Soundtrack Picks: “LOST IN SPACE” is the top soundtrack to own for MAY, 2018
Also worth picking up: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, (CARGO), COBRA KAI, GHOST STORIES, OVERBOARD, RAIN MAN, RAMBO III REVENGE and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
What Is it?: From being stuck in a grave or a car trunk, thrillers with confined spaces often yield interesting scores that mix claustrophobia with a far bigger, suspenseful world outside of the character’s entombment. In the driving hands of Tangerine Dream musician Thorsten Quaeschning and his band Picture Palace, “(Cargo)” has a pulsating, sumptuous groove that opens up the sinister forces outside of its metal container, while playing the increasingly crazed escape efforts of a perhaps not-so-innocent business magnate. Intense character actor Ron Thompson (“American Pop,” “Baretta”) makes a major tour de force comeback in director James Dylan’s impressive debut film (available to watch HERE August 14th) as his air, and patience run thin.
Why Should You Buy It?: Making a far easier breakthrough in “(Cargo)” is Quaeschning, whose time spent with Dream-maker Edgar Froese shows off considerably with a score that brings to mind such classic TD soundtracks as “Thief,” “Near Dark” and “Miracle Mile.” Like his prog-rock mentor, Quaeschning shows a powerful, propulsive ability to run with ever-building melodic ideas. Quaeschning palpably conveys the developing panic, then fury of its antihero, his music atmospherically reflective for one stretch, the furiously spinning from one potential avenue of release to the other. Avoiding any chance of “(Cargo)” being a long haul, Quaeschning’s enveloping score visualizes the one-man show’s torment, enraged heirs and insane chases that are cleverly conveyed via cell phone with sharp dialogue and sound effects. It’s a well-modulated approach that segues from psychological refection to desperate action with the film’s gliding camera moves, with cues that are long (with one even coming in at sixteen minutes), but continuously mesmerizing.
Extra Special: “(Cargo)” might be a literally slightly bigger than small film, but packed with an enveloping energy in all respects. Quaeschning and Picture Palace makes it a fun ride by opening up a far bigger sonic world multitrack rhythms jam to the haunting simplicity of piano, voices and an orchestral presence with composer’s electrifying feature debut that not only pays tribute at the stylistic altar of Tangerine Dream, but more importantly charts cool new paths for alt. scoring’s post-Froese future.
2) COBRA KAI (Available May 22)
What Is it?: In 2018, everything 80’s is new again, the decade’s pop entertainment first given a wonderfully uncondescending valentine with the potpourri of references within Alan Silvestri’s era-summing score for “Ready Player One,” Now composers Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson’s offer total recall of Bill Conti’s classic “Karate Kid” soundtracks for “Cobra Kai,” while kicking deeper to play far more realistic characters than we’d think possible – in this case a bullied kick who seemingly got the last laugh and his butthead tormentor who’s desperately trying to find redemption.
Why Should You Buy It?: “Cobra Kai” is likely to win this year’s TV tournament as it reveals a seemingly endless amount of layers to a pop culture surface, paying homage while growing up at the same time in a way that’s real, yet cheeky. That musical feet is terrifically pulled off by a duo who trained at the dojo of Chris Beck, a composer equally adept in strong orchestral themes as well as a multiplex pop groove, an approach they assisted with on their additional scoring on the likes of “Ant Man” and “Edge of Tomorrow” before moving onto the TV world with “Adam Ruins Everything,” Son of Zorn” and “Sing!” With YouTube Red’s “Cobra Kai” (already renewed for a second season), Birenberg and Robinson have created a force of extraordinary magnitude in joining Bill Conti’s “Karate Kid’s” heroically emotional with the anthemic rock grooves of a hit soundtrack that featured Survivor’s “The Moment of Truth” and Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best Around.” It’s an approach evolved from the 80’s for a new generation of bullied students, but very much alive with the groove of their opposing sensei’s whom haven’t grown up nearly as much as they think. It’s also music that thematically sums up Johnny and Daniel’s respective tutelage of kicking ass and showing tenderness. Current and retro keyboards rock out with electric guitar in pop ballad style, while Mr. Miyagi’s spirit powerfully lives on with Asian winds and percussion. With a show that’s impressively well produced for a channel that made its bones on amateur videos, Birenberg and Robinson also get a real orchestra to create a sense of epic excitement, particularly in the breathless cues for its fights, which like the original, take on the sense of the world itself at stake. An unequalled composer at depicting the underdog from “Rocky” to “The Karate Kid,” Conti’s trademarked brass sound is also taken to the next level to plays the characters’ emotional stakes for real. Better yet, Birenberg and Robinson are sure to use Conti’s themes, most touchingly when Daniel remembers his mentor. With its once-teen foes finding renewed passion from the chance for a new battle in the form of teen surrogates, the score repeatedly goes ballistic with martial arts shouts driving the excitement, as well as the music’s clever sense of homage.
Extra Special: Whether its updated power pop energy or heartfelt emotion, Birenberg and Robinson are playing “Cobra Kai” for real, capturing the same sense of enthusiasm and discovery that made the first “Karate Kid” its music live on for decades, opening up a whole new soundtrack dojo to sweep the ear with.
3) THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX / LOST IN SPACE
Price: $11.29 / $14.98
What Is It?: The danger of space has never been more exhilarating than when captured by two composer swiftly rising into the stratosphere of their craft, as Bear McCreary and Christopher Lennertz continue to show Netflix as a realm to find some of the most surprising, and powerfully symphonically-grounded scores on the big or small screens with “The Cloverfield Paradox” and “Lost in Space”
Why Should You Buy It?: Though the third time wasn’t the charm for the “Cloverfield” franchise, one can count on Bear McCreary to deliver a terrific score for J.J. Abrams somehow interconnected saga – here given the centrifugal force of a space station’s reality warping energy run amuck. Where McCreary’s big, Herrmann-esque suspense and concluding sci-fi style action really opened the bomb shelter surroundings of the last, vastly superior “12 Cloverfield Lane,” there’s significantly more scope for him to play here. Taking “Lane’s” epic dimension to truly inter-dimensional lengths here, McCreary’s dynamically rhythmic score conveys the excitement of an earth-shattering discovery, while at the same time darker, choral tones swirl about to sing with the time-honored adage of things not meant to be tampered with by science. It’s powerful writing, as mixed with electronic beats that reach that accelerates with wonder and fear, the space rift dynamically rupturing in the score with eerie male voices and nerve-tingling tones as creatures and disembodied limbs compound its astronauts’ troubles, yet always with strong themes in accompaniment to emotionally ground the action – no more so than in the score’s breathless space walk highlight. As he’s showed in “Battlestar Galactica,” “Europa Report“ and now a score that really keeps Abrams’ “Cloverfield” franchise afloat, McCreary captures the final frontier by way of the twilight zone with thematic aplomb.
Extra Special: While he’s mainly been busy with funny animals, naughty supermarket produce and crass humans, you can tell from Christopher Lennertz’s energetic talent that he’s been yearning to blast off into the John Williams stratosphere. With Netflix’s reboot of “Lost in Space,” he captures the spirit of a symphonically starstuck, sci-fi loving kid who’s been in waiting for the chance to become a rocket man. Lennertz delivers on the Danger Will Robinson action, while more importantly emotionally centering his music on the show’s family dynamic. It’s by no coincidence that the original series unmatched first season was distinguished by John Williams’s orchestral scoring and themes – a soaring nobility and sense of fun that Lennertz brings to this new generation – of course with Williams’ iconic theme wrapped into his own main title, and showing up in the score at just the right moments. While Netflix’s “Space” spent no small amount of time finding its sea legs in terms of pacing and casting, there’s no denying its excellent production value on every single level, especially when it comes to Lennertz’s work that effortlessly alternates between the sense of optimistic wonder that lies within the unknown and the environmental threat of it. Right from the noble brass of his main theme, Lennertz mixes peril, excitement and tenderness into just about every well-chosen cue on Lakeshore’s compilation. With the show taking a self-consciously adult direction from the original’s camp appeal, Lennertz’s mature, if no less boyishly enthusiastic writing plays the fantastical cliffhanging situations for real, yet with a sense of the epic. At its most symphonically resplendent, Packed with both nostalgia and vibrant freshness, Lennertz raises the ante of the Robinsons future TV adventures with sumptuous work that will hopefully net him bigger screen constellations to play in.
4) GHOST STORIES
What is it?: Horror anthologies were all the rage back in England during the 1970s with “Tales from the Crypt,” “Asylum” and “The House that Dripped Blood.” Given a horror subgenre that was all about fright, it was only a matter of time before some higher minded Brits would re-enter this vault of horror, delivering chills and smarts via Israeli composer Frank Ilfman, who’s anything but straight-jacketed by “Ghost Stories” artier attitude.
Why Should You Buy It?: Making his international breakthrough with a rousing, Herrmann-esque score for his country’s acclaimed pitch-black torture horror dramedy “Big Bad Wolves,” Ilfman has since excelled in nasty business. Putting a devilish grin on “Abulele’s” surprisingly nice giant furball, then creepily cohabitating with the ghost of “Sensoria,” Ilfman most recently took a murderously fun retro route with “68 Kill,” For “Ghost Stories,” Ilfman takes the musical point of view of a foolishly disbelieving ghost buster, the kind of religious guilt schlub for whom things never work out in this sort of film. Travelling from one distraught witness to the next, Ilfman’s score effectively depicts a haunted guard with daughter issues, a gibbering teen hitting the worst kind of victim with his distracted driving, and a cocky businessmen who sees the price his wife paid for trying to give birth. Starting out with a quite lush, and lovely main theme, Ilfman shows terror as well as class with scratched, pierced sampling to convey the menacing corners of a mental hospital, then jumps into berserk Danny Elfman-esque choral territory before going for a tingling, psychological presence of a potential toddler gone wrong. Ilfman saves the real nightmarish stuff for last with the kind of beyond awful ending anthologies relish in. With a keen talent for melody as much as abstractionism, Ilfman shows far more perceptiveness for creeping about the phantom zone than his luckless leading man. It’s an approach that beckons equally well for the increasingly dissonant expressionism of musical horror as it does old school fans’ yearning for majestically awestruck orchestrations. The result of his gleeful jump-scares and lavish writing is the kind of rare soundtrack the wraps itself around your imagination to create its own haunting tales – a knowing cavalcade of horror scoring tropes that are juiced up with the chanting, creaking door, symphonic pouncing and the rousingly melodic grand guignol of musical storytelling. It’s a soundtrack to warily be played with the lights off as it gleefully, and sumptuously illuminates its characters’ nightmares and the ghoulish talents of its musical crypt keeper.
Extra Special: Binding together Ilfman’s stirring music is clever snatches of dialogue for a film that originally began its haunt on the English stage. But it’s the singing voice of the UK’s decidedly happy Anthony Newley whose cooing tale of clinging love gets put to ghastly ironic use with “Why,” while the utterly goofy and beloved Boris Karloff-esque annunciated “Monster Mash” becomes positively chilling as an end credit song following a particularly awful fate that for “Ghost Stories’” Doubting Thomas.
5) RAIN MAN (1,000 edition)
What Is it: No composer had taken a road trip through America like Germany’s Hans Zimmer, whose Afro-centric rhythms turned highways into a funky, synth-fueled Serengeti in his Oscar-nominated score for 1988’s Best Picture winner. But then, he was hearing through the eyes of an autistic math savant with a particular love for Qantas airlines, hence his smartly imaginative star making film with a score that put an alternative world beat approach on the Hollywood map.
Why Should You Buy It?: Zimmer was no doubt infused with ethnic creativity as a wingman for the great, unsung English composer Stanley Myers on such scores as “My Beautiful Launderette,” “Castaway” and “The Fruit Machine” before his first major solo score on the Apartheid drama “A World Apart,” a score which caught director Barry Levinson’s ear for “Rain Man’s” temporary soundtrack. Zimmer’s final music went well beyond Africa with its powerful tribal groove for percussion and winds. But then, “Rain Man’s” musical charm has always been in its oddball approach, one that hears the magic of a beautiful mind, and ultimately the tragic acknowledgement that it won’t function in the familial way that Tom Cruise’s morally reborn cad desperately hopes for. With synths ruling the 80’s, Zimmer had an lush, Fairlight synth sound uniquely his own, used here in a poetically wistful, whimsical and haunted way. Oriental winds, Australian Didgeridoo, rock guitar and eccentric rhythm gave “Rain Man” its mesmerizing, toe-tapping drive – with the ultimate destination of Las Vegas a dazzlingly gaudy bash of rock guitar and wailing voice. “Rain Man” essentially laid the groundwork for Zimmer’s dynamic sound that has continued to grow in even more esoteric directions. But for many, the 90’s keyboard-powered likes that followed with “Black Rain,” “Broken Arrow” and “Green Card” are a heyday of Zimmer’s sense of discovery – a voyage here given a sense of magic for his “music from Mars.”
Extra Special: Though only given a couple of cuts in its first soundtrack incarnation, “Rain Man’s” initial release of Zimmer’s score crashed and burned with one of the worst, muddy-sounding soundtrack releases in history. It was sonic carnage that no one thought could’ve been cleaned up. But leave it to Notefornote to accomplish the impossible. With their first release being Zimmer’s somewhat more traditional grrll power drive through the southwest with “Thelma and Louise,” the label now rolls the speedometer back to turn “Rain Man’s” Edsel into a beautifully remastered Rolls Royce, especially when liner note specialist Randall D. Larson is holding the roadmap. This is the “Rain Man” album fans have always hoped. It doesn’t take a math genius to tell them to get one of these limited CDs edition before it reaches the vanishing point.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (Deluxe Edition)
Alan Silvestri’s boldly thematic orchestral style was perfectly suited for Marvel, an old school patriot sound at first perfect for “Captain America” and then for the “Avengers” team effort. Now tasked with Marvel’s equivalent to Disney’s annihilation of Bambi’s mother on a cosmic scale, Silvestri unleashes all of his mighty orchestral forces in service of “Infinity War” to legendary effect. With his main characters quadrupled at the least, Silvestri smartly takes a utilitarian approach by giving everyone a noble force of personality, with only his original “Avengers” motif quoted at the most impactful moments. It’s a near-constant burst of energy that not only play the cosmic battles, but more importantly link all of the stories through emotion as opposed overtly indulging in themes for an impossible amount of heroes. Silvestri’s score works by turning everything into its own set piece, much in the way the movie is somehow able to give every superhero their own spotlight. But when it comes down to it, Silvestri’s “Infinity War” is most impressive when dealing with unimaginable emotion. Capturing Thanos with the wrath of a god, Silvestri not only connotes his low brass villainy, but the feeling of a bereaved dad who thinks he’s doing the universe a favor by evaporating half of it. Indeed, the numerous, seeming deaths on infinity gloved hand wouldn’t be so devastating if the music didn’t capture how personal they are to the film’s stunned audience, no more so than in Thanos’ own terrible sacrifice.
But for all of the complex operatic excitement, what’s easily the score’s most effective moment is its final one where the bombast is stripped away to a solo violin to play Thanos’ melancholy triumph. It’s an utterly brilliant, and spare conceit that shows the kind of imagination, and skill that shows how Silvestri’s kept on scoring blockbusters when so many of the talented composers of his time have seemingly vanished to nothingness – and will certainly keep on playing with Wagnerian panache to make Marvel fans realize that there’s nothing like an orchestra to resound with the stuff of comic book legends come to life (or gone from it until next year), especially given two hours of Silvestri’s “Infinity War” score as digitally offered on Disney’s deluxe edition.
. DEADPOOL 2 (Score Album)
As the musical captain of the wise-ass Guardians of the Galaxy (not to mention Netflix’s decidedly unsmiling Punisher), Tyler Bates certainly has a set of skills at playing heroism at both its bullshit and true face value. Now suited up in red and black for the Merc With A Mouth, Bates proves he’s no man’s sloppy seconds with “Deadpool 2.” Granted that it’s not easy to take on the retro music mantle of Junkie XL from the first film, Bates doesn’t even try to. Instead, he takes on the ultimate self-reflexive assassin in far more traditional way, but with a middle finger behind his back. Leaping into the fray with the X-Force, Bates has a great, charge ahead theme that certainly wouldn’t be out of place amongst his outer space antics. But like a lifter who’s OD’ing at 24 Hour Fitness, “Deadpool 2’s” action stylings are sweatily over-exuberant to the point of veins blowing out, right down the chanting chorus. But where most soundtrack lyrics are nonsense anyways, Bates gleefully earns the first ever-parental advisory on a score album by having his singers chant “Holy Shitballs!” over and over with increasingly hilarious frenzy. Likewise the score’s drummer seems ready to explode as he hammers out testosterone action to raging strings, with Thanos-worthy brass, all the better for Josh Brolin’s scowling Cable. Yet make no mistake that for as in your face as “Deadpool 2’s” soundtrack is, Bates delivering on exactly the kind of rhythmic testosterone you want from a superhero soundtrack, and surprisingly some genuine emotion at that. On his second score round, this slaphappy assassin is his own instrumental man for a soundtrack that’s no joke.
A spiritual break gives way to sexual awakening in the beautifully sensual scoring of Matthew Herbert, who reteams with his “Fantastic Woman” director Sebastian Lelio for another transgressive portrait of empowerment. Our heroine in “Disobedience” breaks the barriers of England’s walled-off Jewish Orthodox community, fully claiming the hand of a youthful attraction that caused her to leave a cult-like existence. “Disobedience” hears the cry of its opening Shofar as the awakening of forbidden love that the music will erotically embody. With its flowing harmonies, “Disobedience” works equally well as an example of modern classical music at its most thankfully harmonious, Herbert dresses strings lines over each other with gossamer delicateness in a way that’s also reminiscent of the hypnotic film works of ephemeral composer Michael Convertino (“Bed or Roses”) in a way that awakens with its womens’ growing self empowerment, also calling to the ear such diverse, ultra-melodic composers as Claude Debussy and Richard Wagner. Yearning brass gains strength with the orchestra to help a character orgasmically break her shackles, her emotion pouring forth with voice-like effects, ethereal electronics, rubbed glass and scraping metal to coalesce into a newfound conscience. In its musical way, “Disobedience” as a spellbinding breakthrough for Matthew Herbert, who shows a whole other language to express love for a feminine spirit whose attraction at first daren’t speak its name, and finally does with a sense of gorgeous, holy passion.
“Midnight Meat Train” director Ryuhei Kitamura turns a bunch of desert-stranded young adults into a sniper’s produce section in this Shudder Channel thriller, effectively also stalked by composer Aldo Shllaku. Having provided way more satiric action beats for Kitamura’s gonzo live action adaptation of the anime character “Lupin the 3rd,” Shllaku wipes the smile from this score’s face by suspensefully switches the clutch from dark percussion to ghostly ambience in a way that hearkens back to Mark Isham’s seminal tormented motorist classic “The Hitcher.” If anything, Shllaku’s approach is weirder and more savage, turning gun metal itself into thrashing, body piercing hits, while sampling evokes moments of uneasy poetry from the wasteland that hides a killer. Long stretches of “Downrange’s” road are filled with angry rock guitar and pounding militaristic grooves, with even a Theremin adding to the panic. Thankfully grounding the musical attacks and tense rhythms is a sense of emotion that conveys a group of friends whose bonds are bloodily blown apart, with a lonely, poignant piano among the soundtrack’s most effective moments. Unsettling from nightmarish start to finish, “Downrange” is a nerve-jangling score that definitely guarantees you’ll keep driving with a flat tire while not picking up stragglers should this be playing on your car stereo in the middle of nowhere.
A barely legal Lolita uses her wiles to ensnare her awkward stepbro’s allegedly molesting teacher in the latest round of black-humored indie movie nymphets in “Flower.” It’s another neat score in the blossoming career of Joseph Stephens, who’s given interesting, eccentric scores to the distinctly misbehaving adults of Jody Hill’s bad boy crew ins “Observe and Report,” “Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals.” If you didn’t know “Flower” was snarkily set in the present, you might assume this was some lost score from Tangerine Dream’s 80’s teen synth heyday of “Vision Quest” and “Three O’Clock High,” so dead-on is Steven’s capturing of that electronic groove. “Flower” blooms with one neat electro-beat after the other, yet one that shows feeling at the heart of its anti-heroine’s ‘tude. With darker, sustaining tones that also bring to mind John Carpenter’s work from back in the keyboard day, “Flower” gets across the hatching of an improbable set-up to nab the perceived perv teacher, a tone that effortlessly segues from breeziness to haunting melancholy with the dramatic self-realization of its bad girl. Pulsing, offbeat, uniquely dramatic and unexpectedly thematic, “Flower” is a captivating, crystalline listen, especially for fans of the school of composers making retro scoring sing in new, haunting ways when in the company of self consciously hip characters getting themselves into a world of humorous trouble.
. GETTING GRACE
The prolific and quirkily attuned character actor Daniel Roebuck (“The River’s Edge,” “Lost”) not only proves himself equally adept at directing with the same offbeat vision for “Getting Grace,” but also as a quite adept music supervisor as well. Though it might seem to be another fatal illness flick, “Grace” benefits greatly from a humorous, eccentric approach that also makes its soundtrack radiant in rounding up some of Pennsylvania’s best indie acts for a common vibe of empowering, lyrical humanity. The strumming, sparkling folk-pop of Alyssa Garcia’s “Loved Actually” sums up the heroine’s whimsical self-empowerment, while her emotional “Better Life” is performed for all of its poignant, violin-topped worth, building slowly to a powerfully soaring finish that subtly getting across “Grace’s” faith-based nature. It’s a lyrical, rural quality that also inflects the Brett Harris’ sweetly strumming, accordion-topped “Wish” of being able to fly, his ballad “Up in the Air” sending Grace skyward. Country rock via Pennsylvania is provided by Switchback Mountain’s “Rabbit Hole” and “Ali K,” with their ballad “Kehoe” recalls the acoustic power of Eric Clapton. Heidi Ott sings a lovely, longing ballad with “Linger” to express Grace’s longing, a church-like organ providing an ironic backing. Even Mozart and a selection from his “Requiem” show up to have some fun with the stuffiness of dying. Composer Alex Kovacs, whose work includes such shows as “Designated Survivor,” “Minority Report” and “Scorpion” has a similar, sweet gentleness to his nicely melodic themes, his use of piano, organ and bell percussion bringing to mind the wacky one-man-band work of “Punch-Drunk Love’s” Jon Brion = and the satiric classicism of “Rushmore’s” Mark Mothersbaugh. Kovacs also shows a potent serious side in the film’s flashback setpiece, as his piano melody builds with the devastating youthful loss that leaves Roebuck’s funeral director a shell of a man. Managing to find an uplifting, smiling quality from songs to score in the midst of a decidedly serious situation, the thematic thread of this wonderfully eclectic, nicely tuned album is of finding the best in life at the end of it. That makes “Getting Grace” far more than a pleasant, rustically groovy indie listen as song and score touch the heart of a won’t-quit character in a way that’s anything but downbeat.
. MICKEY, DONALD, GOOFY – THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Alexandre Dumas might have been spinning like the Tasmanian devil in his grave at the thought of having Disney’s iconic mouse, dog and duck raising their swords together. But I imagine Erich Wolfgang Korngold, let alone the likes of Johann Strauss smiling upon hearing how Bruce Broughton teams the sound of Hollywood’s classic swashbuckling composer with any number of classical and operatic pastiches in the service of 1600’s France and Disney’s 2001 DTV movie. Having brought an anvil-crashing orchestral impact back to TV cartoon scoring with “Tiny Toons,” Broughton’s wonderfully lush score for “The Three Musketeers” has melodies waltzing with fluttering flutes aplenty, or springing forth from castle parapets with cliffhanging thrills. You’d actually think this was the real Errol Flynn thing if it wasn’t for the tip offs, like rousing trumpet fanfares leading to Carl Stalling-worthy pratfalls. But perhaps these “Musketeers” hearken back the most to the “Silly Symphony” cartoons that made Disney popular with the classical pastiches. Here is turning Bizet’s “Habanera” from “Carmen” into Goofy serenading a cow with “Chains of Love,” having evil Pete as the King of France stomping about to Edvard Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” or combining Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and “Romeo and Juliet” into “Love So Lovely.” Even Beethoven shows up to send Mickey to his ever-lovin’ doom in “This is the End.” At its thematic best, “Three Musketeers” captures a sense of thrilling innocence that hearkens back to Broughton’s masterpiece “Young Sherlock Holmes,” of which this unsung gem now stands tall in comparison. Goofy these “Musketeers” might be, but most certainly not in the way that Broughton wonderfully bringing a grown-up classical appreciation and daring wit to score their antics with.
. MONKEY SHINES (1,000 Edition)
George Romero was one of horror’s more wackily eccentric directors. But in his annals of unholy transformations, the devilish Capuchin of 1988’s “Monkey Shines” just might take the cake – not to mention being one of the more unexpectedly sinister entries in the credits of its composer David Shire. Even in a career that’s ranged from the funk crime of “The Taking Pelham One Two Three” to the quiet conspiratorial tones of “The Conversation” and the heartwarming empowerment of “Norma Rae,” one might not expect a classic horror score for such a potentially absurdist plot. But credit Shire’s inherently humane approach for making “Monkey Shines” one of his unexpectedly great works. Devilishly starting with perhaps the best fake-out happy orchestral cues ever written, Shire uses African percussion and subtle, monkey grinder rhythm to increase the intelligence of an animal companion to our paraplegic hero, whose little buddy is soon going on a murderous rampage thanks to the psychic experiments of a scientist who really should know better. Shire’s score has witty humor that subtly realizes the zaniness of the concept, as well as string and guitar compassion for a man dealing with his own self-pity before he has to do physical battle with his helpmate gone terribly wrong. Along with Richard Band’s “House on Sorority Row,” Shire’s melody for “Monkey Shines” is also one of the most deceptively beautiful written for a horror film, a motif that the composer uses through the score, finally to symphonically sweeping effect – if of course not without the last second studio-mandated shock ending. Shire’s animal instinct for string-driven suspense is just as keen, joining his orchestral score with exotic Asian flutes, an Australian didgeridoo and primal brass and ethnic percussion, all of which sell an inescapably darling creature as the embodiment of man-created evil. But then, it’s likely impossible to imagine any score for simians great and small taking a different approach since Jerry Goldsmith’s “Planet of the Apes.” While that classic score no doubt had a twisted sense of irony. Shire’s scampering, stalking work for a monkey you expect to be holding a dime in its hand as opposed to a razor blade has the skill offers humor, drama and genuine scares. Now surfacing again in a newly expanded and remastered version via France’s Music Box label. “Monkey Shines” proves its especially worthy of rediscovery as a highlight of Shire’s composing career, that was anything if not versatile, and unexpected.
. OVERBOARD (Score Album)
The jaunty Alan Silvestri-scored comedy from 1987 gets reboated and role-reversed to pleasantly target a cross-cultural audience as a smug Mexican lothario getting tossed into the drink, this time to the delight of an Anglo woman he’s given no end of trouble to. It’s a pleasant ethnic spin that rhythm-centric composer Lyle Workman (“Superbad,” “Get Him to the Greek”) runs with in a delightful instance of musical cultural appropriation akin to his Spanish strumming work on the Netflix series “Love.” “Overboard” really opens up those stylistic waters to give its Latin Lover shmuck a much-needed makeover. Starting out with a jaunty Mexican feel, Workman continues to thematically build onto the soundtrack’s comic ethnicity with Zydeco, Django Reinhart-styled Gypsy violin and la-la-la’ing female voices for a sad sack feeling of a guy getting his character-building just deserts. But what’s really nice here is the genuine emotion that comes with the music’s development as tender strings turn to a full, gently suspenseful orchestra as the lead must decide from a return to an empty life of babes or the true love over the wall and down the socio economic ladder. While there’s no surprise to that choice, Workman’s “Overboard” offers genuinely unexpected choices that are about the comedy of character development as opposed to playing pratfalls. If there’s any composer to be recalled here with Workman’s sweetly deft use of ethnic music, then it goes all the way back to pleasant, jauntily romantic likes of Henry Mancini, as channeled by a musician who sweetly revels in it, much like an Anglo teaching her naughty amnesiac charge new musical tricks in what it really takes to charm a lady, a la Española.
. PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING
One of the most gigantic movie disappointments ever gets super-sized into an infinitely better sequel, especially given Lorne Balfe’s score that’s determined to make you hear the human hearts beating within titanic, monster slaying robots. But then, composer Lorne Balfe certainly has put pedal to the metal before with his percussion-crunching score for “Terminator Genisys,” making him ideal to take on this way sturdier Jaeger assignment. Mostly minus the numskull goofiness and with the big plus of mostly taking place in the daylight this time, it’s like Balfe’s been given spanking new machines to play with for his “Rim” shot. Given that these certainly aren’t the only rock ‘em sock ‘em robots in town, what’s even more impressive about Balfe’s approach is that he gives “Uprising” a strongly distinctive voice that combines serious symphonic nobility, a haunting electric cello and the power chord guitar attitude of stomping on cities and punching through Kaiju hide. With no small time spent in Hans Zimmer’s company, Balfe certainly knows his futuristic gear, and creates a throbbing electronic sound that’s wired to the score’s stirring orchestral components with biomechanical finesse. He’s also got his receptors firmly tapped into a youth multiplex sound with trip-hop rhythmic attacks against giant brass villainy. “Pacific Rim” manages the neat feat of working as both music and shear propulsion, with the beat positively jetting about with Balfe’s alternately pulsating and patriotically soaring thematic approach, as suited up into state-of-the-sonic boom action writing. It’s a dynamic burst of high-tech, old school sci-fi scoring that truly makes these the robots you’ve been waiting for.
. THE QUEST / THE TRUE STORY OF ESKIMO NELL
After such releases as “Race for the Yankee Zephyr” and “Thirst,” Dragon’s Domain Records continues on their Brian May kick with a double header that showcases the composer’s talent for kid’s adventure and cheeky adult fun. As the composer who essentially put film music from Down Under on the Hollywood map with the likes of “The Road Warrior,” May’s richly orchestral voice was perfect to accompany America’s “E.T.” star Henry Thomas as a kid discovering aboriginal myth and a potential monster in the submerged quarry that gave the movie its original title of “Frog Creek” (though wisely changed to “The Quest” for its stateside release). In service to filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith after the insanely objectionable “Turkey Shoot,” May’s score is a fine example of how to play up to a young audience. Given a bright theme to send the kid off on various creature and myth-hunting adventures that would freak out The Mystery Team, May brings a sense of charm and fun to the score along with genuine peril, with a distinctly throttling brass-lead sound (resoundingly performed by The Australian Symphony Orchestra) familiar to any fan of his Mad Max scores. Indeed, That “The Quest’s” suspenseful, snake rattling cues and its symphonically thrashing confrontation with the “monster” could fit into Max Rocketansky’s post-apocalyptic universe says much about how Miller takes the movie seriously, yet with a sense of magic and child-like sympathy well suited for the age range. May impressively burst on the scene with 1975’s “The True Story of Eskimo Nell,” a nudie cutie “western” based on the “womper” of a dirty Aussie ballad. Similarly debuting helmer Richard Franklin would climb several levels higher with May in more prestigiously thrilling entries like “Patrick,” “Road Games” and “Cloak and Dagger.” But that doesn’t mean that May’s debut is any less rip-roaring as it veers between the “Tale’s” goofier musical antics to the more musically straight-shooting adventures of Deadeye Dick and Mexico Pete in their pursuit of the outback wench. There’s a nice, lush quality to their ribald antics, whose galloping orchestra and harmonica blowing captures the distinctly American western spirit renowned by the likes of Elmer Bernstein. In a bit of ingenuity, he even uses the jaunty theme for the musical number “The Womper Song,” then trudges it along as a piano-topped tragic, trek. Thematically packed with swooning romance, dastardly brass villainy and even Arabic rhythm for a camel, “Eskimo Nell’s” delightfully sexy pastiche shows off May’s nakedly effusive spirit to come in more ways than one.
. RAMBO III
He may have been a liberal, but whether he’d like it or not, Jerry Goldmsith will certainly go down in American scoring history as the MAGA composer to rule them all with the white, blue, and bloody red of the flag-waving music he gave to Sylvester Stallone’s iconic avenger.
While John Rambo might have always been getting pulled back in, Goldsmith’s elegiac music for the character would evolve from the brooding sound of a wounded Vietnam vet exacting payback on police brutality to the brass-fueled, Asian-inflected excitement of single-handedly winning the Vietnam War in “First Blood Part II,” one of the most deliriously exciting scores of Goldsmith’s career. However, it could be argued that the character was on the wrong side of the fight with “Rambo III,” as he’d make Afghanistan safe for The Taliban while again wiping out most of Russian’s imperialist army in the process. Given just how many times all of the scores have been released, leave it to Intrada to have the final sonic word on Goldsmith’s mighty soundtrack trilogy with a gloriously remastered “Rambo III.” What’s particularly interesting given the score’s now-77 minute running time is just how truly diverse it is, its wealth of themes pointed out in producer Douglas Fake’s liner notes. Of course bringing back the noble trumpet theme of the first “Blood,” along with the body count hungry snake rattle of the second film, Goldsmith brings particular exoticism to this third outing. Beginning with stick fighting Oriental percussion, Goldsmith goes in country to Afghanistan with shimmering Arabic rhythm. Reflecting the grimness of the Russian occupation that the filmmakers were unaware would give birth to an even worse extremist state, Goldsmith conveys a grim, militaristic atmosphere, with string tenderness getting across sympathy for the civilians. His expansive orchestra and mighty brass also convey a pride for the tribal society that brings forth welcome memories of the composer’s majestic score for “The Wind and the Lion,” but with Rambo’s theme given the desert warrior treatment. You can even here just a touch of V’jer mystery as Rambo and the ever-faithful Colonel Trautman wipe out of a bunch of Russkies in a cave. Effortlessly blending electric percussion with a sweaty orchestra, Goldsmith’s most expansive “Rambo” score is the kind of full-charge testosterone music that the composer behind the officious likes of Patton and McArthur did so well. With “Rambo III,” he delivers rousing, ripping payback with maximum grunt force efficiency, but with a powerful sense of location and emotion for this somewhat unsung score in the trilogy, which now really gets to flex its thematically sweaty militaristic biceps.
“Revenge” is a score best served cold, and retro by Robin Coudert, a French composer whose pulsating, electric breakout arrived with 2012’s most definitely not feminist friendly “Maniac.” This time the lethal keyboard rage is on the other shoe of a woman who definitely isn’t the fairer sex, trudging across the desert for to exact rapist blood in this subversively acclaimed thriller. Like a heroine whose cloths (though not certainly not spirit) are reduced to tatters, Rob swings between unplugged, savage intimacy to enveloping trance beats. “Revenge” is scariest when reducing those rhythms to his “Maniac” essentials. His music’s synth heartbeats, sizzling percussion, warped ethnic beats and beyond-dark tonal atmospheres could easily fit inside the dead repairman’s suit that The Shape in “Halloween” wore as he went to town in Haddonfield – if certainly groovier here. There’s a grim, determination to Rob’s old school state of the electronic art that captures a character’s single-minded desire to become executioner in lifeless surroundings. Rob not only makes her spirit animal John Carpenter, but also captures the seminally American 70’s – 80’ final girl sound, as well as the hallucinatory style of Euro horror prog rockers like Goblin and Fabio Frizzi. Fans who dig that vibe will definitely want to be check out the hardcopy release from France’s Music Box Records (the source of nearly all releases Rob) to wander through an transfixing grindhouse synth desert, waiting for for the big payback.
. THRILLER 2
Beyond doing an exceptional job of restoring and re-recording scores that showed Jerry Goldsmith well into his assured film scoring career with the likes of “The Blue Max” “Hour of the Gun” and “The Salamander,” producer James Fitzpatrick and The City of Prague Philharmonic have also played his powerful television epic “QB VII.” But perhaps even more interesting is how they bring a lush, fully symphonic score to Goldsmith’s smaller ensemble work for his Emmy-nominated work on “Thriller,” one of the golden age anthology shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “Playhouse 90” that the rising composer made his bones on. As opposed to Alfred Hitchcock presenting his macabre tales, horror icon Boris Karloff gave equal sinister aplomb to episodes of murder most foul during the 1960 – 62 run of “Thriller,” for which Goldsmith scored 17 shows. This follow up album continues dissecting his impressive run with six more blood-chilling entries. Listening to Goldsmith’s slow-burning invention that makes especially striking use of strings and brass, it’s easy to hear what Bernard Herrmann saw in this kid. Each selection on this CD has its distinguishing flourish. The Spanish guitar, castanets and Latin rhythms of “The Bride Who Died Twice” shows off Goldsmith’s western talents that could also be heard on “Rawhide” and “Have Gun, Will Travel.” You might even receive shades of “Planet of the Apes’” “The Hunt” in the shaker percussion trademarked ostinato piano and gonging bells that signal nothing good will come of the “Late Date.” “The Weird Tailor” develops with surprising violin and harp tenderness that you might imagine him knitting a “Patch of Blue” with, while the unsteadily building, death-tolling rhythm of “Masquerade” foreshadows any number of Goldsmith-scored monsters on the prowl before its suite dances maniacally about.. And in the most ferocious of the bunch (yet lyrically ending with a piano and violin sonata) “Terror in Teakwood,” you can imagine the shrill brass cry of a gremlin that would grin outside of John Lithgow’s plane window when Goldsmith got to revisit his TV alma matter with “Twilight Zone – The Movie.” Altogether going far more for brooding psychological hair-raising stuff with his uniquely trailblazing orchestrations, “Thriller” shows off Goldsmith as a master of suspense sowing his chilling oats, his atmospheric effectiveness made all the more impactful with a gloriously full, if still-intimate sound of the Prague Orchestra in a way that a limited TV ensemble of fourteen players wouldn’t have afforded back in the day. Given just how much music that Goldsmith composed for TV back then, I’d be looking forward to more musical resurrections from the boob tube that Tadlow now does so well, especially as perceptively chronicled by TV soundtrack expert Jon Burlingame.
Since his directorial debut with the Diablo Cody-scripted “Juno,” filmmaker Jason Reitman has shown interestingly quirky choices in both score and songs, particularly when attuned to feminine yearning. Now Reitman reunites with the screenwriter for the baby blues of “Tully” for a soundtrack that speaks to Generation X fading into the twilight of their dreams, even as it gives birth new life. There’s a wistful nostalgia to The Velvet Underground’s “Rise into the Sun” and Rufus Wainwright’s “Teargarten,” even as The Jayhawk’s “Blue” has an ironically upbeat energy. The gentle, folksy voice and guitar vibe of Beulahbelle gently sums up the sense of life passing by in the face of a new birth with the poetic “Let You Go.” But the undeniably brilliant song choice here is her whimsical rendition of “You Only Live Twice.” Written way back when by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse for a certain British secret agent, there’s no denying the somewhat melancholy nature of the theme song playing after a seeming death. With the lush orchestra of the familiar Tina Sinatra version stripped away to a guitar and keyboard, the tune becomes an smart ode to the ultimate reveal of “Tully,” while lyrically capturing the hopes and dreams of its free spirit have drifted away, even as a new love appears. It’s a song choice that’s not only brilliant in being a strikingly unstrung version of an 007 theme, but in showing the song’s lyrical reach into white suburbia. Reitman also has an exceptionally female friendly composer in indie scoring star Rob Simonsen (“Age of Adeline,” “Gifted”), who similarly downsizes for a lovely, rhythmically poignant approach that uses guitar and ethereal, off-kilter synths to capture a woman who’s life has become a dazed series of child care repetition – her former rock and roll attitude now mainstreamed into lyrical strumming, or drifting through bubbling melody. Yet it’s a vibe that’s perfect for the impossibly glowing spirit of a young helper who brings new spark to a woman submerged by a three-kid household. For a woman confronted with the draining reality of unassisted momhood, the songs and score of “Tully” combine for a dream-like enchantment that reveals that third time motherhood just might be her charm.
. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
In his ear catching, off-kilter career spent mostly outside the norms of conventional scoring, Radiohead musician-turned-composer Jonny Greenwood has played no end of borderline psychotic characters, from a finally murderous oil magnate to a mindhead cult guru and a drug-addled P.I. But the child rescuing vigilante-for-hire of “You Were Never Really Here” must take some kind of psychotic cake. Fans who thought Greenwood was softening up just a little bit with his surprisingly melodic score for the tailor fetishist of “Phantom Thread” will be quickly thrown back down Greenwood’s distinctive rabbit hole as he conveys a drug-addled, violence-engulfed breakdown for Lynne Ramsay’s confrontational film that upends the sort of antics that are usually the realm of direct-to-video. Nearly every cue in “Here” is discombobulated in some way, whether it’s a strumming guitar being jolted by electroshocks or ethnic percussion going all over the place. Sampling city sounds, or speaking a title track of sorts, Greenwood’s score never lacks for mad invention. It’s anti-music that simultaneously repels and intrigues with the warped equivalent of rave beats, door-slamming percussion and anguished, neo-classical chamber music that recalls the seminal Avant-garde music of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. Yet bookending the bizarreness is a quite lovely, drifting theme that captures a dream-like optimism, a melody that’s like a desperate cry for normalcy from a war-scarred character never able to attain it. For a composer who can inventively transmit insanity like few others in the stranger-than-strange scoring business, it’s a theme that keeps us from going crazy in Greenwood’s pit of nightmarish invention that he singularly occupies.
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