organ resurrection. Given a rousingly, immediately recognizable melodic voice that immediately tied an astonishing body of work together, Rózsa certainly wasn’t about to break his stylistic mold for market-shattering Jesus. But minus sea battles and chariot races here, Rózsa takes a somewhat more intimate (at least for the genre) approach, confirming the character’s holy lineage with angelic voices, pastoral strings and a triumphant theme, all of which come together to convince those of Christ’s miraculous power in a way both serene and thunderously majestic. It’s a sense of holiness that’s beset with Rózsa’s trumpeting way at conveying peril, music that reaches a desperate fever pitch in a way that would drive such latter scores as “The Last Embrace” and “Time After Time.” While the brassily imperious might of Rome and a mixture of the melodically beatific accompany Jesus’ greatest hits, with a soaring sadly impassioned, relentless rhythmic walk to the crucifixion linking this score to “Ben-Hur.” But what helps distinguish “King of Kings” are its deliciously exotic dances for Salome, as well as eerie, slithering percussion for the devil, whose temptation is blasted into submission by a radiant Jesus theme. While respectively unsung in Rózsa’sbiblical cannon, the composer’s score is gorgeously resurrected with another dynamic partnership between producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, who’d previously done wonders at fully reperforming the composer’s epic scores for Tadlow’s releases of “El Cid,” “The Thief of Baghdad” and “Quo Vadis.” The results of another passion project are resplendently performed to the tune of an award from the IFMCA for Best Archival Release, this recording at once sounding contemporarily vibrant and not-so distant from what you would’ve heard back in the golden widescreen days. Rózsa specialist Frank K. DeWald provides especially informative liner notes to the nicely illustrated booklet that make for another superior package from Tadlow, whose mission of spreading Rózsa’s gospel continues to astound for music that truly floods listener with the resplendent stuff of miracles.
(Enis Rotthoff / Scoring Records)
I honestly wouldn’t have thought that Enis Rotthoff had a romantic bone in his scoring body after hearing him pump electrified bullets through dozens of unfortunates in his berserkly entertaining EDM-influenced score for “Guns Akimbo.” But clearly, the composer has different stylistic recipes up his sleeve, especially when it comes to conveying sweet emotion with real sugar instead of saccharine for “Love Sarah.” The key into any rom-com’s heart is gentle melody and memorable themes, which Rotthoff has in abundance for a movie that’s far more about dealing and surmounting loss than finding new love (though you can be sure that’s in the cards). As the family and friends of a recently passed pastry whiz make a new go of it in a shop that should have spotlighted Sarah, Rotthoff uses an unforced orchestral touch to weave any number of pleasant motifs together. Piano, gossamer strings and plucky percussion gently dance in the air, yet in a way that weaves together the emotion instead of heavily layering it on. It’s a light, delectable touch that’s particularly good for when the film itself really clicks in halfway through as British bake-off food porn comes into play. With sequences of pastry chiefs gently kneading dough and applying confectionaries, Rotthoff’s approach comes across like a gentle dance, which nicely ties into Sarah’s aimless daughter’s vocation before her mother’s passing. Quite of bit of “Sarah’s” score gets repeated, but it says something for how enjoyable these themes are that it doesn’t become daintily tiring. For as energetic as the bells, harps and strings might be, behind them is a real sense of poignance and longing that makes this as enjoyable as it is touching as Rotthoff makes the emotional medicine go down quite nicely with melodic dough to spare.
(Marcus Paus / MTG Music)
One of Norway’s most esteemed modern classical composers gets to lay down the hammer in an English-speaking film, courtesy of countryman-director André Øvredal who put himself on the international map with the cult “Troll Hunter” before going YA Hollywood horror with “Scary Stories To Read in the Dark.” Now back on his home territory, Øvredal has the best of both worlds as a Yank hiker finds that he’s heir to the most popular member of an immortal Viking pantheon. The thunderously electrifying reveal of his birthright as the idea of a superhero is twisted a la “Brightburn” (though with far more disheveled nobility at the start), giving a building power to Paus’ impressive superhero origin score of sorts. With brooding melody at the forefront, Paus creates an eerie atmosphere steeped in myth and the expansive, coldly beautiful scenery of Øvredal’s wide screen compositions. Paus’ heritage certainly makes this anciently authentic from the start as he draws on indigenous instruments like the Hardanger fiddle, accenting with them with the eerie reverberations of crystal glasses. If scoring for a Marvel cousin to this drifter might promise a bright future even at its darkest moments, Paus lets you know things are going to go south in Nordic land with a compellingly brooding tone, as anchored with near-menacing theme. As skillfully blended with full-blast orchestra and creeping electronics, “Mortal” feels like the darker moments in an Indiana Jones film as he’s exploring a cavern filled with ancient cosmic weaponry, which gets to show off its lightning, metal-clashing force with a true sense of wonder, as well as sympathetic emotion in a way that would also do Wagner proud. Along with Øvredal, Paus brings a true sense of mythic seriousness to the material that conveys a wrath from on high visited down upon earth with righteous fury. That one can see an entirely different, yet tonally majestic musical costume finally visited upon Thor as his mystery is majestically solved gives “Mortal” a power that’s truly thunderstruck in announcing Paus’ symphonically avenging talent to a bigger playing field. Indeed, one can’t imagine a better suit up to play the real deal in his Marvel self than “Mortal.”
PRAY: The Story of Patrick Peyton
(Grant Fonda / CD Baby)
A man best known for the phrase “the family that prays together stays together” gets canonized via this inspirational documentary. Whether one subscribes or not to that message, you can be a non-denominational believer in the beautiful, Irish-accented score it’s inspired from American composer Grant Fonda. Having assisted on such Tom Newman scores as “Spectre” and “Finding Dory,” it’s easy to hear a kindred talent for floating melody and heartfelt ethnicity in this composer’s own rising documentary work with “The Dating Project,” “Down the Fence” and “Power of the Air.” Here he accompanies the story of “the Rosary Priest” who made a far better impact in LA’s salvation hungry community and its Hollywood stars than the likes of Aimee Semper McPherson. Given that feeling of positivity over God’s wrath, “Pray” has a truly lovely gentleness about it that works equally well at conveying Peyton’s unabashed Irishness. Gaelic instruments, melodies and jigs abound in a magical way. Like Thomas Newman, Fonda has a transfixing way of evoking emotion from melodic spareness as much as he can use a lushly resplendent orchestra, particularly when string instruments are combined with electronic rhythm. It’s music that puts its melodic hands together in conveying the essence of a man with a never-say-die attitude and the people who thrived on his salvation. As a listen on its own, “Pray” is a lovely, uncloying kiss of the Blarney Stone that at the least will make everyone believe they’re Irish as it announces Fonda’s own, talented soothingly emotional voice.
(Carter Burwell / Intrada Records)
For me, the third time was really the charm when checking into the the Bates Motel as 1986’s “Psycho III” marked the distinctive, eccentric energy of series star Anthony Perkins proving himself in the director’s chair, an opportunity which afford NYC experimental composer Carter Burwell his first major score after Perkins was enchanted with his offbeat indie debut with “Blood Simple.” It was the second of many times that Burwell would lend his off-kilter voice to murder most foul, but with a haunted roadkill sound whose ironic freshness announced itself here with an innovatively weird slash. Eschewing the dark strings and terrifying symphonic energy of previous composers in residence Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith, Burwell’s small musical budget proved a literal Mother of invention when it came to a creepily intimate approach centered around the Synclavier. With a fallen novice nun on the run, Burwell starts “Psycho III” with a religious chorus, their chants alongside tubular bells growing to sound like a satanic coven. That’s likely the most traditional “horror” approach to be found here, as Burwell’s electronics and wind-like atmosphere arrive at a place between a western and rustic haunted house. While hair pop and beat-boxing songs let you know this is the 80’s, Burwell’s use of intimate, offbeat rhythm, off-the-wall ideas like Tibetan percussion (among the many weirdly creative rhythms provided by Steve Forman), sultry sax beats and a player piano evoking silent movie suspense a la “Fright Night” take us inside the hollow, confused mind of the most sympathetic slasher of all, conveying his confusion at falling in love with another damaged soul. As constructed with strong, yet ethereally drifting themes (as well as one notable build of awful discovery) It’s a sense of spare weirdness that at the time was unique for the genre, and still makes “Psycho III” one of Burwell’s most interesting, innovative and long-requested scores. Intrada finally provides the key with a great double CD, whose lavish booklet offers Scott Bettencourt’s great liner notes and NYC-based Burwell’s new musings of his venture to Hollywood. This complete release also provides a piano demo, and enough alternate pop variations of “Scream of Love” to have you cry Uncle. With its creepily swinging rhythms hearkening to Rockwell’s “Someobody’s Watching Me” and topped with a “Lost Boys”-worthy sax performance by David Sanborn, I don’t think it would have been a top 40 hit no matter how hard they MTV tried.
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON
(James Newton Howard / Walt Disney Records)
James Newton Howard has musically conjured worlds of musical wonder for Disney with the unsung “Atlantis” and “Treasure Planet,” as well as complimenting the sweet Elton John stylings of “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Now he vibrantly paints in next-level colors for “Raya and the Last Dragon,” in which a young warrior, a friendly talking beast and her millepede mammal ride try to reunite the warring tributes of her magical kingdom of Kumandra. It’s a re-imagined earth scenario that Howard has epically tread on before in such scores as “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth,” as joyfully done here for a hipper, younger audience. Of course Howard’s epic symphonic talents are at major play in his lushly emotional strings, heavenly chorus and suspenseful brass. Given “Raya’s” Asian heroine and a culture based on venerating dragons, Howard gives the score a mystical sound, drawing on time immemorial Oriental winds and percussion. But what makes “Raya” particularly fun, and different in Howard’s fantasy cannon is the anachronistic, but totally Disney radio with-it is his use of electronica and pop grooves. It’s a combination of the kind of gloriously expansive, old school Hollywood sound of which Howard is a grand wizard and the state of the pop art, a world which gave the composer his start long before the Mouse House’s worlds beckoned – and exactly the kind of freshness that makes “Raya” so much fun in a way that will beckon new fans to film music.
(Mondo Boys / Lakeshore Records)
After putting the Spaghetti Western bells and whistles on the Santa vs. master killer showdown of “Fatman,” the youthful, eccentric genius composing team Mondo Boys now take on another kid who got big time coal in his stocking for exploiting the dark web to criminally libertarian effect with a drug-to-order service called “Silk Road.” Given that it would be foolish to even approach a film about the internet with symphonic music, the Mondos take a mostly colder, synth approach to its “Social Network” cousin of a kid run amuck with good internet intentions gone very wrong. Here, the Mondos’ retro rhythms rely more on a psychological vibe that nicely compliments the straight-ahead storytelling of director Tiller Russell, who’d previously made the cop corruption documentary “The Seven Five.” Given a reliance on character as opposed to stylism and excess too-smart-for-school verbiage, the Mondos create an assured, keyboard-tapping beat that creates a digital latticework for montages explaining how to succeed with how to succeed in selling controlled substances on the web without really trying. The score’s unobtrusive, subtly thematic rhythms help let the incredible facts sink in, all while gradually turning the guy whom you think is the good cop to the dark side. Their “Silk Road” creates a calculated feeling of confidence, exactly the kind of mesmerizing computer music bed in which things can go wrong. With so many scores summing up the life-wrecking possibilities of computers, “Silk Road” uses its synth state of the art to captures the sound of sleek capitalist hubris that prides itself on leaving no digital footprint but suspensefully can’t help but ultimately clicking on the Yes button to seeming murder – music that effectively connotes a sense of human emptiness for just how complex its cool computer-generated grooves might get.
(Nathaniel Walcott and Mike Mogis / Lakeshore Records)
CBS All Access’ surprisingly good, if maligned take on the Stephen King apocalyptic epic could use some love. They certainly got it musically from the duo of Nathaniel Walcott and Mike Mogis, composers whose duets have previously been in the romantic genre with the likes of “Lovely, Still,” “Stuck in Love” and “The Fault in Our Stars.” But it’s exactly their emo talents that draw on a dreamy electronic sound which makes them ideal to take on this biblical showdown between the goodness of Hemingford Home, Nebraska and the pure evil of Nevada’s Las Vegas. Entrancing synth pads create a feeling of soulful mourning and inner determination to pull a plague’s survivors together. It’s a meditative tone complimented with guitar and piano, creating an aura of mystical bluegrass folksiness that is far closer to W.G. Snuffy Walden’s score for ABC’s 1994 miniseries than one might remember. But if that approach is for heaven-sent Americana, then Walcott and Mogis reserve their heavier, metal-from-hell style for antichrist Randall Flagg. Blazing with twisted rock energy and orchestral percussion, “The Stand’s” ephemeral music takes more sinister, orchestral-like form for this seductively twisted figure, most thrillingly for its entity electrical ball showdown between good and evil. Yet for the most part, “The Stand” has an alt. down to earth, lyrically humanistic approach for this otherwise fantastical story, making for a soundtrack that delivers on the evil rebel chills, but is most concerned with poignant emotion. It’s a score that doesn’t try to answer the big biblical questions about good and evil as opposed to letting the cosmic alt. scope of it melodically sink into the characters, and listeners.
(Émoi / Filmtrax, Ltd.)
When 80’s synth-rock retro scoring is the rage, “Willy’s Wonderland” puts a whole new punch into the genre as Émoi delivers the Cage-rific smackdown on a bunch of family pizza joint inspired animatronic creatures from hell. That he’s doing it in this titular emporium built in 1984 before satanic slasher shenanigans made it the small-town Wicker Puppet curse only adds to how many insane avenues this exceptionally well-constructed score can explore. Making quite the feature debut here, Émoi’s background in commercial scoring makes him a natural to create and perform an earbug birthday song (along with voicing a giant body-cleaving weasel), one whose cheerful devilishness is positively dripping with mozzarella. And that’s just the start of the stylish tunes that fill the soundtrack that range from country music to twisted variations on “Pop Goes the Weasel,” all accompanied with pitch-perfect infantile instrumentation that must have made parents think of killing themselves long before the sacrificial rituals ever started here. But horror score fans are really at “Willy’s” to dig into the 80’s stuff, which Émoi brilliantly emulates. Metal guitar thrash speaks for mute Cage puppet rage, which mixes with creepy voice and organs that you might imagine playing in the Silver Shamrock factory, all while creepy jazz grooves befitting Twin Peaks show up. What’s particularly cool here is just how strongly thematic and melodic “Willy’s Wonderland” is, showing a composer who’s having fun taking apart teen intruders without making the music a patronizing joke. He’s delightfully flinging you back into the instrumental equivalent of a long hair song that graced a Freddy movie back in the day by way of Chuck E. Cheese.
WONDER WOMAN 1984: SKETCHES
(Hans Zimmer / WaterTower Music)
Way back in the mid-80’s day, Hans Zimmer was heads and tails above the next wave of computer-savvy composers who’d change the sound of film music given his sheer creativity at engineering a hybrid sound between orchestral might and the spacier, rhythmic possibilities of state-of-the-art gear. Not only did that make him a great choice to fully score a throwback Wonder Woman film, but also put out an “unplugged” album of “Sketches” for what would ultimately become the soundtrack. Zimmer usually begins his process with long, individual suites of themes from which the score itself can be disassembled, which makes this just as thrilling a listen on its own as it is an examination of the creative process – a la Zimmer’s release of his music for the equally unjustly maligned, chance-taking “Dark Phoenix” film. Given a tone that’s decidedly brighter here for its enjoyably wacky neo-Wishmaster plot, Zimmer flexes the muscles of his electronic ensemble to create an impossibly full sound that’s as good as the real thing. Yet there’s also a fun unplugged quality about the music, in this case deliberately recalling the kind of pre-symphonic sound that made Zimmer Hollywood’s most distinctive electro-centric action composer with the likes of “Drop Zone,” “Broken Arrow” and “Black Rain.” But then if you want music that puts Diana Prince in a shopping mall, why not get the guy who composed it then like no one’s business? Each of the suites here mainly work off of a main idea that never gets tiring, whether it’s the exuberant main theme, affectionally goofy pop grooves, or gorgeous Morricone meets Wagner romance. QC this between the actual deal from that era, and you won’t quite know if “1984” is real or Memorex. But one thing for sure is that this thrilling concept album shows just how much Zimmer has grown while never leaving his roots at all.