May Soundtrack Picks

Soundtrack Picks: “10 CLOVERFIELD LANE” is the top soundtrack to own for May, 2016


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



Price: $19.98

What is it?: Proof that a masterpiece can be dashed off in ten days’ time, Jerry Goldsmith beat the replacement score clock to create one his most famous scores for Roman Polanski’s 1974 ode to the 40’s film noirs – as based on LA magnate William Mulholland’s water grab of the 1920’s. While I still might not be able to grasp this film’s labyrinthine plot after all of these years, Jerry Goldsmith’s salute to all that is smoky, sexy and fatalistic about the genre continues to stand as the modern-day definition of the detective score, no more so than in the brushed piano strings and the lush, woozy trumpet theme. Yet there are just as many tantalizing musical clues to be found in “Chinatown’s” watery score, which finally gets released in all of its sultry glory by Intrada Records.

Why should you buy it?:
Where Roman Polanski was evidently fine with an ok enough score by “Murph the Surf’s” Phillip Lambro (which you can hear via Perseverance Records), credit producer Robert Evans for knowing his film’s soundtrack could do better. Goldsmith certainly had some jazzily fatalistic, hard-broiled scores to his credit like “The Stripper” and “The Detective.” But it was “Chinatown” that really opened up a new world of noir to play with, especially given an impressive recreation of the corruption-drenched, 1930’s era Los Angeles that the composer had grown up in. Goldsmith sends his theme into this dark territory, developing it in a piano-driven, nightmarish way reminiscent of conspiracy maestro Michael Small (“Klute,” “The Parallax View”). Expressionistic, nose-slashing percussion also recalls Goldsmith’s trek through “Planet of the Ape’s” forbidden zone, with mutated piano and shimmering string gestures hinting of water as a bloody currency. Where the film’s title mostly serves as a place of mind until the shocking, but inevitably finale of evil big business triumphing, there’s still a certain Asian quality to the score in Goldsmith’s use of gongs and harps, which play as a sinister answer to Goldsmith’s ventures to the orient in the equally fatalistic “Sand Pebbles.” While there’s little traditional shoot out action here, “Chinatown” offers the kind of staccato piano and militaristic timpani that distinguished the composer’s flair for rhythm. But if the end, it’s the gorgeous horn playing that even non-fans remember about Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated score, its striking melancholy owed to performer Uan Rasey, who’d embody another of God’s lonely men for Bernard Herrmann’s “Taxi Driver.” It’s soulfully sad playing that makes the film sound positively black and white.

Extra Special:
Back in the O.G.LP days, “Chinatown’s” album was a much vaunted collector’s item, fetching major bucks for its short, but effective selections of Goldsmith’s score and period tunes by the likes of Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern. First given a CD release by Varese, Goldsmith’s entire score is now finally uncovered in show order. Douglass Fake and Joe Tarantino’s mastering brings new vibrancy to this classic, which is finally cooled off after years of being heard at too high a volume. Goldsmith dick Jeff Bond does a nice job of sleuthing this iconic score, even if it brings me no closer to understanding what the hell “Chinatown” is about. Forget it.


Price: $11.99

What Is it?: Neal Acree is of the main musical architects who helped give “The World of Warcraft” games a rich, pan-ethnic sound that made for a virtual United Fantasy Nations of orcs, wizards and warriors, He’d then concentrate on an Asian approach with “The Mists of Pandaria,” creating a world that Po would happily call home. Now along with his game scores to “Imperial Reign” and “Legends of Tibet,” Acree hits the boss level of East meets West fantasy stylings with his rapturous scoring for “Revelation,” a Chinese online game a la “Warcraft” that puts its own distinctly cultural spin on sword and sorcery archetypes with magic-wielding demigods, battling gold and black dragons and buried grails.

Why Should You Buy It?:
Proving once again that an epic orchestra can translate a supremely complicated mythos with all the blazingly awesome fury of a magical sword, Acree does a mightily impressive job of world building. The mythically beautiful playing of Seattle’s Northwest Sinfonia creates a sumptuous, theme-filled world of melody, laced together with any number of memorable themes. Acree gives equal importance to “Revelation’s” Chinese identity with a vast array of ancient wind and percussion instruments, breath life into the distinctively Asian characters, among their voices the Erhu, guzheng, shakuhachi and the sensual cello playing of Tina Guo. While mighty brass rides Chinese dragons and smashing drums and shakuhachis frenetically battle a spider queen, “Revelation” is for the most part a tranquil, enveloping work, made all the more spiritual with a full chorus.

Extra Special:
An exemplar of how game soundtracks have gone to the achieved big screen nirvana, it’s no wonder that Acree’s debut on the Varese Sarabande marks the label’s second video game soundtrack in over a dozens years. It’s just cause for Chinese fireworks in showing off his ability to conjure an enchanted realm that’s now open to a legion of players, and listeners.


Price: $29.98

What is it?: For all of the body parts that Stephen King has torn asunder in his numerous books and film adaptations, it’s ironic that two of the most beloved movies ever about male bonding come from his book “Different Seasons” – a “Body” that spawned the CSI Our Gang of “Stand By Me,” and the prison breakout that lay behind “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” Wisely shortened to the last three titles by writer-filmmaker Frank Darabont, this 1994 classic of an unbreakable man slowly chiseling his way out of a Maine hellhole over the course of decades stands as not only the most soulful film in an understandably macho prison break genre, but also as a film that many rightfully consider to be one of the best movies ever made. For where brutality is ever present, Darabont’s key to unlocking immense feeling from “Shawshank” was to taking an inward, emotional approach about what it’s like to have no seeming way out other than the human spirit itself. Darabont couldn’t have found a more interesting cellmate to convey this moody, ultimately uplifting message in a more understated, or interesting way than Thomas Newman

Why should you buy it?:
Thomas Newman had been scoring Hollywood films for about a decade before crafting one of his most memorable scores, previously impressing with the haunting, ethereal tonalities of “Less than Zero,” the playful percussion of “The Man With One Red Shoe,” and the beautifully lush orchestrations of “Scent of a Woman.” All of these styles would come to play inside of Shawshank, a place delicately constructed with a myriad of themes, motifs and eerie atmospheres. Musical steam and metal hiss with the nightmares waiting in a laundry room, the rhythm of a rock hammer sneakily promising the possibility of escape, while a bluegrass harmonica bakes with roof tar (while perhaps not coincidentally bringing to mind sweaty southern memories of “Cool Hand Luke” at that). Americana dignity is invested to the Andre Dufresn, a taciturn, yet noble character given a solemn, symphonic majesty worthy of Aaron Copland. There’s a striving warmth to his friendships with Red as displayed in Newman’s restrained use of strings, melody that’s careful not to become too emotive. But the most valuable instrument here is a piano, leading off a main theme that conveys the awful loneliness of prison. Newman develops his theme with incredible emotional power, while appearing to have little movement at all. But it’s in tune with a painstaking escape, the revelation a masterwork in how to build to a trumpeting, spiritual unshackling from black nothingness. This ever-striving “Shawshank Redemption” cue still one of the most obviously copied, earth shaking pieces of film music in modern scoring history, raging towards the lightning with its bold defiance. As with any prison film, the release of its characters’ repression is given a beautiful sense of nobility and brotherhood, exalting with the uplift of freedom. But then, Thomas Newman is a composer whose family blood runs deep with an ability to musically touch even the most hardened of hearts – making our continued empathy with the inmates Shawshank Prison all the more remarkable.

Extra Special:
“The Shawshank Redemption” reveals new, evocative layers to Newman’s work through La La Land Record’s two CD release. The soundtrack itself is expanded to 70 minutes, two highlights of which are tense, percolating courtroom opening, and an extension of the beautifully poignant “Brooks Was Here.” A second album features alternate takes and album versions, with an aria from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” proving itself worthy of getting thrown into solitary for. Constantine Nasr and Tim Grieving’s excellent liner notes provide insight to the “Shawkshank” mystique for a movie and score that will always be doing time as a fan favorite,


Price: $15.98

What is it?: Much like an unexpected Christmas gift from The Twilight Zone, “Cloverfield” movies have a way of dropping in on the multiplex – virtually shot in secret and not offering a clue as to what they’re about. But in an age where trailers tell you everything, it’s refreshing to come in with a genuine sense of surprise, first to a found-footage hipster Godzilla rampage, and now in a (thankfully) conventionally shot bomb shelter. Where the fist “Cloverfield” only offered Michael Giacchino’s spot-on end credits salute to Akira Ifukube, “Ten Cloverfield Lane” is abundantly scored by Bear McCreary, his spectacularly musical work conveying the roaring joy of a TV-centric composer finally being given the studio big screen break he’s long deserved.

Why should you buy it?:
“10 Cloverfield Lane” might end up in “War of the Worlds” territory, but McCreary smartly starts its heroine’s road trip to hell far more along the lines of “Vertigo.” Like Bernard Herrmann, McCreary has a sense of richly thematic orchestral music gleaned from mentor Elmer Bernstein. It’s a talent for chilling string suspense that’s far more the domain of such barely-seen McCreary-scored thrillers as “The Boy” and “The Forest” as opposed to the mostly unplugged work for “The Walking Dead.” Working in tandem with the slow, captivating burn of “Lane” director Dan Trachtenberg, McCreary isn’t necessarily eager to go in a sci-fi route, instead creating a pulse-pounding score more befitting of a serial killer escape. The composer’s love of ethnic instruments pays off with the unsettling strings of a Turkish yayli tanbur to embody its heroine. Even better is the return of the guttural sound of The Blaster Beam, Craig Huxley’s instrument so familiar to fans of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “Dreamscape,” Given that much of the action is driven by dialogue and character, It says something about Trachtenberg’s confidence in McCreary’s musical storytelling ability that the whole opening plays only with score with score, setting up a highly dysfunctional nuclear family, locked in by doomsday. The composer plays a deceptive game with her to get out, with sweet bell percussion always looking for a sharp brass object. It’s near-continual suspense that does a great deal to keep “Lane” on its toes as McCreary gradually introduces more alien-specific instrumentation, rhythmic electronics added on top of the organic players to hit “Cloverfield’s” gotcha revelation for all of its breathlessly frantic worth as his sturdily constructed themes come to a exhilaratingly heroic head.

Extra Special: Much in the same way that Michael Giacchino announced himself as an heir apparent to John Williams (let alone Akira Ifukube), “10 Cloverfield Lane” is almost positively retro in its appreciation of unabashed melody, yet with the synth-sample chops to that a relevant composer can’t do without. Sure McCreary will always have stuff like “SHIELD,” “Black Sails,” “Outlander” and about another zillion TV shows he does a great job with. But if anything, it’s “10 Cloverfield Lane” that confirms McCreary’s true address is the blockbuster multiplex arena, no more so than when his score is creating a world far outside of an bomb shelter, a two year-long escape that he describes in a booklet that’s one of the compelling examples of a composer describing his score’s technical, and personal evolution. Available on iTunes and through Amazon


Price: $12.99

What is it?: Sure electronics had been used to musically embody killer automatons in movies before, from Bernard Herrmann’s wee-ooo Thermin death ray for Gort in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” to Fred Karlin’s chirping synths that gave lethal aim to Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger for “Westworld.” But it would be composer Brad Fiedel who really put the cold, computerized devil into the cinema’s most famous war machine with 1985’s “The Terminator.” Where its iconic main theme played the determination of the mother of the future when it came to facing off against the best that Cyberdyne could throw at her, Fiedel’s score was no more successful than when stripping away any humanity. With “The Terminator,” he’d achieve a coldness akin to Siberia by innovating weird combinations of synthesizers and twisted organic instruments, approximating a relentless, pitiless scoring cybernetic organism – a sound at once 1985 synth and of the electronic future. Fiedel’s “Terminator” score has been back again and again, but never with the impressive sound of Milan’s essentially complete re-issue as it shines light on the score’s steel bones like never before.

Why should you buy it?:
Brad Fiedel had played any number of homicidal maniacs, from psycho cop (“Deadly Hero”) to backwoods maniac (“Just Before Dawn”) and a demonic tree witch (“Eyes of Fire”). But it was his dive into the biomechanical menace of “The Terminator” that truly launched his career with James Cameron’s come-from-nowhere smash hit. Now that we’re finally hearing the score at a remastered 69-minute running time, the sturdy, thematic construction of T-800 becomes even more sonically clear. It’s a beast of hard, metallic percussion, relentless in its drive to kill the tender piano motif of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, whose nightmarish visions of Judgment Day become atmospheres of ghost-filled voices. Moving with a steady heartbeat to a fiendish, rhythmic run, Fiedel’s creates a character that ranges from steely-eyed melody to almost berserk keyboard improvisation as he transmutes the idea of metal into music. Giving the score a particular gut-wrenching, howling sound is an electric violin (an instrument he’d use to similarly unsettling effect in “Fright Night”) finally jamming in a virtual assembly factory of samples and piercing synths for the definition of heavy metal that’s lost none of it’s terrifying, grinding impact, or force of relentless personality.

Extra Special:
Given a theme that’s as catchy as it is cold, this definitive “Terminator” also finds Fiedel doing an extended version of a clanking melody that literally never gets tired. Here’s hoping that his even more complex, and budgetarily epic score for “Terminator 2” can get a similarly complete, and spit-shined treatment that this iconic score has finally received.



Arguably the first Egyptian mummy score composed by a Frenchman (and a musician best known as a big band jazz artist behind the score to “Borsalino” at that), “The Awakening’s” pairing might seem like strange sarcophagus fellows at first. But Claude Bolling’s score indeed pays tribute to the rich, dusty line of mummy films with a terrifically romantic, full-blooded score. But then given that one of Bolling’s first film works was for 1960’s international remake of a man possessed by “The Hands of Orlac,” having the composer take on this 1980 thriller which pitted archeologist Charlton Heston against a daughter inhabited by the evil, Queen Kara was a far smarter idea than breaking into a cursed tomb. Given that “The Awakening” is far more in the gruesome “accident” style horror of “The Omen” than a shambling creature feature (despite the film’s mummy-rific poster), Bolling goes for an old-school chills. His score is full of twisting strings passages, wind-howling effects, eerily enchanted percussion and lurking brass that can’t wait to strike. Best of all, Bolling resurrects a sensual woman to die for in a lush, gorgeous theme, with Middle Eastern winds the definition of silky, evil sensuality. When listening to the unapologetically rich melodic “Vienna School” approach that Bolling takes, genre fans can’t help but hear the Hammer ghost of “Dracula” composer James Bernard abounding, especially as this was the umpteenth remake of Bram Stoker’s “The Jewel of the Seven Stars,” which Hammer redid as “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb.” But then, you could say that Bolling’s approach is a French thing after all, as his fellow composer Philippe Sarde would bring this same, richly evocative approach to “Ghost Story” soon after “The Awakening.” Bolling’s work is just about the equal of that better known horror masterpiece, finally given its full appearance after being part of a Bolling film music compilation. Queen Kara is now a marvel to behold, and listen to, especially given it smart booklet and liner notes by Stephan Lerouge, who has Bolling comment on this unlikely, and grandly rewarding musical dig into Egypt’s past.


An orphaned boy is taken on “Karate Kid” style by an ornery beast, who teaches the youth to stand up for himself in a critter-filled anime world from Mamoru Hasoda, director of the equally fantastical “Summer War” and “Wolf Children.” Given a realm of musical possibility, “Wolf” composer Masakatsu Takagi begins the festivities in a joyous, orchestral way that might make you think you’re hearing John Powell training dragons. But Takagi quickly reveals that he’s got something way more unique, and crazy in store, music that has more in common with avant-garde Yanks like Steve Reich. Playing percussion as if antic wolves had been dropped into the orchestra, or better yet a child’s playroom that’s been jammed to the gills with primitive instruments, Takagi smashes together discordant layers of wildly rhythms to fashion energetic, unhinged sound masses. Yet as opposed to seeming like a mistake, there’s a wonderful energy as to how “Beast’s” music is out of synch, yet crazily in tune with a realm of Asian-accented, animalistic delight. But as wonderfully jumbled as the score gets, there’s an equal amount of spare, lovely intimacy in piano solo themes and delicate strings, conjuring the kind of enchanted, moving melodies that universally bonds a child to their favorite monster. As wildly unusual a toon score as has ever run about on two, or four legs, while capturing humanity, Takagi’s “Beast” has a dazzling, soaring inventiveness that takes a tinkertoy mosh pit sound to new heights.


When Henry Jackman slings his mighty musical shield, everyone must yield. And it’s a stupendous throw indeed for his return to the Marvel universe and the ongoing saga of Bucky-gone-bad. Jackman took almost as much heat as “Batman Vs. Superman” when he brought a dark, non-melodic industrial sound to “The Winter Soldier,” an almost shockingly different approach to the kind of symphonic fun that separated the Marvel movie sound from their distinguished competition. But it made perfect, powerful sense for as much of a shocking conspiracy movie as Marvel could make. Given “Civil War’s” tone that’s simultaneously lighter, and darker, Jackman goes for war more of a melodically symphonic approach, retaining both his powerhouse Cap theme and the metallically-armed, whistling motif for The Winter Soldier. It’s a rousing, straight ahead mix of superhero slugfest music and dramatic concern, trumpets rising as high as an American anthem with Giant Man, or emotionally hushed at the sight of unintended collateral damage to civilian and costumed friend. Jackman excels at pacing action here, from building up Zemo’s conspiracy to a brassily hurtling tunnel chases that contains a cool, subtle ethnic flute motif for The Black Panther. It’s music that slams home the film’s idea of both hero and villain as victims, with incredible thematic power for the final face-off between Cap and Iron Man, slamming home the peril and betrayal of the overwhelming power of an avenger gone mad with revenge. Jackman flexes his all here with a muscularly emotional and thrilling superhero score, one that delivers both repulsor rays and devastating drama with a power that cuts right to the Winter Soldier chase.


Where drama can give a license for all-consuming auteurs like Terence Malick to push their music in an esoteric, entirely unexpected directions, the demands of shoot-‘em up action don’t seem to offer the opportunity to truly push the envelope. But that’s unless you’re talking about Michael Mann, who remains one of the more esoteric directors when it comes to subverting the sound of criminal suspense, from the prog rock of Tangerine Dream’s “Thief” and Michel Rubini’s “Manhunter” to the modern classicism of Elliot Goldenthal’s “Heat.” So it was particularly interesting when a director who prefers to play anything but the obvious took a taxi ride to hell with James Newton Howard, a mainstream composer who certainly showed his eclectic chops with scores like “The Trigger Effect” and “Stir of Echoes.” By the point of the pre-Uber “Collateral,” Mann was all about playing mood as opposed to music that really did anything, resulting in one of Howard’s more intoxicatingly ambient-centric scores. Given Tom Cruise’s utterly assured, lone wolf hitman set lose in an urban desert, Howard employs electric guitar to and simmering, metallic samples to western showdown effect. As he gradually builds on this relentlessly intoxicating tension, Howard also uses strings digging into the humanity of a stone-faced killer. Voices and explosions of percussion raise the hostage situation stakes only late in the game hitting a propulsive stride that could be considered traditional action scoring – breaking Mann’s less is more approach in much the same way that Jamie Foxx’s hapless driver is finally able to make a break for it. With Mann’s typical game of multi-composer musical chairs, a good deal of “Collateral” ended up using the even more ambient guitar work of Antonio Pinto, with Howard’s score taking a back seat to the point where only 15 minutes of his score was used. But given this powerful Intrada release that’s all about Howard’s 50-plus minutes of music, “Collateral” shines with the modulated suspense, with Howard wittily, and honestly relating his hapless, and greatly rewarding task in the ominously sleek booklet.


Having given a Goldsmithian spell to his striking score for the demon of “Lo,” composer Scott Glasgow once again approaches the genre with abandon as he re-teams with his futuristic “Gene Generation” filmmaker Pearry Reginald Teofor for this contemporary take on a fairy tale legend that’s been awakened many times before. But what sets this true love’s kiss apart is not only the strikingly modern gothic costuming and set design, but a quite gorgeous score that has Glasgow paying how own homage to Christopher Young. Just as the ragingly gorgeous grand guignol of “Hellraiser” put that composer on the horror map, those who hear Glasgow’s beautiful, darkly enchanted score will likely respond with enthusiasm to the multi-layered creativity in its crypt. But if “Hellraiser” brought down the weight of a satanic church with aplomb, Glasgow’s “Sleeping Beauty” is more of an intimate affair, given that its hunky hero is roaming about a demon-filled mansion whilst trying to solve a family bewitchment incurred during The Crusades. Given its achingly played violins and wafting, Baroque melodies that abound amidst the melancholy the score conjures, one might mistake “Sleeping Beauty” for indeed being a Renaissance-set fantasy. The siren-like call of a counter tenor voice is provided by Movie Score Media head Mikael Carlsson before a chorus attacks with Latin vocals, raging. Masses of brass, a mournful “Dies Irae” and any number of interesting instruments that range from a trumpeting Tibetan Kangling (forged from a human femur no less) to an Aztec Death Flute. Yet it’s the more quietly mesmerizing passages of “Sleeping Beauty” that impresses in a poetically strange and distinctly un-Disney way, showing that the genre’s weirder recesses are more interesting to Glasgow when dealing with less artily-intentioned hatchet-wielding killers. It’s music that’s anything but a “Curse” to Glasgow when it comes to reaching inside of the historical depths of twisted fairy tales.


Best known to Americans for no-holds barred scores to the international camp epics “The Vikings” and “One Million Years B.C.” Mario Nascimbene would produce works of equally striking delicacy on his Italian home turf for director Valerio Zurlini. One of his most poignant, and powerful soundtracks would accompany 1959’s “Violent Summer,” which opens with militaristic stridency to convey the fascism of Il Duce at the beach resort door of Rimini, From this terrifying motif, Nascimbene draws a theme that’s the stuff of tragedy to come – but not before reducing it to a tender, lyrical melody of fate-crossed lovers. A sunbaked guitar sings as well during this respite, chords that are curiously more Spanish than Italian in its effect, while cool jukebox jazz passes time. There’s real, heartbreaking passion to Nascimbene’s score that conveys both an enormous sense of tragedy and intimate heartbreak of a war evader and war widow, music that basks in the lyrical spell of a brief encounter. Quartet Records pairs this exceptional score with1972’s “Indian Summer,” which returned Nascimbene and Zurlini to the seaside resort to once again explore doomed love, this time between Alain Delon’s wastrel poetry teacher and a fetching student. It’s an affair given jazzy panache by legendary American trumpet player Maynard Ferguson, who teams with Italian tenor saxophonist Gianna Basso to giving brassy ennui to Nascimbene’s score, the intoxicating, low key groove going for wild big band set that really lets Ferguson’s solos shine. Though not nearly as well known as Miles Davis’ “Elevator to the Gallows,” “Summer” is just as much an impressive exercise in jazz fatalism that puts an enticing touch on Nascimbene’s poetic way of playing the romantic blues in Rimini.



Lakeshore Records goes to Saudi Arabia, a place I’d far rather listen to than visit, especially when given these spellbinding musical ventures. The first composer to make The Hajj is Michael Brook, an exceptional explorer of exotic rhythms in such documentary scores as “Fires of Kuwait” and “India: Kingdom of the Tiger.” With 2009’s Imax short “Journey to Mecca,” Brook followed the dune-swept tracks of Islamic explorer Ibn Battutah, whose round trip to his religious birthplace took 30 years over 44 countries. To hear the sights witnessed by this Arabic Marco Polo, Brook blends the music of numerous cultures, using the guitar he’d later send an American “Into the Wild” with to convey a sense of wonder that draws a seeker of the truth towards the unknown. He’ll come across time-lost wind instruments, holy songs and lyrical landscapes, with the orchestra both foreboding and blissful. In an unforced, lyrical way, It’s an ironically gentle Saudi sound shared by the modern-day set “A Hologram for the King.” Though the Pale 3 composing team has now been reduced to Johnny Klimek and director Tom Tykwer, the hypnotic sound they’d produced with Reinhold Heil for “The Princess and the Warrior,” “Perfume” and “Cloud Atlas” is very much on hand, if stripped down for the desert in which Tom Hanks’ businessmen has his serio-comic voyage of discovery. Beautiful, undulating string work dances with mesmerizing, tuneful percussion, music that flows with trippy minimalism, guitar, percussion and wordless chorus. It’s a score that conveys a tribal culture meeting with an American avatar of the high tech, with rhythm the poetic, lushly shifting thematic sands on which this enticing “Hologram” flows in an alt. way that will please both fans of Tykwer’s spiritually transcendent work and listeners looking for how western composers’ rhythmically interpret a stranger in a strange land.

. 400 DAYS

A Polish composer who does very well in creepy isolation, Wojciech Golczewski moves from the werewolf-infested retirement community of “Late Phases” and “We Are Still Here”’s haunted house to spend a planned “400 Days” inside a simulated spacecraft buried outside a town. But of course that seal’s going to be broken by some unwanted passengers, given that this is a SyFy Channel movie. While not specifically retro as such, the rhythmic spirit of Tangerine Dream is very much a fellow astronaut here, as are the propulsive grooves of “Run Lola Run” and a bit of “Inception’s” sonic booms. With a theme caught somewhere between a ticking clock and a nursery song, Golczewski conveys an atmosphere of hypnotic dread, the feeling of oxygen and sanity slowly being sucked into a pulsating, piercing black hole. Weightless transcendence segues to near-distorted dread as the SyFy experience makes its expected shift into horror territory. Yet while the score might sound like someone fiddling with radio static as they attempt to tune into The Twilight Zone, Golczewski keeps all of “400 Days” consistently interesting, if not transfixing as the score builds to its ultimate rhythmic revelation. And hey, when’s the last time you’ve heard the sound of a dial-up modem being turned into a musical instrument at that? It’s just one of the cool surprises within a densely layered, thematic synth score that flows with a cool beat of dread.


Composer Haim Mazar has a certain set of propulsive skills when unleashing biblical punishment on both the innocent and guilty, as he first proved with his rhythmically unsettling work for Michael Shannon’s “The Iceman.” Now given John Travolta’s mightily pissed dad, and of course, former killer government op, Haim goes into his studio’s closet and unleashes an instrumental arsenal of hurt. Wearing a powerful Kevlar mesh of orchestra and samples, Mazar’s energy makes this more than musical payback business as usual, though with a very dark (if not obvious) sense of humor to a VOD star strutting his stuff. It’s an attitude that rocks with industrial might, or has a hangdog blues guitar jam that captures the attitude of a guy who’s likely getting too old for this shit – or at least getting ready to strum a mean version of Heart’s “Barracuda.” “I am Wrath” has a electrifying, relentless groove, given added emotional depth with the ghostly female voice of a murdered wife, and a gut-crushing piano melody to sink in the kind of loss that must be musically paid back a hundred-fold. That Mazar has a blast doing it gives “I am Wrath” extra firepower.


Former British spymaster John le Carré has provided no end of suspenseful inspiration to the composers suspensefully tasked with pursuing moles and enemy agents, from Jerry Goldsmith finding jazzy intrigue within “The Russia House” to Alberto Iglesias hearing the mournful sound of a big pharma raped Africa in “The Constant Gardener” and the low key espionage gamesmanship of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Now fellow Spaniard Victor Reyes enters the British secret service on a particularly dangerous mission for the A&E miniseries “The Night Manager.” More action-packed than most le Carré adaptations, this front desk finds a seemingly unbecoming hotel employee recruited by the spy service, given the chance to seek vengeance against an international arms dealer that murdered his lover in Cairo. For Reyes, a composer behind the claustrophobic suspense of “Buried,” the psychic chicanery of “Red Lights” and the brilliant concert piece as suspense score “Grand Piano,” “The Night Manager” provides an exceptional musical passport to pursue its villain. Reyes evocatively paints the series’ locales with Arabic percussion and even accordion, with an exceptionally strong main theme driving the action. But even with the propulsive orchestra and sampled percussion that make for the topical sound of spy thrillers, “The Night Manager” is no 007 soundtrack. Reyes brings a strongly melodic depth of emotion to his score, a haunted feeling of the inevitable betrayal that must come down from building a level of deceitful trust, even with evil incarnate. Reyes’ writing for the strings is especially evocative, its lush passages conjuring the John Barry of “The Ipcress File” as opposed to “Goldfinger” in its evocation of a tightly controlled pawn of her majesty in way over his head. It’s a spy score with as much lush danger as understandably repressed emotion.


Marvin Hamlisch was best known for such unabashedly romantic and richly melodic scores as “Ice Castles” and “Sophie’s Choice,” as well as the perky comedy of “Same Time, Next Year” and “Starting Over.” And he if had an excitingly unsung aptitude as well for 007 in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” another stylistic skill that Hamlisch practiced was in capturing the sound of conformist malaise, as can be heard in this haunting double feature from La La Land. Having adapted Scott Joplin to Oscar-winning effect with “The Sting” in 1973, Hamlisch turned from American pop to classical music with his striking use of Johann Pachelbel’s “Cannon in D” chosen long before by director Robert Redford, who remembered it as the “Greek chorus” for a heated political discussion he had in a Big Sur inn. Redford’s use of a classical tune most often given to weddings and graduations proved to be pitch perfect in accenting the elegant, repetitive iciness of a family doing their best to keep up appearances in the aftermath of a son’s drowning. Hamlisch’s arrangement for harpsichord and strings couldn’t be more intimate or ironically delicate, and even haunted when given voice. He also spins the melody into his own distinctive score, replete with a longing spirit, most devastatingly as chimes turn into a ghostly chorus crying out during a traumatic flashback. Complementing this long-awaited release of this mostly unheard score is Hamlisch’s way more fun, and distinctly un-Baroque source tracks for the 1980’s Best Picture winner, which ranges from disco to country funk and Montovani Muzak. Hamlisch was in a boozy, jazz-soaked midlife crisis mood for 1974’s “Save the Tiger,” which won Jack Lemmon a Best Actor as a businessman considering the ultimate fire sale. Instead of Pachelbel, Hamlisch had Ira Gershwin and Rogers & Hart here to take his cues from for a character who could have been a jazzman, his theme first played with big band vigor, and then with resigned vibes before surprising with a rapturous easy listening version of its melody. “Tiger” also offers takes on “That Old Black Magic” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” alongside 70s era with-it source cues that play like happy hour at a midtown Manhattan bar (though a bit by Charles Fox has a fun recall to his score for “Barbarella”). It’s an alternately solemn and kitschy “Tiger” that’s worth having a drink with. Like “Ordinary People,” “Save the Tiger’s” actual score might be brief, but it’s nonetheless impactful at holding deeply flawed characters by the tail.


Paul Reubens’ infantile alter ago is now having a big adventure on Netflix. And while O.G. Pee-Wee composer Danny Elfman has biked off to bigger things since his clever, Nino Rota-inspired feature debut, Mark Mothersbaugh, no slouch himself on the movie scoring front, has decided to put pedal to the zanily exuberant metal with “Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday.”

Likely the biggest post-rocker man child next to Elfman, this former, ironic practitioner of Devo-lution and TV Playhouse pal of Pee-Wee (not to mention The Rugrats) has certainly found a kindred spirit in Reubens’ throwback character, who essentially takes the same road trip as his first movie outing. And while nothing is going to catch that adult-pubescent magic in a bottle, Mothersbaugh continues on Elfman’s musical vibe in a way that’s more of Aram Khachaturian riff a la “The Hudsucker Proxy” than a spin on Nino Rota’s Fellini work. Given a quite terrific orchestral performance, Mothersbaugh’s music is all about celebrating its character instead of making fun of him, capturing a gleeful, if somewhat socially backward energy of a nattily dressed yokel out of see the world, a sense of discovery that makes this a tuneful delight. It’s a joygasm on the very verge of sounding Christmas-y, given a bouncy theme to hold the journey to NYC together. There are many humorous diversions along the way as Mothersbaugh riffs on hellcat 50’s rock and roll, spaghetti westerns, and Theremin-topped sci-fi music, with Pee-Wee himself delivering an excited tour on the town with “New York.” The overgrown kid’s spirit has a rollicking blast through this “Big Holiday” as Mothersbaugh takes over the handlebars with friendly, humorous style that’s happily in on the nice-spirited joke of Reuben’s enduing character – long may he ride.


For all of the entertaining exploitation that Cannon Pictures churned out in the 1980’s, let it not be said that their Israeli entrepreneurs didn’t have more artistic aspirations in mind with the likes of Andrei Konchalovsky’s “Maria’s Lovers” and “Duet For One,” When his “Runaway Train” actually hit an Oscar nomination, Konchalovsky took his most esoteric Cannon dive yet into the Louisiana bayou that held 1987’s “Shy People.” Seeking to conjure an unearthly atmosphere for these uniquely American swamp dwellers the Russian director turned to Germany’s Tangerine Dream to apply their unique blend of prog-rock electronic atmospheres and blues guitar stylings to this time-lost tribe. It turned out to be a great choice, as Dream had a way of creating an surreal synth atmosphere for even the most earthbound subjects they tackled. Coming just a few years after the fantasia of “Legend,” “Shy People” was hard on the heels of the evil southwest guitar vampires of “Near Dark” – with the tragically choral doomsday of “Miracle Mile” just around the corner. In its way, Dream’s score is an amalgamation of all three, propelling its swamp boat with progressive rhythm and native flute sounds, while other cues drift along in an eerily mesmerizing way, materializing the spirit of a long-lost relative that haunts this gator-killin’ clan. “Shy People” might be southern Gothic by way of Pink Floyd, but it’s spirit is state of the electronic scoring art, as Tangerine Dream’s silken, surprisingly thematic score makes this into an intoxicatingly tasty gumbo, especially when turned to song by Jacquie Virgil and Diamond Ross. With its initial CD release on Varese Sarabande having sunk into the bayou for years, Dragon’s Domain’s album marks a welcome return for one of Tangerine Dream’s most interesting projects, graced with three unreleased tracks and Randal D. Larson’s perceptive liner notes about one of Dream’s wildest movie trips.

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