Soundtrack Picks: ‘RETURN TO OZ‘ is the top soundtrack to own for May, 2015
Also worth picking up THE BELSTONE FOX, THE D TRAIN, THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, LAST KNIGHTS, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, TOMORROWLAND and more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD Cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE BELSTONE FOX
What Is It?: Before Disney’s animated “The Fox and the Hound,” Britain did it for real with the unlikely animal mates of 1973’s “The Belstone Fox.” At the least, these far smaller animals were probably less harrowing for “Born Free” director James Hill and star Bill Travers to work with as they applied a similar eco-message to England’s most appalling blood sport. And while they might not have had John Barry on this animal centric go-around, they would receive a beautifully bucolic score by the country’s secret musical weapon.
Why Should You Buy It?: Likely best known in America for his themes for such British cult shows as “The Avengers” and “The Professionals,” Johnson has provided the military martinet timpani for “Dr. Strangelove,” the atmospherically alien and jolly-good music that landed “The First Men in the Moon,” and the swashbuckling action of “Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.” Behind the musical scenes, Johnson would become Bernard Herrmann’s valued aide-de-camp with his conducting for “Obsession” and additional scoring on “It Lives Again.” A one constant in Johnson’s work has been his talent for lush orchestrations that marks such other William Walton-influenced British composing peers as John Scott (“Greystoke”) and Christopher Gunning. Here that symphonic sensibility for the green, rolling hills of his homeland beautifully run through Johnson’s veins. It’s music as nature itself as Johnson evocatively paints a seemingly impossible friendship between fox and hound. Driven by a wistful, poignant theme that reflects the plight of a vilified animal, Johnson’s playful, melodically pastoral approach shows a more innocent time between hunter and prey, the musical leaping and dodging about without resorting to cartoonish antics. Class is the name of the game here, reflecting a chase favored the upper class. Of course, Johnson relies on the rallying cry of brass instruments to start the chase, with a wily orchestra rousingly outfoxing human and hound. With the real stars here its diminutive performers, Johnson’s music does much to emotionally reflect what’s going on, giving the very wounded human feeling of loss and betrayal, the music often somber to hint at terrible fate awaiting the fox if caught. “Belstone” ultimately displays real bite in its terrifying hunts, snarling brass, charging percussion and overall desperate suspense having the score run for its life with all the impact if he was scoring a scene of a single soldier trying to outrace an army. It’s a jolting, thematically menacing, near-militaristic rhythm that rivals Herrmann’s more furious chase music in the likes of “Marnie” and “On Dangerous Ground,” especially given how gentle the score is before it, trumpeting danger that truly shows that Johnson has more in mind than pastoral, child-friendly stuff, which doesn’t detract from the beautifully poetic score that would pave the way for the pastoral likes of Angela Morley’s rabbit-friendly “Watership Down.”
Extra Special: For as many films as he’s scored, Laurie Johnson soundtracks remain hard to come by, which makes Dragon’s Domain’s edition particularly welcome. A favorite for Johnson admirers in the know, “The Belstone Fox” sounds very good for all of its archival animal years, with Randall D. Larson offering thoughtful commentary on Johnson’s moving, poignant work for a story that would get way more kid-friendly down the line. More important to listen to now that the unaccountably elected conservative government in England wants to really have at it again with this awful blood sport, the release of “The Belstone Fox’s” score couldn’t be timelier in imparting its lesson of how human animals are, and how little they like being chased for their lives.
2) THE D TRAIN
What is it?: Ah, to return to the golden 80’s days at John Hughes High, an institution filled with choice progressive tracks and emo-pop synth instrumentals. One schlub’s desperate effort to make his tenth-year reunion way better than his actual school experience is reason enough for this awesome mix tape of “The D Train” to exist – getting both approaches so spot-on that you can practically smell, let alone hear the mullet hairspray as the film’s ersatz Ducky / Farmer Ted ends up getting way friendlier with Blaine / Jake Ryan then he could ever imagine in his quest to get a Banana Boat lotion hunk back to his old suburban stomping grounds in order to prove himself a nerd no more.
Why should you buy it?: When you hear the zero-disguised version of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “If You Leave” in the opening track “A Million Stars,” you know that you’re in good company with people who likely have their Sirius Radios tuned to 80’s on 8. And I don’t imagine that OMD is particularly mad at the sound-alike, given that the seminal new wave band’s frontman Andy McCluskey is on vocals here. That tune is followed up with the actual 1985 OMD song “So In Love” (extra props to 20th high school reunion time continuity here) as the greatest hits keep on coming. Other exceptionally well chosen tunes include INX’s “Never Tear Us Apart,” Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart,” Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” with even The Vapor’s “Turning Japanese” making an appearance. You have expect the soundtrack to zero in on Long Duck Dong dancing with The Lumberjack with how well “The D-Train” picks its tracks, no doubt due to the astute choices of ace music supervisor Randall Poster (“The Hangover”). But instead of going for the now-kitschy hip factor of these once 100% cool songs (ok, Mr. Mister’s power anthem “Kyrie” has always been a bit goofy), what makes “The D-Train’s” collection of woozy saxes, chirping synths and English-accented voices is the feeling of unrequited ennui they engender, turning lyrics that spoke for the romantic-social alienation of outsider kids into the blown pipe dreams of Jack Black’s pathetically unsatisfied man-teen. They’re songs that brilliantly show how feeling on the outside never changes, no matter how desperately one tries to reshape them.
Extra Special: The John Hughes underscores by the likes of Ira Newborn, Keith Forsey and Stewart Copeland have always gotten a bit of a short shrift when compared to how popular the filmmakers’ song choices were – even if his taste in instrumentals was just as astute. Andrew Dost of the indie bands Fun and Anathallo definitely heard those peppy, dreamy electronics, recreating them here like a boss. Bubbly percussion, off-kilter chords, woozy pizzicatos, and cool melodic grooves give a weird uplift to Black’s character, feeding the hopes of his mission to recruit the TV golden god that used to somehow be in his class, while at the same time playing just illusory those dreams are of a guy who wants to go from zero to hero. Yet Dost’s nicely melodic, subtly emotional synth-rock score is never deliberately “funny’ as it were as it take us back to the 80s future. When other similar, spot-on synth scores like “It Follows” and “The Guest” are brilliantly recreating the sound of 80s horror, it’s nice to have a composer doing a similarly spot-on approach to resurrect the fashionable ghosts of trendoids and dweebs who never quite grew up the way they imagined, a theme that also makes “The D Train” into an unexpectedly perceptive flash-forward that make you understand the resistance that many people have about being cold-called to attend the prom of people they’ve tried to forget, while secretly wanting to be king its king or queen.
3) THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY
What Is it?: Artsy S & M is all the rage now, where masters of the leather and whip domain introduce novices to their “pleasure”-filled secret place. The difference with “The Duke of Burgundy” is that said Red Room is also filled with dead, mounted insects, with a concentration on the butterfly variety – all the better for games of Sapphic mental domination where the unbecoming mistress ultimately becomes the master of the mansion. This countryside setting isn’t exactly the kind of big city where you’re going to get Beyonce belting out “Haunted” over a helicopter ride. For if anything, the music provided by Cat’s Eye is even more seductively beautiful as it flits between soft female vocals, alternative grooves and classical meditations that make getting musically tied up into an act of existential romance.
Why Should You Buy It?: For his previous film “Berbarian Sound Studio,” director Peter Strickland had the group Broadcast reference the organ, keyboard and string-filled likes of Goblin and Fabio Frizzi for his Italian Giallo horror homage. While Cat’s Eyes auspicious scoring debut here at times brings to mind a 60’s Euro soft rock sound, their beautiful work is thankfully all class as opposed to the groovy softcore kitsch score that could have been. If anything, the soft, undulating female voice, gossamer violins, harpsichords, flute and echoing electronics bring to mind the best work of Air (“The Virgin Suicides”) and Sally Potter (“Orlando”) in creating an time out of place to complement Strickland’s esoteric erotica. It’s a hip, neo-Baroque groove that’s perfect for a hermetic environment of discovery, as well as subtly tightening the screws for the couple’s intensifying power games. But as opposed to anything resembling a harsher “male” sound. “The Duke of Burgundy” is all about a meditative, sensually thematic touch that pulls the listener in like a moth to a flame that will only burn the mind, as opposed to the flesh.
Extra Special: Consider “The Duke of Burgundy” as Schubert-meets-alt. Sapho, a score that finds a religious sense of desire in its ending choral requiem. Musical sex has rarely been this smart, or haunting, especially given its gorgeously eerie songs that bring to mind Julee Cruise serenading Twin Peaks. Entomologists will doubtlessly get hot to hear a sampled Bombix Moi mating ritual here as well.
4) RETURN TO OZ
What is it?: Yes, Dorothy. “Oz” creator Frank L. Baum made silent, cinematic trips to his wonderful land long before Herbert Stothart created a magical score that perfectly complimented its yellow-bricked Technicolor sunniness – with just a few detours into not-so scary darkness. That deserved 1939 masterpiece gave what was essentially the first, and last note to Baum’s vision as well, no matter that numerous composers and films have since done their best to create their own memorable trips to Oz, most recently in cartoon and live action with 2013’s “Legends of Oz” and “Oz the Great and Powerful.” The latter Disney film’s director Sam Raimi, and composer Danny Elfman created an homage that crossed MGM’s 1930’s fantasy look with Baum’s turn-of-the-century imagination that gave birth to his beloved characters, with the slightly more frightening film getting ok box office grosses. But that admirable effort can’t begin to compare to either the Baum-era authenticity, or nightmarish reception given to The Mouse House’s way scarier first visit two decades ago with “Return To Oz.” As the so-far sole directorial effort by “American Graffiti’s” ace editor and sound designer Walter Murch, “Oz” adopted the second and third books in Baum’s series, essentially destroying the Emerald City and the friends of Dorothy to introduce a new group of sidekicks (including a talking chicken, flying moose couch and a pumpkin man) to take on an evil witch and Will Vinton’s awesomely stop-motioned Gnome King. Gorgeous to look at and stout of heart, “Oz” ended up as a cult film for those who appreciated its daringly dark, often gorgeous take on the material. “Return’s” happiest, and lasting legacy has always been David Shire’s gorgeous score, capturing Baum’s Americana spirit and magical adventure in music that might have resulted if John Philip Sousa and Scott Joplin had teamed to write the score to “Star Wars.” Now Shire’s sumptuous work gets the royal treatment it’s always deserved through Intrada’s spectacular two-CD release of a musical odyssey that dare I say is the rival, if not better soundtrack to Stothart’s.
Why should you buy it?: One wouldn’t necessarily think the composer of more intimate movies like “Old Boyfriends” and “Norma Rae” to take on a fantasy movie of Oz’s orchestral scope (though Shire certainly showed a talent for soaring suspense in “The Hindenburg” and electronic, ethereal wonder with “2010”). It’s certainly the kind of epically orchestral, imaginative scoring he should have done far more of (and certainly would have if “Oz” had done better). Yet it’s exactly Shire’s emotional lyricism that significantly elevates “Oz.” Given an age-appropriate Dorothy who’s at first threatened with electroshock by disbelieving adults, Shire comes up with a truly heartbreaking theme that connotes a little girl against the world, the naturally sad sonority of a violin making the melody all the more touching. The growingly pastoral, Copland-esque nature of this melody is just the first of a head-filled hall’s worth of memorably distinctive melodies (adding up to an astounding nine) that are as rooted in innocent Americana as they are fantasy land. Shire creates a poignant sense of wonder, his orchestra conveying mystical, mysterious scope (particularly in the deliciously sinister music of Mombi’s glistening mandolins and synth harpsichord) as Dorothy traipses across a ruined Oz. But as chillingly stone-crawling as the music can be, it has an even more delightful feeling of fun when a ragtime march and honkeytonk pianos emerge in the score, perfectly complementing production design that’s Oz, as unabashedly envisioned for the early 1900’s. Shire’s work is certainly the equal in its way of John Williams’ best work, using the lavish performance by The London Symphony Orchestra for all of its theme-driven worth. It’s exciting, atmospheric scoring that’s world-building in the best sense, letting us at once here the sparkling, magical Oz that was, and the brassily foreboding realm it’s become, as heard through the heroic determination of a vulnerable little lady and her new, far-weirder friends. The score reaches a truly wondrous peak with the kind of emotionally building, swooning tearful, “farewell’ cue that was stock-in-trade to such other 80’s-era composers as Bruce Broughton and Trevor Jones.
Extra Special: Previously available on a sought-after Bay Cities CD, Intrada’s access to the Disney archives has allowed them to restore the golden luster to Shire’s masterwork, presented in its complete form to bring even more expansive wonder and tactile atmosphere to “Oz.” Indeed, Shire’s already spectacular-sounding work has never been more sonically golden, restored to its worth as one of the 80s best scores – and one of the best film scores ever written at that. If audiences didn’t “get” “Oz” back then, they’ll certainly be enchanted now, especially with copious alternate cuts and an attractive booklet graced with Tim Greiving’s informative, appreciative liner notes for this long-deserved release that’s truly over the rainbow.
What is it?: If there’s one thing that ties together Disney publicist-turned-composer Michael Giachhino’s Oscar-winning work for the studio, it’s a sense of wonder that captures a pure kid-at-heart excitement of journeying to new worlds, whether it’s an isolated South American plateau, the surface of Mars or a French kitchen. Now that starstruck kid-as-musician delivers an E-ticket ride to a B- movie with one of his brightest, and most purely enjoyable scores for “Tomorrowland.” It’s a soundtrack in the key of optimism, a belief in the future that proves to be mightily endearing for this well-meaning theme park as movie.
Why should you buy it?: Given a spirit that practically sings with youthful possibility, Giacchino’s work not only touches on the Roddenberry utopian ethos that imbued the happier moments for his “Star Trek” reboot scores, but also brings back the flying, timeless nostalgia that James Horner graced “The Rocketeer” with (a film that’s the studio’s closest ancestor to “Tomorrowland”). Like this movie’s kid with a jetpack, Giacchino keeps rising his energy higher and higher with magical possibility, indulging in one spectacular revelatory cue after the other. The music positively sings with hope during a dazzling tour of its retro-future city, and positively trumpets with super-heroic accomplishment during the movie’s breathtaking Eiffel Tower rocketship launch setpiece. But then, “Tomorrowland’s” music can’t help but glisten with graceful, gee-whiz melodic motion, played at the glorious height of bombastic sumptuousness, especially when it comes to its bursts of breathless, rhythmically thematic action, as given punchy string and brass playfulness, or giving its future artifacts a mysterioso feeling that Indiana Jones would appreciate. It’s just too bad the actual place isn’t as much fun to visit in the movie as what it takes to get there, a dourness that Giacchino wittily accents with Fascist march rhythms, while given its bad vibes-inducing sphere a subtle Theremin menace. But even the climax’s jumble of effects and moral cough syrup doesn’t begin to take the luster from Giacchino’s work, which does so much heavy lifting in “Tomorrowland’s” all-over-the-place climax to qualify as its own anti-gravity platform. It’s a marvelously punchy and chorally moving musical sequence that plays the world at stake, yet another shiningly melodic example that Giacchino is the heir apparent to pull out John Williams’ Excalibur as he brings on the big stuff with delightful abandon.
Extra Special: Give this composing kid a medal, or at least a pin, for he’s seen a glorious, inspirational future built on old-school foundations of memorable themes and walls of symphonic melody one he’s determined to keep flying high in a way that will doubtlessly recruit any number of future scientists, not to mention composers, to Giacchino’s cause with “Tomorrowland.”
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
Nicolas Winding Refn put himself, and star Tom Hardy on Hollywood’s radar with this beyond-visceral, utterly riveting film about the exploits of England’s number one real life villain, whose bloodily unbelievable-but-true exploits have landed him in the slammer for the rest of his life. Charles Bronson he might be named, but a tough good guy he ain’t. Yet given Refn’s brilliantly theatrical approach to what could have been an otherwise standard prison biopic, Bronson comes off as the star of the movie in his own mind, his delusions of grandeur abetted by this collection of brilliantly absurdist song and “score” choices that shows just how twisted Refn’s mind is in making “Bronson’s” story his own “biography” as well. The breezy pop-electronica rhythms of The New Order’s “Your Silent Face,” Glass Candy’s “Digital Versicolor” and The Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” jam with the dirge like, Bowie-esque doom of The Walker Brother’s “The Electrician.” And what could be more ironically cheerful for a mom-loving sociopath than Eva Abraham and The Nat Franklin Trio’s cheerful accompaniment to the sleigh bells of “Santa Please (Come Early This Christmas),” while Ray Martin’s “Meet Mr. Callaghan” is the height of clopping, easy listening orchestra kitsch. It’s doubtful Ron Goodwin, England’s most patriotic WW2 composer could have imagined “The Dam Busters’” march taking on such playful pomp and circumstance. But when it comes to a compilation album devilishly feeding into a maniac’s super-ego, nothing adds bulked-up muscle like using the classics, particularly that of every Nazi’s favorite composer Richard Wagner, or a near twenty-minute passage from the far nicer Anton Bruckner. Verdi’s rousing choral pieces bow down before “Bronson’s” might, while the oft-used, beautifully soaring female voices of Act 1 of “Lakme” by Leo Delibes have seldom accompanied such a foul male brute. It’s disparate music that paints a devious, clever portrait of a terrifying individual, making him all the more human by showing how eccentric the mix tape of his crazed mental state is.
At their satirical best, David Newman’s comedy scores have the unhinged energy of whirling spaceships smashing into each other with antic rhythm going at the speed of Warp 12 – no more so than when he’s in the fantastical company of “The Nutty Professor,” “Scooby Doo” and “Galaxy Quest.” The latter score for that cult sensation wonderfully captured the symphonic nobility of “Star Trek’s” music, albeit at the com of heroically freaked-out actors. Handed the indelible cone-headed aliens of “Saturday Night Live,” Newman was inspired in an even more wonderfully blatant way to pay tribute to the greats – in this case doing a Looney Tunes version of Bernard Herrmann’s seminal sci-fi score to “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and the B-movie sci-fi sound that followed. A cosmically imposing orchestra heralds the arrival of perhaps not so awe-inspiring emissaries, right down to the rapid piano rhythms and a wee-ooo Theremin, all complete with the bells and whistles of blasting brass, heavenly choruses and noble, Washingtonian trumpets. Yet the “Coneheads” remains one of my favorite, if most unsung, SNL films because it goes way out beyond a one-joke idea of a bizarro family trying to fit into a normal neighborhood (a theme Newman first pulled off in his hilarious score for the insect suburbanites of “Meet the Applegates”). For “The Coneheads” is also wonderfully sweet and emotionally endearing, making real people out of the ridiculous in both performance and Newman’s melodically glistening, disarmingly sweet music that bonds this family unit, especially given the composer’s distinctively lush orchestrations. As such, “The Coneheads” stands as one of his most energetically fun and endearing soundtracks, now at last finally heard via Intrada Records, who also teams up the Remulakans with Newman’s “Talent for the Game.” No stranger to magically uplifting the dreams of down-and-out players in his sports scores to “The Sandlot” “The Mighty Ducks” and “The Air Up There,” Newman imbues a rousing, folksy Americana spirit into this movie about an unassuming pitching natural being given his big shot. Once again, Newman’s strongly thematic music revels in warmth and uplift, here with his own talent for sparking, pop-friendly keyboard percussion that moves a reluctant kid from the rookies to the big league – of course complete with the rousing music for the stadium-cheering winning play. Fully loading the album’s score bases is Newman’s cartoon score for “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” which puts the famed children’s song through its zany, breathless pace on Carl Stalling overdrive as it veers from military to tinkertoy variations. It’s a delightful capper for an album that shows how Newman can throw out the funny, and heartfelt into the cosmic bleachers.
. LADY AND THE TRAMP: THE LEGACY COLLECTION
Far more romantic and saucy than any classic Disney animated film that had a human princess pining away for her noble man, 1955’s “Lady and the Tramp” saw the meatball-pushing advances between a down on her luck cocker spaniel and the streetwise mutt who becomes her savior. Certainly, it’s impossible to have date night pasta at any Italian restaurant without hearing the swooning, slurping strains of “Bella Notte.” Certainly Disney’s songbook has never been saucier then when Peggy Lee crooned “He’s A Tramp,” or conversely more angelic than when Lady asks “What is a Baby?” And when it comes to evil cunning, the now non-PC, ching-chong singers of “The Siamese Cat Song” gets across murderous feline deviousness at its most cunningly silken. What’s particularly fun is knowing that the multi-talented legend was also the co-author of these songs, as well as the voice of the the stereotypical kitties. Hearing “Lady’s” full, instrumental soundtrack is a big part of the charm of Disney’s wonderful Legacy Collections, which serves up the complete score by Oliver Wallace. A prolific Mouse House composer who did numerous animated shorts from the studio’s inception, Wallace would abet such features as “Dumbo” (for which he shared the scoring Oscar), while getting nominations for “Cinderella” and “Alice in Wonderland.” “Lady and the Tramp” is an especially yeoman work, continuing his tradition of rambunctiously scoring the characters, as opposed to treating them as antic cartoons. Here’s it’s a sound of pure sweetness, the poignancy of a new delivery in the house, and truly exciting action as the dogs take on evil rats. But then there’s no doubt as to where our musical sympathies lie in this fable of an innocent purebred kicked to the curbed, and getting a lush, melodic push to find that the rogues are always far more interesting than the prince. Now finally in full stereo, “Lady’s” musical legacy is well served indeed by a particularly gorgeous booklet, and a second CD filled with the Lee co-authored songs that could have been, which prove especially carefree and catchy with Jeff Gunn’s performances of “I’m Free As the Breeze” and “I’m Singin’ (Cause I Want to Sing).” It’s just part of “Lady and the Tramp’s” ever-endearing walk on the wilder side.
. LAST KNIGHTS
One of Hans Zimmer’s faithful errand knights has been cellist Martin Tillman, who’s served his the mega-composer well by bringing his emotive, often dark string sound to numerous scores from “Hannibal” to “Batman Begins” and “Inception” – certainly no more impactfully than in his work on “The Ring” redo scores, where his chilling string strands matched the flowing black hair of the American spin on Sadako. Where Tillman had used his talent for that well-sprung demon’s mission of vengeance, the composer (joined by ace Zimmer percussionist Satnam Ramgotra) is now on the side of righteous payback for “Last Knights.” Cult Japanese director Kazuaki Kiriya (“Casshern”) offers the latest take on his country’s legendary tale of 47 Ronin, which had a lord’s loyal servants going on a kamikaze mission to avenge their master’s death (you might remember a half-caste Keanu Reeves wielding that katana of doom for a decent, similarly doomed film by that title a few years ago). In this Anglo spin, Clive Owen is the warrior given the fateful task. But as opposed to a sword, it turns out his best weapon is the icily eerie and atmospheric music, its low, doom-filled sound and vaguely ethnic feel perfectly complementing “Last Knight’s” setting in some Medieval nether-realm where the sun barely shines. It’s a place of sleek, stylized production design and battle choreography given the kind of pulsing, sustaining energy that most definitely brands Tillman and Ramgotra as part of the army that’s sprung from Zimmer’s sound, especially when it comes to generating an expansive, haunting energy that’s given rhythmic power and grace to such other historical epics as Harry Gregson-Williams’ “Kingdom of Heaven,” which of course Tillman was a cellist on. Here he layers over a hundred celli on top of each other to create a virtual Great Wall of sound, a presence that’s as grimly formidable as its avenging warriors. It’s a force of extraordinary magnitude given alternately cunning and furious percussion by Romagotra. But this still isn’t thrilling “action” music as such, instead capturing the philosophy of the blade that makes death almost an afterthought as long as the mission is accomplished – a sense of determination that hypnotically drives “Last Knights” to its destiny. “Last Knights” shows that Tillman and Ramgotra use the darkly enchanting voice of Natacha Atlas, grinding metal and a sense of rhythmic gloom to bring a hypnotic power to “Last Knights,” its sense of purpose turning into a thing of dark, drumming beauty on its way to the big payback, and its angelic reward. Not only do Tillman and Ramgotra bow down before their lord with “Last Knights,” but they also forge their own creative way to a promising future in the midst of noble musical sacrifice.
. ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
There’s never quite been a women in prison show like this Netflix series, which found a nice, upwardly mobile NYC woman yanked into prison for a bit of long-forgotten drug smuggling. Thankfully, this isn’t the macho hellhole of HBO’s “Oz,” but rather an opportunity to explore a band of female misfits over two seasons and counting – a sentence that evidently will be extended given the hit show. But even if you might not have Netflix, your listening time will certainly fly with this fun and inventive score album by “Weeds” veterans Gwendolyn Stanford and Brandon Jay, who are joined by veteran session man Scott Doherty. When it’s often easy to peg this kind of indie-sound team spirit into the definitive cell blocks of the hip, hangdog rhythm and blues or alt. pop, the charm of “Orange is the New Black” is that it’s everything, unclassifiably at once. Screaming voices, sitars, Hammond organs, fearsome wedding music and mean-ass guitar burns are accounted for, wearing any number of given faces to play this eccentric rogues gallery. It’s raw and unhinged, yet peppy in a way that show off the composers’ backgrounds in the hipster band scene, grooves that are as capable of being funny as they are poignant or shank-dark. There’s nothing very polished about “Orange’s” cavalcade of raw, unplugged sound. You might even think they fashioned their instruments from soap, toothbrushes or loose metal, an inventiveness that matches characters fashioning the physical, and psychological tools they need to survive in a very strange, seriocomic world. “Orange is the New Black” is truly fresh stuff in stretching the indie score vibe, be it on film, cable or Netflix’s mutant offspring, once again proving the medium’s way more adult when it comes to creative possibility for this hot mess of energetic and enervating music that will hopefully never get out of stir.
While one can envy Marc Streitenfeld on getting plum scoring assignments like the “Alien” prequel “Prometheus,” or this unexpectedly enjoyable reboot of “Poltergeist,” it’s doubtful many composers would envy anyone who has to follow in the footsteps of two of Jerry Goldsmith’s greatest scores, especially given that musician’s legion of fans who are most definitely adverse to the new soundscape-ish approach of scoring genre films. Where Streitenfeld was nice enough to give props to Goldsmith’s “Alien” theme on the way to The Engineers’ bio-warfare planet, his new journey into the spirit-filled light never gives a tip of the hat to the maestro, which is likely for the best. So if one is able to doff their attachment to the symphonic approach of “Poltergeist” yore, there’s definite fun to be had in this more ferocious musical telling of the story. But even if we might not be hearing Goldsmith’s sonorous ghost waltz down the suburban staircase, Streitenfeld most definitely has some good themes going on, not to mention the pounding, orchestral fear of pissed off spooks on steroids. If anything, “Poltergeist” is an intriguing, face-hugging cousin of Streitenfeld’s creepy musical effects for “Prometheus,” full of intriguing, disturbing textures, as combined with an eerie, whistle-like theme and the music box bell percussion sound of an innocent child who really shouldn’t be watching a static-filled television after dark. When that evil clown attacks, it’s a twisted, choking orgy of stabbing effects, howling samples and a malefic, roaring brass motif. It’s a morass of pulsating, shrieking textures that aren’t exactly melody, especially given how horror scoring has gotten way more Avant-garde for the sole concern of scaring the shit out of us in the post “Insidious / Conjuring” era. That’s because Streitenfeld is more into playing the rage of ghosts as opposed to Goldsmith’s siding with the Freeling family, though the lost, child-like presence of the score is sure to make itself heard from The Other Side. But just when you’ve settled into Streitenfeld’s theater-chair jumping approach, the composer brings on a truly impressive, rhythmic build “Into the Portal,” shifting his vulnerable main theme into epic excitement for the hellzapoppin climax It’s likely this concluding music that will perk up the ear of even the most steadfast Goldsmith fan with a spiritual crossroads of the symphonic and the artificially nerve-rending. Streitenfeld has certainly made The Other Side an impressionistically howling, crazier place the second time around – by then end turning what was once a door-sized, white ghost dragon into a the scoring equivalent of Godzilla. At the very least, it can certainly be said that this is the “Poltergeist” score that wins for berserkly scaring the shit out of you when it comes to clown jack-in-the-boxes.
. THE REWRITE
It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas at Binghamton University, a perpetually rainy college town in upstate New York, a very non-LA adjacent place for a screenwriter at the end of his rope to learn that those who once did can actually teach. It’s also an auspicious location for Clyde Lawrence and additional musician Cody Fitzgerald to make their feature scoring debuts with a delightful jazz combo score that brings to ear the Peanuts-centric work of Vince Guaraldi (who happens to performs “Since I Fell For You” on the album). With previous songwriting credit on “Rewrite” writer-director Marc Lawrence’s other winning Hugh Grant comedies “Music and Lyrics” and “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” Clyde shows himself to be as respectively talented a musician as his dad is in comedy (it helped that he wrote “Miss United States” for dad’s script to “Miss Congeniality” at the age of six). Here Clyde is in scoring residence at his pop’s real-life alma matter, where the epitome of Brit charm is now aging quite well into sad sack, if very much still roguishly appealing characters, Lawrence finds an easygoing, and very clever groove that gets across a cocksure fellow at the crossroads of his career, and finding new energy in student writers who turn out to have a modicum of ability. Starting off with typewriter percussion, Lawrence goes for a bluesy, exasperated Hammond organ, deceptively upbeat guitar rhythms and wah-wah guitar grooves that get across a guy who thinks he’s way better than his job. It’s music that can play with the retro energy of Danny Ocean’s gang, or go for a sweet, meditative piano melody. Nicely ranging from the retro-hip to the acoustically rustic, Lawrence’s work is an auspicious bookmark in sophisticated rom-com scoring, especially given the way it plays with “The Rewrite’s” snappy Hollywood-friendly dialogue, with the Lawrence showing off his own Randy Newman-esque vocal chops on the memorable blues rock tunes “If It Weren’t for the Boys,” “So Damn Fast” and “One More Time.” Grade this score an auspicious A.
. SUPERNOVA VOL 1: THROUGH THE PORTAL
One of the major breakout videogame soundtracks in recent years was Olivier Derivière’s reality-bending score for 2013’s “Remember Me,” in which his ear-catching, mind-melting and ever-twisting fusion of samples, orchestra and electronics engaged in an exciting chase with a “memory hunter” in future neo-Paris, her time-shifting feats turning about the nature of music itself. Now Derivière’s game work takes on a way bigger cosmic scope with the first volume of “Supernova,” an online multi player that’s now in test mode HERE (https://supernovagame.com/register?ref=tn) But when listening to just how expansive Derivière’s score is, you’d think it was accompany the next “Infinity War” Avengers movies as opposed to a cool, stylized strategy game. The electro-symphonic retro-byte body of “Remember Me” is certainly apparent is the buzzing, piercing synth-fuel that runs through this score’s veins to create an eerie, alien atmosphere. But beating front and center is a staggeringly lush and blazingly heroic symphonic heart, resonating with sonic booms, reverberating strings and a brassily lurching sense of villainy that would befit Thanos, yet with a percussive electro funkiness that Leloo Multipass could also groove to. Dereivier’s cool tone poem only picks up exciting energy as it rolls along into rhythmic, valorous action, greatly abetted by the majestic performance of London’s 70-piece Philharmonia Orchestra. In Derivière’s undulating, brassily impressive talent, one can hear the resonance of John Powell’s action scores, one of the many reasons why “Supernova” plays with way more epic, Abbey Road-recorded adrenalin that you’d expect from Beta mode. This is certainly the Big Bang of a terrifically exciting and fun world that Derivière is obviously enjoying playing in, and I can’t wait to hear part two.
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