Soundtrack Picks: ‘THE HOMESMAN‘ is the top soundtrack to own for November, 2014
Also worth picking up BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES: VOLUME 3, BIG HERO 6, BIRDMAN, ENTER THE DRAGON: EXTENDED EDITION, FAR CRY 4, MY SCIENCE PROJECT, RIO CONCHOS, TOKAREV and many more!
(To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD covers)
THE TOP PICKS
What Is It?: La La Land Records is the undisputed home all of scores DC superhero animation – a realm that easily continues to out-power its live action costumed counterparts in terms of drama, and imagination. Among the characters that populate this two-dimensional universe, none remains more forebodingly impressive than the first run of Batman cartoons from 1992-93. Over the course of 65 episodes, the Emmy-winning show told TV that the caped crusader wasn’t condescending kid’s stuff anymore, especially when caped in the explosive, film noir tone that Shirley Walker spun from Danny Elfman’s seminal movie score (one she knew intimately from co-orchestrating it). Walker truly made this theme-driven, operatically orchestral approach her own, continuing a thunderous tone that was simultaneously unified, and idiosyncratic though the many unique voices of the eager, talented composers whom she trained to be her own Robins With Walker’s own scores dominating La La Land’s first volume of BTAS music, its time for a new four-disc edition to highlight her protégés’ work, resulting in what just might be the most bat-tastic entry into the CD series.
Why Should You Buy It?: Batman might lay claim to the most eccentric rogues gallery this side of Dick Tracy’s, giving ripe opportunity for Walker’s musical Justice League to embody these foes’ bizarre villainy, Carlos Rodriguez gives “The Clock King” a plethora of chiming percussion and playfully ominous comic brass pizzicatos, while Todd Hayen brings out the jungle percussion for a most dangerous game between Cat Woman and Tygrus in “Tyger, Tyger.” Rodriguez, and Mark Koval created a dark web of Asian percussion for Batman to face-off against his old ninja nemesis Kyodai Ken in “Night of the Ninja” and Day of the Samurai,” while Lolita Ritmanis made her own thematic presence known with an alluring melody for Poison Ivy in “Eternal Youth,” with the menacing, clanging percussion of robotic duplicates distinguishing the two parts of “Heart of Steel” as engineered by Richard Bronskill, Tamara Kline and Carl Johnson.Where Walker created the shows’ most notorious villain motifs with the carnival-from-hell music of The Joker, Michael McCuiston gave his own, equally evil calliopes spin to the cackling white-faced fiend in “Be A Clown.” Walker herself is certainly back in force here with some of her best work for the show, as sinister school yard bells, innocent flutes and relentlessly suspenseful rhythms become an ex con out to snatch his kid in “See No Evil.” But while she certainly rode the Wagner-esque thunder, Walker also kept her approach instrumentally fresh as harmonica and guitar blues accompanied an amnesiac Batman into the homeless underworld of “The Forgotten.” She also demonstrates her amazing thematic recall for the Man-Bat’s furious, flying action motif (as heard in the very first episode), all while creating a new chirping motif for a She-Bat in “Terror in the Sky.” But undoubtedly Walker’s finest half-hour (minus toy commercial breaks) goes to the lush, doom-filled romance that marks the dissolution of Clayface in “Mudslide,” her rousingly dark, 1940s-style strains the equal of any Miklos Rozsa suspense score from the period.
Extra Special: Among the twenty-plus episodes, containing over four hours of music that represent the collective effort of a dozen composers, the biggest consistent is Shirley Walker’s Batman theme (and even Danny Elfman’s on occasion), creating an overarching sense of BTAS as being part of a musical whole – a portrait of an anguished, heroic avenger driven as much by his inner demons as the evildoers he fights. It’s an epic listen that’s been exceptionally well organized, never becoming tiring due to the sheer versatility of the scores’ cohesiveness. John Takis takes up the bat-mantle once again in delineating the story behind each score in liner notes for this collection’s smartly designed booklet, its look enhancing the vibrant, retro-atmosphere of a small screen Dark Knight who couldn’t have sounded more cinematic. Doubtless there’s more powerhouse music to choose from as La La Land pays respect to the ultimate incarnation of DC’s toon avenger.
What Is it?: “Babel” director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu has always had an iconoclastic, and esoteric approach as to how music should work in his often downbeat character studies like “Babel” and “Biutiful.” Now taking an unexpectedly humorous look at the screwball world of the NYC stage that might be as close as he’ll ever get to a Farrelly Brothers picture, Innaritu has inspired a truly batshit soundtrack from fellow Mexican Antonio Sanchez, a jazz artist who lays down “Whiplash”-worthy percussion for “Birdman.” But while using jazz in its uncaged form is way better in idea than it is application for the actual movie, the wild drumming of “Birdman” certainly has merit when flying solo from any picture it otherwise turns into a cacophony.
Why Should You Buy It?: Thrusting us into the back-stabbing squawking that fills Broadway’s star-driven theater scene, the impromptu, rapid-beat percussion of Sanchez’s blazing ensemble only compounds the din that’s already there, confusion upon confusion that makes it impossible to hear what characters are saying (though this seems to be the overlapping dialogue point of Innaritu’s Altman-esque approach). It’s only much later when we see the Sanchez laying down the grooves on-camera that any of this noise begins to make sense, letting it truly find a way to play with some sort of artistic coherency. But if you’re a fan of free form drumming (with just a little bit of synth sustaining here and there), chances are you’ll likely be in heaven with “Birdman” as Sanchez gives the feel of a washed-up actor banging his head on a self-made cage, until finally bursting out to the thrashing wings of unbound, percussively undulating flights of fantasy.
Extra Special: Where Innaritu’s musical tastes truly pay off are in his bold choices of modern impressionist classical music, featuring lengthy pieces from Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Ravel. Its within the beautifully anguished passages for horn, strings and operatic voices that we can hear the noble, operatic yearning of a washed-up comic book hero to truly reveal his artistic powers to the doubters and poseurs that surround him – a soulful mission of finding the religious purity within the craft of performing that’s far more melodically rewarding in driving home “Birdman’s” journey than the crash of drums. It’s just too bad Innaritu didn’t go with this “source” approach entirely, though hearing the entire orchestral passages on this ample album definitely make “Birdman” a rewarding listen for more conventional, and classically-inclined soundtrack listeners.
3) ENTER THE DRAGON (Extended Edition)
What Is it?: Long ago, martial arts movies meant by-the-motions choreography, awful dubbing and beyond-cheap Casio keyboard music that only accented the goofiness of a genre whose ambitions rarely lay beyond the grindhouse Dojo. But that was before Bruce Lee kicked some serious Hollywood ass into chopsocky films with 1973’s “Enter the Dragon,” its superbly staged choreography, the solid direction of Robert Clouse and lush production values given funkadelic, Asian action stylings courtesy of Argentinean composer Lalo Schifrin. As a jazz-centric musician with a solid symphonic backing, Schifrin’s scores for the likes of “Enter the Dragon” and “Dirty Harry” did for 70s he-man jazz what Alex North dramatically accomplished for the art form in the 50s with “A Streetcar Named Desire,” showing how hot brass energy could translate its fists of fury to an Oriental arena that would be truly authentic in its sound (if not exactly done with Chinese instruments) – capturing a musical vibe with its high-kicking feet firmly planted in both Eastern and Western musical worlds.
Why Should You Buy It?: Having left his own country as a protégé of Dizzy Gillespie, Lalo Schifrin truly displayed his Hollywood chops with the spy jazz likes of “Mission Impossible,” “Man from UNCLE” and “The Liquidator,” its fat brass and sneaking percussion putting him in excellent stead for Bruce Lee’s breakthrough “American” movie, its plot of a CIA-sponsored martial arts master essentially using the trappings of a Bond film as Lee takes down a world-conquering wannabe with a truly bad hand. Schifrin whole-heartedly jumped into the chance to righteously kill a few hundred henchmen with a powerhouse combination of Asian exotica, Blaxploitation grooves a healthy dose of brass and a whirlwind orchestra, as driven by a theme that reflected Lee’s ability to jump from rage to Zen calm. But then, Lee himself had been working out to Schifrin’s iconic theme for “Mission Impossible” long before Schifrin took this career-defining gig. Indeed, few scores have been so keenly attuned to the charisma, and spirituality of its star, all while exuding ultra-70s Jim Kelly cool with its Wah Wah guitar, mirror-shimmering, neck-cracking synthesizers and strings that could creep around a compound with cat-like grace.
Extra Special: “Enter the Dragon” has journeyed to its tournament-to-the-death numerous times on vinyl and CD. But this “Extended edition” on Schifrin’s Aleph label literally gets in the last Bruce Lee battle cry when it comes to beefing up this “Dragon,” significantly expanding Schifrin’s Asian fisticuffs with rounds of pure drum percussion and breathless brass, showing off how richly thematic the score is beyond its iconic main title. At last, “Enter the Dragon” truly grooves with the ethnic, energetic finesse of Lee’s martial arts moves while showing off all the now retro-hip Western jazz chops, as heard during a midnight jazz set-to-the-finish on Han’s island of doom.
4) THE HOMESMAN
What is it?: There’s nothing wrong with having a big symphonic score for a western, as composers from Max Steiner to Joel McNeely have more than proven when giving orchestral sweep to America’s new frontier. But now that the genre has mostly taken great pains to come across as being authentic in conveying just how much awful behavior and beautiful barrenness filled up that untamed space, musicians like Clint Eastwood and Harry Gregson-Williams have taken pains to strip down the approach to solo pianos, filling the strings with anguish, or using scratchy rustic instruments to convey an unforgiving time and place. On that note, perhaps no western score has ever sounded more “real,” or beautiful than the lyrical harshness and subtle, emotional compassion conveyed by Marco Beltrami for “The Homesman,” a score that you could truly imagine coming from a saloon in a prairie ghost town.
Why should you buy it?: “The Homesman” marks the second western collaboration between Tommy Lee Jones while wearing the hat of filmmaker and star, the first hearkening to the modern take of “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” a truly bizarre genre piece for which the composer applied an equally unconventional approach that was the equivalent of film music Mexican peyote (heck, even Beltrami’s more standard western approach for the reboot of “3:10 To Yuma” sounded just as uppity in its mix of bizarre percussion amidst orchestral action). For “The Homesman,” Beltrami accompanies a one-wagon train back east, whose occupants are three deranged women – with a not-so old maid and an aged coot holding the horse reins with unbalance that’s nearly their passengers’ equal. It’s a set-up that could easily have made for comedy, especially if the composer was looking to play “crazy” music on the range. But it’s a tribute to just how unconventional, and beautifully done Jones’ approach here that makes “The Homesman” play out with impactful, haunting subtlety where even moments of great import are portrayed as just another day on the life-or-death prairie. While the score starts out with the relative normalcy of a string, and solo piano that’s easily the most intimately haunting western theme since “Unforgiven,” our traditionally melodic footing floats in and out with eerie abandon as Beltrami draws on his more horrific scoring roots to convey madness with weird, tingling sustains. However, this isn’t the type of dissonant insanity that screams for a trio of young battle-axes coming after the audience, but rather the sadness of women driven to despair through no fault of their own. Nothing gets played typically in “The Homesman,” whether it’s the quirky strings, skittering dulcimers and dark string sustains that sum up the to hell-with-it attitude, and surprisingly vengeful determination of Jones’ very reluctant antihero, or the ominous, tribal percussion of Pawnee warriors that’s anything but Hollywood “injun” music. Yet “The Homesman” is just as full of quiet tenderness, casting its heroine’s religious, poignantly longing attitude in a way that quotes, then recalls the hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves,” the theme the melodic constant we can grab onto amidst the score’s hypnotic weirdness – though to be sure time-honored western music traditions like the guitar and violin are on hand. Through it all, there’s a wonderful sense of experimentation in just what dusty instrument Beltrami will find from the ghost town fossil site, or create for a musical atmosphere (at times literally created from the air with a giant wind harp or recorded in the middle of the desert with a piano) so believable that you can almost smell the sod and dust coming from the CD.
Extra Special: “The Homesman” packs both weirdness and heart to it. It’s just about as outré and memorable a score, and film that the genre has ever gotten, showing how Beltrami’s desire to push the western “sound” within a memorably thematic framework simultaneously take its scoring right to the edge of the experimental frontier while returning it right back to the place western music started, creating a work full of raw, rough edges and memorable, poetic pleasures as simple and complex as the people who tamed the frontier, and those who were driven crazy by it.
What Is it?: Nicolas Cage seems to be on a quest for revenge at least six times every month in the villain-filled land of VOD. Yet it’s the Cage quirkiness that makes this stuff more watchable than you’d expect, especially when given the powerfully dramatic score that Laurent Eyquem has created as a very serious counterpoint to the unintentional laughs on hand foe this particularly grim picture – understandably changed from the character’s name of “Tokarev” to the one payback-title-fits all moniker of “Rage.”
Why Should You Buy It?: Recently impressing with his lyrical scores for the somewhat less vengeful films “Winnie Mandela” and “Copperhead,” Eyquem nonetheless knows how to play characters haunted by past acts of violence, more often than not with a sense of somber, often beautiful emotion. And he knows that the most powerful weapon in “Tokarev” are themes that cut to the bone, bringing out the mournful guilt of guys who thought they’ve put their brutal pasts behind them (or course until the VOD outrage-du-jour has them pull the knives and guns out in spades). Eyquem’s music poignantly captures “Tokarev’s” wages of sins as Cage is pulled into his inescapable descent into revenge. Lush, anguish-filled strings, delicate piano and the darkly angelic female voice of a dead daughter give no sense of pleasure, though they are certainly melodically rewarding to listen to. But when it comes to tailing the (always) Russian malefactors and getting behind the wheel for the big car chase, Eyquem knows well enough to break out the stalking, cimbalom-topped samples and rocking, percussive ammo.
Extra Special: Eyquem’s unabashedly woeful approach ends up being a real thing of melodic beauty in “Tokarev.” He hears its Cage-isms as things of sad, musical art, determined to go the pulp exploitation distance with a score that’s playing on a whole other level of drama. Props go again to Caldera Records for continuing their pattern of nicely designed graphics, informative liner notes by Gergely Hubai, and most noteworthy of all offering an audio addendum for the composer to explain their craft. Eyquem does so with truly heartfelt passion here as he reveals his own life’s tragedies that set him upon a fare more beatific course than Tokarev.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BIG HERO 6
Henry Jackman is becoming a superhero composer in a very big way, ranging from the dark side of the steely electronica that embodied “The Winter Soldier” to the satiric strains that makes the teen thug slayers of “Kick Ass” puff their chests out with the noble strains of Superman. It’s the latter camp of conveying the thrill of kids being given super-powered training wheels in scores like “X-Men First Class” that Jackman has really been excelling in, boisterous scoring that now takes on the form of an obese, fluffy white robot and his nerd fighting force for “Big Hero 6.” Where Jackman’s given his past comic book scores the threat of major bodily damage, “Big Hero 6” is pretty much all about jetting optimism taking on brassy, dastardly villainy, even if its loss that propels its young hero to team up his own anime-inspired nanobot-busters (why Marvel can’t acknowledge this Avengers-worthy film is their property remains anyone’s guess). There’s a stupendous wealth of wonderful, symphonically-fueled themes that sock home the Americana-meets-San Fransokyo joy of the good high-tech fight, as backed up by bubbling, retro synths that make “Big Hero 6” a kissing cousin to Jackman’s similarly enjoyable Disney score for “Wreck-It Ralph.” Jackman can write bouts of action scoring like no comic book composer’s business, long stretches of two-fisted, power-shooting fun that this score thrills with. But as always with winning Disney fare, it’s our emotional bonding with the often misfit heroes that proves to be the winning equation, as Jackman beautifully humanizes what’s essentially a big white pillow in human form as a gentle ‘bot with a heart of snuggly gold. “Big Hero 6” is epically accessible in its combo of old school symphonic heroism and musical retro-tech, conveying the kind of high flying wonder that no doubt will have kids running about to imagine their own flights of fancy as this soundtrack blasts in the background. One certainly can’t imagine a better, massive entry into Superhero Scoring 101 than this “6.”
. COLISEUM: GAMES OF ROME
When you hear the bugling horns of arriving generals, rousing strings befitting a chariot race or the smashing percussion of fight to the death, you’d think you’d just slipped though some soundtrack time warp and had landed the score to “Wanted” director Timur Bekambetov’s 2016 reboot of “Ben-Hur.” But what you’re in fact listening to here is Marc Timon Barcelo’s impossibly cinematic music for a live, European-produced stadium show celebrating the first Hunger Games, where the audience is very likely entertained by seeing the “Gladiator”-esque fight for redemption of an unjustly disgraced soldier-nobleman. Judging from this immense, and lushly-produced score that Charlton Heston and Russell Crowe would be proud to call their own, it’s a show that definitely pulled out all the stops – no more so than in giving Barcelo a majestic symphonic orchestra to fill any arena with. It’s certainly a major step up from his last Movie Score Media release of “The Little Wizard,” as Barcelo unleashes a greatest hits parade of everything you loved in ancient blockbusters, yet very much in his own voice as he pays musical tribute to such predecessors as Rozsa, Zimmer and Holst. Tribal drums unleash hordes of barbarians, Egyptian rhythms dance with temptation, sweet harps serenade Cleopatra, battle sequences rock with ferocity and lavish waves of choral melody give its hero a biblical sense of nobility. “Coliseum’s” live recreation of Rome practically explodes with this old school feel of musical mythmaking that’s a glorious throwback to the days when Hollywood was confident in their thematically symphonic muscle to give real mass to men in armor. This “Coliseum” might hail Caesar, but “The Games of Rome” more importantly announces some major talent in Marc Timon Barcelo for a score that definitely deserves a home on sword and sandal celluloid.
. FAR CRY 4
When Cliff Martinez was last in Asia, it was providing an enticingly weird, Bernard Herrmann-meets-Asian techno rock beat atmosphere for “Only God Forgives,” a miserably violent film whose only dispensation was likely given to Martinez’s brilliant score. But if his music may have been hampered by a mopey western hero out to bring biblical punishment on himself in Thailand’s red light district, the even more ultra-violent (if imaginary) open-world land of Kiryat gives the composer the chance to do far more exploration, this time battling a warlord, and picking sides between those out to depose him in this Himalayan-like land. The beautifully envisioned country of snow-covered mountains and mystical tigers proves of more interest to Martinez than foes to musically harpoon, shoot and otherwise eviscerate in his overall ethereal approach to “Far Cry 4.” But then, Martinez has never been an exploding car / bullet-to-the-head kind of composer to begin with (though he certainly hasn’t shirked that call of duty). Given what’s essentially his first major videogame score, Martinez braces those usual rock-action rhythms with an array of Asian and Indian instruments with action-telling traditions reaching back to the days of Sanskrit, including the Ney, Punji, Yayli Tambour, Balinese Suling flute and Tibetan throat singing in his arsenal. This is a score that’s definitely in its own, distinctive country as opposed to a retread down avenging angel lane. The result is a miasma of action cuts that go amazingly deep in their layering of ethnic beats with techno-industrial percussion – of course given a dose of Martinez’s favored Crystal Baschet that’s distinguished such scores as “Solaris” and “Traffic.” But it’s truly the wash of meditative tunes that are the most enchanting aspect of “Far Cry 4” beyond the boys-with-death dealing toys aspect of our hero’s endeavor, as Martinez seems to take in the entire bell-ringing, horn-blowing ensemble of every Tibetan temple in sight with hypnotic, chiming melodies. On one hand, his “Far Cry 4” is about meting out electrified punishment, and on the other, it’s about turning to a mesmerizing musical spirit animal for peace. The charm is that his impressive, all-enveloping music for “Far Cry 4” works equally well in true open world fashion, delivering the rhythmic first person, Asian-inflected hyperbeat shooting while reaching to the Buddhist heavens with an open palm to achieve a hypnotic sense of transcendence.
Rob Simonsen is one composer who knows the rich are different from you and me, especially when it comes to their propensity for murder. But while he’d already gone inside the mind of one well-off psychopath with his drivingly suspenseful score for “All Good Things,” that musical exploration of a real-life killer who held his lethal intent close to his chest seems like pure, emotive opera when compared the absolute coldness that Simonsen brings to the hawk-nosed John Du Pont, an entitled, wrestling-loving scion of immense wealth who put one of the men he seemingly admired in his grave. This true crime plays out with near-complete detachment in the hands of filmmaker Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” who’s chilly direction has inspired a transfixing, tightly-wound score from Simonsen and his tag team comprised of West Dylan Thordson and composing mentor Mychael Danna. Yet surprisingly, it’s their beyond-subtle music that provides “Foxcatcher” with the true emotion an audience can grapple onto. With strings barely speaking above a whisper, Simonsen conveys a pathetic, social misfit who’s cut off from human contact, a loneliness heard through solo piano, Americana brass that conveys the nobility that’s part and parcel of a fortune made during the American revolution and the especially evocative cello work of Jacob Cohen (a musician discovered playing in the decidedly uncouth environs of a Manhattan subway by Simonsen). The forlorn, weirdly poignant score captures Du Pont’s mansion as an island of lost souls for the Olympic hopefuls he brings together, intentions of victory that reveal a quickly unraveling core through twisted cello effects, sustaining melody creating an sense of inevitable, quietly awful tragedy. Miller has also cannily chosen tunes that reflect on Du Pont’s weirdly patriotic nature, from Bob Dylan’s “This Land Is Your Land” to the brain-buzzing voice samples that dance o the edge of “Times Achanging,” with the final, poetically haunted bleakness of the soundtrack conveyed with the ten minute, solo piano of Arvo Part’s “Fur Alina,” While “Foxcatcher” looks inside the dead eyes of an inscrutable, entitled killer and finds not much looking back beyond Steve Carrell’s incredibly good off-putting performance, the melancholy lyricism that Simonsen puts into the music is anything but limited in its enforced restraint.
Splatter-rific director Alexandre Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes,” “Mirrors”) finally finds a heart in horror, as opposed to just ripping one out, with this unexpectedly exceptional adaptation of the novel from “Locke & Key’s” Joe Hill (a.k.a Stephen King’s son), which finds a decidedly un-Potter-esque Daniel Radcliffe as the anti-hero of a seemingly satanic spin on “Liar Liar.” One particularly blazing element that modernizes the fairy tale elements that “Horns” ingeniously plays with is its score by “Rock the Casbah’s” Robin Courdert (simply billed as “Rob” here), who takes a similarly far more emotional approach to the genre than his previously visceral score to “Maniac.” For what drives “Horns” is true love torn asunder by a vicious murder, an achingly tragic mystery captured with a strikingly melancholy theme that takes supernatural shape with strings, piano, glass-like samples and a heavenly voices. But yet there’s something more horrifically eccentric, and sometimes humorous afoot with our devilish avenger, whose vinyl-loving DJ profession is captured with grunge guitar as mysterioso orchestrations sending his investigation deeper into a pit of anger and regret. Rob builds the alternately malefic and movingly poignant intensity of Izzys’ investigation until all thematically choral hell breaks loose. Coming across like a score that could have fit an updated “Brothers Grimm” fable, Rob’s effective, and very human score works so well by showing that that devil does care.
. A MERRY FRIGGIN’ CHRISTMAS
Such is the snark culture of The War on Christmas that whenever we hear one of those old holiday chestnuts in every movie from “1941” to “Elf,” then it’s no doubt intended as the height of ornamental irony – as we know those singers are belting out their cheerful lyrics over scenes of screwball family’s going for each other’s gift-wrapped throats. It’s surefire comedy magic as golden as treetop star (or yellow snow), which makes “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas’” soundtrack an especially delicious bell ringer, led off by Rufus Wainwright’s swinging rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” And the knowingly (or not) eccentric spins on the Santa standards keep rolling with a particular spin on country, from the clopping reindeer and sleigh country guitar of Chuck Meade’s “Jingle Bells” to Ryan Culwell’s weary “ho ho ho’s” on “It’s Christmastime I Know” and Aaron Tipton’s strumming “Silent Night” with a voice as deep as Merle Haggard. The Yuletide song eggnog continues to get spiked by Ben Kweller’s Sex Pistol’s approved “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The California Feetwarmers give a Dixieland spin to “Up on the Housetop,” and Anna Su‘s oh-so-adorable strumming of “Santa Will Be Flying Over the Moon.” Yet like all of these movies where even the grinchiest Bad Santa gets into the holiday spirit, “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” finds its heart, with Spencer Shapeero’s acoustical “The Weather Outside,” Alex Rhodes’ Charlie Brown-worthy arrangement for “Best Time of Year” and John Isaac Watters’ longing “Gently, Mary Laid Her Child” warming our hearts. By the time the Rufus Wainwright returns to bookend this utterly charming album with the poignant, piano-topped “Christmas is for Kids,” “Merry” has of course revealed itself as a big old softie Scrooge. It’s an album equally good for squabbling, and hugging the relatives you can’t stand under the mistletoe.
MY SCIENCE PROJECT
It’s certainly not an easy thing proceeding in the footsteps of a legendary film composer, a task that requires one’s own voice while giving the people who hire you the feeling that they’re getting just a bit of dad’s magic in the bargain. One particularly unsung scion who’s certainly distinguished himself among the few maor studio scores (though plentiful TV ones) on his resume is Peter Bernstein (“L.A. Story”), Elmer’s talented offspring who began his career as an orchestrator on his dad’s scores like “Meatballs” and “Heavy Metal.” Bernstein got some particularly fun Hollywood assignments on his own during the 80s with “Silent Rage,” “Class Reunion” and “The Ewok Advenure.” But for all of those furball’s adorablity, no score during that decade allowed Bernstein to strut both his epic sci-fi stuff and 80s rock-pop chops like 1985s “My Science Project.” The third, and practically forgotten of of the “mad science” teen movies from that one crazy summer that counted “Weird Science” and “Real Genius” among them. This oddball Disney genre film (directed by “The Last Starfighter’s” writer Jonathan Betuel) had a bunch of high schoolers go dino-busting when their nutty professor (of course played by Dennis Hopper) goes way too far with a mysterious orb his students have discovered. Bernstein meets the challenge with a terrific, swirling orchestral score that gives a real sense of magical grandeur to the film’s often unexpectedly violent shenenigans, full of swirling strings, military percussion, sweeping romance and awe-striking moments of symphonic revelation that you can imagine opening up the dimensional barriers of Zuul. Listening to the sheer, energetically fun cosmic spectacle of “My Science Project,” it’s no wonder that Peter was an orchestrator on pop’s “Ghostbusters,” as that classic score’s rambunctious spirit is very much on display here, conveying a disbelieving attitude to an array of world-ending threats jumping from the wormhole, each given a distinctively fun voice, among them a tyranosaurus’ rampaging brass, savages’ tribal drums, Roman heraldry and playfully eerie electronic effects. And given that was a noble, if box office failed attempt for Disney to grab the 1985 youth audience, Bernstein also provides some truly groove rock-pop grooves tthat make “My Science Project” both timelessly symphonic and synthily groovy, especially when you’ve got The Tubes prividing the title song. Now at long last given voice by Intrada, a label that particularly digs Disney’s often oddball 80s output, “My Science Project” shines as one of the era’s most impressive genre scores, showing Bernstein as both a chip off the iconic composing block, and a talent very much his own who definitely deserves a return to the studio special effects laboratory.
. ONE ON ONE
Varese Sarabande follows up their release of “The Idolmaker” with another golden (if not so) oldie song-driven soundtrack with “One On One,” in this case featuring the Southern breeze-esque soft rock duo of Seals and Crofts. Their gentle, folksy voices provided the inspirational ballads that helped teen heartthrob Robby Benson sink in the points for this surprisingly smart, circa-1977 view of a basketball prodigy discovering the point spread that truly propels his college scholarship, bouncing between G.D. Spradlin’s slimy coach and the vivacious beauty of more-than-tutor Annette O’Toole. The meaningful lyrics, and often poignant vocals of such tunes as “My Fair Share,” “The Day Belongs to Me” and “It’ll Be All Right” represent a pretty much lost art in films of song-as-storytelling, effectively becoming the soft pop conscience, and yearning of a once-cocksure kid trying to find his way through the game of life, with the alternately bouncy, and gently driving rhythm of each song pushing the story forward while hitting whatever action’s on screen. With tunes like “John Wayne” having the harmonica playing, guitar-strumming energy that will satisfy Seals and Crofts fans (minus any viewing of the film itself), these also succeed as memorably melodic songs that represented the “Rocky”-sparked resurgence in underdog sports movies. If the instrumentals often feel like the opening tunes to some television series from the era, then credit to their memorable thematic hooks would go to composer Charles Fox, author of such iconic 70s TV titles as “Love Boat” and “Wonder Woman.” Here he contributes pop scoring at its best, using the song melodies as themes, while varying from lite, cheerful jazz funk to more introspective, classically-influenced piano rhythms that took off on the spirit of Bill Conti, while also being very much in the key of the smooth, electric keyboard heavy scores by such jazz compatriots as Dave Grusin and David Foster. All in all, “One on One” makes for a greatly enjoyable score that will equally please fans of Seals and Crofts, Robby Benson admirers and wearers of a certain soundtrack hairstyle age where positive, soft pop rock vibes were the real inspirational deal. Here’s hoping that Varese Sarabande keeps digging into this vast wellspring of 70s solid, sport-centric soundtrack gold like “The One and Only,” scores that are just waiting to make a CD play.
After such long-awaited releases as “Young Sherlock Holmes,” “Silverado” and “Tombstone” (I’ll even give “So I Married an Axe Murderer” a mulligan) Intrada continues their justifiable love of the symphonic talents of Bruce Broughton, who was at the top of his suspense game when in partnership with filmmaker-of-all-hats Peter Hyams on “The Presidio” and “Narrow Margin.” While the soundtrack for their second collaboration is long sold-out, one can now visit a certain 1988 San Francisco miitary installation with throttling action to spare for the first official time. Indeed, “The Presidio’s” “Chinatown Chase” still stands as one of the great races in cinema history, an on-foot automobile vaulting sequence between perp (of course given Hyams’ favorite villain name of Spota) and Mark Harmon’s streetwise ex-military cop. Broughton’s ever-escalating, breathlessly thematic interplay between percussion and brass is a textbook example on how to score an action scene (as is his cue for “The Car Chase”), and its this particularly beloved track that’s made “The Presidio” a favorite among his fans. There’s plenty to grippingly savor as well in this investigation guarded over by Sean Connery’s Scottish-accented American Colonel for a score highlighted by a memorable, mysterious theme for piano and keyboard, dark brass and lush strings, the tingling stuff of 70s thrillers given an 80s synth touch here, especially during the “Presidio’s” more romantic cues for Meg Ryan. And given nine minutes for a “Waterhouse Fight,” Broughton shows his sneaking dexterity for keyboard perussion, ominous strings and liquid-like gestures before shooting off bursts of his action theme, his music given tense control that’s continued to distinguish him as one of Hollywood’s most dexterously thematic composers, especially when given the chance to track a murderer in Hyams’s one-two suspense punch, or convey darkly patriotic nobility (which he’d get to do even more explosively in the underrated “Shadow Conspiracy”). Where you previously had to break into an army base to get a hold of “The Presidio’s” composer promo, Intrada’s new, unlimited release offers up the score plus about ten minutes of alternate cues that build onto this score’s deserved status way beyond its exhilarating foot chase.
RIO CONCHOS (1,200 edition)
The Wild West first helped put Jerry Goldsmith on the Hollywood map with his 1957 feature debut score to “Black Patch,” a trail he’d continue to blaze right through to the 90s with the likes “The Ballade of Cable Hogue” and “Bad Girls.” But if there was a decade where the composer’s style shot off in leaps and bounds, then it was the 1960s with “Stagecoach.” “Hour of the Gun” and “100 Rifles.” But if there’s one sagebrush soundtrack of his with blazing western attitude to spare, while also embodying Goldsmith’s burgeoning style, then it’s arguably 1964s “Rio Conchos,” wherein a bunch of revenge-crazed ex-Confederate takes on a former southerner now selling weapons to Apaches. Goldsmith gets the adventure rolling right away with a memorable, whip-cracking theme with attitude to spare, immediately setting the sunbaked Mexican environs with orchestra, harmonica and a pokey guitar in a manner that might be called a more traditional take on the spaghetti insanity that Ennio Morricone introduced the same year before with “A Fistful of Dollars.” Goldsmith’s melody drives this expansive, yet often broodingly psychological score, giving a true sense of the journey these hard men take to stop the of-course gun-crazy savages, getting across both a sense of rollicking adventure and mysterious percussion that sets a primitive tone for the Forbidden Zone his music would trek across in “Planet of the Apes.” The military rhythms and wild brass that also distinguished Goldsmith’s powerful, army-centric scores like “Patton” and “In Harm’s Way” are also on hand, while his treatment of a lonely Indian has all the sparkling, Oriental atmosphere of “The Sand Pebbles.” And when it comes to staccato, trumpeting action, Goldsmith’s cues would be right at home on stage with Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” wild rhythms that are now turned into fandango violence. Where “Rio Conchos” had come out completely before on Film Score Monthly, Kritzerland continues their tradition of shining up a score’s classic boots by releasing this benchmark score for the first time in what’s nearly all stereo, technologically made possible by soundtrack restorationist Mike Matessino, who’s also done s similarly vibrant job for Kritzerland’s new edition of Bernard Herrmann’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” The results are a real spit-shine for this benchmark Goldsmith score, a rousing tribute to the composer’s distinctive way with heroic, often mean men riding into the stuff of Hollywood legend, along with a career destined for it.
Composer Howard Shore has usually traveled to the Middle East under nightmarish circumstances, from the surreal jazz-spiced, drug-addicted tableau of William S. Burroughs’ “Interzone” (i.e. Tangiers) in “Naked Lunch” (recently expanded on his HOWE label) to ancient, Arabic sounds literally being an exotically terrifying place of mind for a serial killer’s “Cell.” Now Shore gets locked inside of an Iranian prison whose interrogator smells of “Rosewater” in what stands as his most realistic take on a region beset by religion-dictated fascism. Yet what’s surprising is that for all of the threat that dances about, or directly pounces upon its journalist due to his appearance on host-turned-filmmaker Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” Shore mostly chooses to center his East meets West ensemble on a relative key of optimism. It’s the feeling of humanity as its own musical spirituality, with Iranian winds and percussion doing a subtle moving in subtle tandem with guitar, strings and hauntingly eerie electronics. Shore’s poetically contrasts the dark of a cell with the light its hero lets in through his memories of freedom, a score whose often-beautiful lyricism refuses to break under pressure. Given how dense Shore’s writing can get, the relatively stripped-down essence of “Rosewater” is all the more powerful for its subtlety in painting its theme of transcendence in the midst of a spirit-crushing experience, with the composer offering his most accessible, and at times hip-hop groovy Middle Eastern score to represent people desperately hoping to take its country forward into a modern, democratic society. Notable source tunes also filter through “Rosewater,” from the mental escape of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” to jazzily hip-hop rhythms of such decidedly progressive Arabic artists as 25 Band and Mahdyar Aghajani, all complementing a listen whose theme in the sound of hope flowering amidst a true desert.
. TITAN A.E.
It was a giant leap for Don Bluth to go from the talking animal, kid-friendly toon likes of “The Secret of NIMH,” “An American Tail” and “All Dogs Go To Heaven” to the interstellar, teen-targeted space opera called “Titan A.E.” Voiced by such stars as Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore and Bill Pullman, this visually impressive, if unwieldy animated epic threw in a kitchen sink of sci-fi influences from “Star Wars” to “Space Hunter.” But if its intentions of being an intergalactic animated epic (along with the similarly sunk “Treasure Planet”) succeeded on one level, then it was by giving New Zealand composer Graeme Revel one of his biggest symphonic scores yet, the entirety of which is finally offered on La La Land’s 79-minute release. This former mental asylum aid worker and avant-garde industrial SPK rocker caused a minor sensation when he rocked the Hollywood scoring boat with the 1989 import “Dead Calm,” his use of breath-rhythms and warped chorus setting him on a path to mixing more traditional orchestral approaches with alternative rock and world music beats in such relatively unconventional action scores as “Hard Target,” “No Escape” and “The Saint.” 2000 A.D.’s “Titan A.E.” was a year that marked a particular sci-fi renaissance for Revell with “Pitch Black, “ “Red Planet” and the “Dune” TV miniseries. And with the resources of a hopefully 20th Century Fox tentpole behind him, Revell showed his talent for conjuring grand, Williams-esque melodies in the service of another punk kid seeking brave new horizons, with particular emphasis on noble brass, revelatory strings and sparkling percussion for a mystical star map. But what makes “Titan A.E” way more interesting than a “Star Wars” score wannabe is Revell’s alternative touch that brings in Aussie aboriginal voices, ancient wind instruments and tribal drumming to give the score a true touch of alien exotica, as well as bizarre synth samples that bring gnarly CGI sheen to the metallic Drej villains, with percolating electronics giving extra, hip thrust to the battle sequences. It’s a combination of blazingly thematic orchestral tradition and a feel of rock and roll daring that truly makes “Titan A.E.” an especially hip, and symphonically satisfying work in Revell’s repertoire, finally given its chance to fully shine after the film’s box office reception scotched its release back in the day. Jeff Bond’s especially informative, and honest liners trace “Titan’s” evolution from live action to animation, while appreciating the epic unconventionality of Revell’s approach for a thrillingly massive score that’s sci-fi in the true musical definition of that term’s sense of coolly odd discovery.
. WORLD OF WARCRAFT: THE WARLORDS OF DRAENOR
Every time Blizzard brings out the fifth expansion of their “World of Warcraft” universe, their music gets even more titanic in matching the franchise’s Tolkien meets D & D ambitions Now with the Orc rampage that makes for the “Warlords of Draenor,” “Warcraft’s” scoring reaches the scales a new peak of sonic magnitude. Credit goes to battle-hardened WOW players Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Clint Bajakian, Sam Cardon, Craig Stuart Garfinkle, Edo Guidotti and Eimear Noone, humans who knows the musical ins and outs of these never-ending domains, not to mention all the powers it takes to conjure up goblin armies, mages, elves and rangers – all of whose melodic characteristics are cast in this truly wide-ranging album. Starting off with a raging orchestra whose armor is forged percussion and voices, “Draenor” hammers in its mythic menace in a “Siege of Worlds” that lives up to all the grandeur of that title. And while impressive sound and fury follow for quite a bit, “Draenor” steadily opens up its styles to show itself off as far more than thrilling fantasy thrash, bringing out tender violins, spell-filled religioso voices, bird song, mischievous flutes, Arabic winds and even a stomping Irish jig that capture all of the wonder, and perils of jumping about alternate Orc worlds. Yet though beyond dense in its cosmic wall of sound, there’s always a sense of true enchantment to this flowing soundtrack, a continuous sense of heroic, and darkly sinister discovery to familiar musical worlds of past, fire-breathing dragons and valiant warriors. With a gold-spilling wealth of themes and melody, WOW is a true musical quest that’s as constantly energetic to listen to as it is for the people to play the game, especially with a furiously skilled orchestra-of-thousands performance that puts an axe solidly into the noggin of naysayers who think that video game music hasn’t come of movie age. Indeed, one could easily imagine the music of “Draenor” rushing headlong into a battle of the bands with the armies of a certain other group of fantasy brothers hitting theaters this Christmas, with the winner of sheer, epically thematic fantasy scoring anyone’s guess.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Movie Score Media, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande