‘CAPTAIN POWER AND THE SOLDIERS OF THE FUTURE’ IS ONE OF THE TOP SOUNDTRACKS TO OWN FOR OCTOBER, 2012
Also worth picking up ARGO, BLACK RAIN, BLADE RUNNER, FRANKENWEENIE, THE FOG, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, MISTS OF PANDERIA, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS and SINISTER
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) BLACK RAIN (3,000 edition)
What is it?: While his earliest hit among the masses was with The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” Hans Zimmer’s Krautrock-inspired synth-pop rhythms would soon be putting a similarly prophetic stake through the heart of traditional Hollywood scoring. It was Zimmer’s talent for music tech that marked his journeyman progression to deservedly becoming film scoring’s King of the World, creating a singularly unique fusion of electronics, exotic beats and rock adrenalin through such works as “Burning Secret,” “Paperhouse” and “A World Apart.” The studios’ ears would really be pricked up with Zimmer’s whimsical Afro-centric score to 1988’s Best Picture “Rain Man,” music just brilliantly crazy enough to get an Oscar nomination. But it would be next year’s “Black Rain” that would truly be the game changer for this German emigrant, a high impact electro-orchestral miasma of Japanese music and hard-hitting “gunshot” percussion that not only reinvigorated the sound of gunplay, but provided the template of the “Zimmer” sound that brought a new, atmospherically rhythmic approach to action scoring the world over.
Why you should buy it?: “Black Rain” marked both Ridley Scott and Hans Zimmer’s explosive entry into the supercop genre. Re-invigorating everything that was cliché about previous ugly American fish-out-of-water crime fighting expeditions like “McQ,” Scott’s all-important visual sensibility turned Japan into a land at once foreboding and intoxicating, a neon flood of the senses that Zimmer also captured with surreal adrenalin. As opposed to the old school orchestral approach of writing solid musical ins and outs, Zimmer’s powerful combination of synths and symphony became an atmospheric wash of suspenseful textures that carried memorable themes in their wake, along with metallic hits perfect for a Yakuza punk’s face getting slammed into a metal fence in industrial Osaka. In a Hollywood that certainly wasn’t foreign to musical Oriental-isms, Zimmer’s approach was completely fresh in its rock and roll use of Japanese instruments, yet one also filled with a poetic sense of reverence and mystery for a Gaijin lost in an culture where both the law, and the underworld had centuries-old codes of honor. But above all, “Black Rain” was about rhythm, with a jackhammer sense of beat-driven excitement that would turn many of its action cues into movie trailer montages for years to come, let alone a sensibility that inflected Zimmer’s evolution to orchestral action. But as far as Zimmer’s old school synth scores go, “Black Rain” remains the inventive exemplar in terns of both Zimmer’s burgeoning excitement and musical production value
Extra Special: The incredible layering and stereo separation of Zimmer’s Asian soundscape comes through loud and hard on La La Land’s complete release of “Black Rain,” which is just as toe-tappingly impactful as when Michael Douglas ran his motorcycle roughshod over the rising sun. Not only does the double-CD include alternative tracks, but also the original, and now remastered Virgin LP presentation from many a moon ago, including its still-memorable songs that range from Iggy Pop living up to his namesake with “Living on the Edge of the Night,” UB40’s reggae groove for “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” Ryuichi Sakamoto chanting Koto club number “Laserman” and both film and album versions of Greg Allman singing Zimmer and Will Jenning’s “I’ll Be Holding On,” an inspirational anthem for mullet-wearing bad-ass cops if there ever was one.
2) BLADE RUNNER: 30th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION (1500 Edition)
What Is It?: If there was one score that made a generation rip their hair out in frustration, then it was Vangelis’ “Blade Runner.” In 1982, there’s no doubt that hundreds of people went directly from theaters to the record stores in search of the Greek composer’s seminal synth future noir score, only to find a vinyl album performed by some group called The New American Orchestra instead of the promised Polydor original soundtrack. Needless to say, Vangelis’s lush and technically sophisticated work this was not. So one can understand fans’ reluctance when presented with a “30th Anniversary Celebration” produced by Buysoundtrax, a label whose re-performance heavy catalogue has had some hits that capture the retro magic of past classic titles like John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” and Ennio Morricone’s “The Thing,” releases particularly helped by having John Carpenter’s “associate” Alan Howarth perform them. But Buysoundtrax has also had cheesily performed misses, the most mediocre being a scuttled rendition of Vangelis’ “The Bounty.” So given that track record, it’s with no small sense of relief that I can report that Buysoundtrax’s “Blade Runner” is more human than human – a terrific, spot-on recreation of Vangelis’ masterpiece, if not better than the subsequently reworked “Blade Runner” releases that The Man himself has since put out.
Why You Should Buy It?: If Edgar Rothermich is indeed a replicant of Vangelis, then his DNA is only one generation away from the source here. Having collaborated with Tangerine Dream member Christopher Franke, Rothermich certainly has the 80’s synth chops to astoundingly recreate “Blade Runner”‘s score from ear alone. Seemingly performed on the original computer banks that “Blade Runner” magically sprang from in Vangelis’ “electronic laboratory,” Rothermich’s gear is perfectly attuned to the beautiful sonic wash that conveyed the melancholy, rain-drenched streets of 2019 Los Angeles, from the electric sax simulation of “Blade Runner Blues” to the instrument’s actual, smoky brass accompaniment, performed with subtle nuance by Paul Frederick for the “Love Theme.” But while these famed pieces have been heard in just about every “Blade Runner” compilation or pseudo-soundtrack that came out, a point of contention is just how much music remained to be released, something made worse when Vangelis spent an entire third disc on his 25th anniversary album noodling about with “inspired by” music. Thankfully, that problem has been solved in style here. Finally, we get all of Deckard’s climactic mano-a-replicant battle with Pris and Batty, twelve minutes of ghostly synth suspense, tolling bells and the sound of life furiously dripping away. Rothermich’s attention to detail is so fastidious that we even get the piano-tapping cue “Deckard’s Dream,” complete with the sound of passing flying cars at its start, and the voices of the Unicorn that marked him as artificial life. About the only element that doesn’t pan out is the warbling Arabic voice under “On the Trail of Nexus Six,” but it’s a small digression given the album’s success.
Extra Special: This “Blade Runner” also delivers the source cues that filter through near-future LA, from Gail Laughton’s gentle Oriental-style percussion that propels the “Bicycle Riders” to a black-humored jazz arrangement of “One More Kiss Dear” – heard as Deckard is complemented for giving Zora the kiss of death. Indeed, so faithful is this “Blade Runner” that it even gives fans a rendition of John William’s opening Ladd Company logo music. As a major leap forward for Buysoundtrax, “Blade Runner” might still not be the real Vangelis deal. But you’d need a Voight-Kampff musical test to prove it.
3) CAPTAIN POWER AND THE SOLDIERS OF THE FUTURE
What is it?: Having given the brawny plastic figures of “Masters of the Universe” cinematic life for Mattel toys, filmmaker Gary Goddard next had the idea to conquer television with an even more brilliantly insidious way for selling action figures. But beyond the cool factor of having your spaceships racking up points by blasting the rudimentary CGI robots as you watched the syndicated show, the one season of the surprisingly ambitious “Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future” was distinguished for having production values (not to mention violence and sex appeal) way beyond other kiddie flesh and blood sci-fi favorites like “Jason of Star Command.” One department that particularly shined was the cinematic-quality music of Gary Guttman, whose scores made the wide-eyed small fry feel like they were watching epic futuristic action, even if “Captain Power’s” post-apocalyptic, robot-infested future might not exactly have been on the level of a James Cameron film (though tell that to the outraged, uncool adults who ultimately terminated “Captain Power”).
Why you should buy it?: Like another composer named James Cameron being giving one of his first shots on a little cult, Cameron-designed sci-fi movie called “Battle Beyond the Stars,” Gary Guttman came roaring out of the gate with similarly-styled music that spanned “Captain Power’s” twenty-two episodes, the best cues of which have been gathered on this 41-minute CD. Stunningly written before Guttman had scene a frame of the series, what’s essentially a CD of library music serves as a great, cohesive ride. You can almost see Richard Thomas taking on Sador and his mutant goons with this thrilling, grandly thematic stuff. Like Horner, Guttman certainly knew how to use brass-driven militaristic melody, snare drums and synths a’ blazing to make a clear-cut distinction between the heroism of our mecha-suited humans and the crunching, utterly dastardly sound of killer robots. But what’s best about Guttman’s charge-ahead approach is the unabashed, exhilaratingly thematic belief in what he’s playing. There’s nothing but conviction that the planet is at stake in his lavishly performed orchestral music, its thrills-and-spills style Saturday matinee as opposed to Saturday morning. Perhaps even more powerful 25 years later, Guttman’s “Captain Power” remains uncondescending in his musical mission to wow young, Mattel-gripping audiences to fight the future with melodic boldness.
Extra Special: When sci-fi kid syndication has been reduced to Power Ranger cheesiness, the consumerist, and creative ambitions of “Captain Power” shine in a nice booklet that features production designs, photos, and most interestingly Guttman describing the crude way he made sense of the recorded music per episode, complete with his influences and ten favorite “Captain Power” cues, the last of which is suited-up new version for the series DVD release.
4) HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER
What is it?: Intrada’s new partnership with Universal to celebrate the studio’s 100th anniversary has yielded many blasts from the company’s musical past, but none so singularly vengeful-minded, or more batshit fun than Dee Barton’s score for Clint Eastwood’s Stranger, the undead sheriff who paints a godforsaken town hell red in 1973’s “High Plains Drifter.” Playing, and directing a character who was easily the most sadistic Man With No Name in his cannon, Eastwood deconstructed the genre that made his bones with a picture that was just as much horror as it was western, a genre mix for which his frequent musical collaborator from “Play Misty for Me” and “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” whipped the life out of the persona that Ennio Morricone helped shape, conjuring a Spaghetti western score as written by the devil’s messenger himself.
Why you should buy it?: Getting payback with this “Drifter” is much like being shoved through a saloon’s haunted house on the way to the big gundown. On one end Barton’s got howling voices, chimes, demonic harpsichords and an unbalanced orchestra, while on the other there’s the more sonically acceptable spaghetti plate of harmonica, galloping military percussion and wah-wah guitar, carried along by a full-charge heroic theme. It’s a balance between musical terror and eccentric traditionalism that brilliantly reflects “Drifter’s” twisted black humor. But as “Plains” goes down the path to payback, Barton is sure to make the soundtrack even more unhinged, with guitars ripping out a gnarled, acid rock vibe, along with the kind of screeching, nail-on-blackboard synths that would latter accompany a host of cinematic slashers. “High Plains Drifter” is likely the closest Clint ever came to being one, and hearing Barton’s work now has the exhilaration of Freddy Krueger blasting forth from Morricone’s skin, six-shooters blazing with the most audaciously entertaining, and twisted “western” score the icon ever received, delightfully more trick than treat for fans just expecting another Ennio knock-off on these shores.
Extra Special: Eastwood ended up wiping out much of the orchestral elements of Barton’s score with a creative (if personally non-malicious) vengeance. But now these symphonic ghosts from the past are back to kick ass with stellar sound dug up from the Universal vaults, making “High Plains Drifter” a true score premiere in more ways then one, complete with a bunch of harmonica, percussion and guitar elements to boot. But the oddest duck has got to be an attempted title tune by a Vocalist With No Name. His attempt to sing-talk lyrics like “Praise be this land, beautiful land, long live its place in the sun” under Barton’s theme, complete with a Deputy Dawg twang, stands as the most slyly absurdist touch amidst the extras on Intrada’s long-time-in-coming special edition.
5) THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
What is it? Not since the days of John Hughes has an upper class teen film captured the agony and ecstasy of entering true adulthood with the poetry of “Perks.” So perhaps it’s only fitting that the movie takes place in the 80s, an era when alt. music by The New Order, The Smiths, Sonic Youth and XTC was showing the smart, disaffected kids in class that they counted. Their mix cassette tape likely would have been this terrific CD (or vinyl) compilation on Atlantic, which provides a well-thought out flashback to an unequalled musical era with the likes of “Temptation,” “Asleep,” “Teenage Riot” and “Dear God” (though 80s Top 40 gets a tip of the hat with Dexter’s Midnight Runners “Come on Eileen”).
Why should you buy it?: More than a hip time trip, “Wallflower” book writer and movie director Stephen Chbosky has made sure to have the songs speak for a mentally troubled teen’s desperate search to fit in by using his smarts, tune choices that show how music can indeed speak for a generation’s silver-spooned rejects. Upping “Wallflower’s” cool factor is the use of less-known alt. bands from the era like Galaxie 500, The Innocence Mission and Cracker, whose empathetic, guitar rock stylings complement the emo vibe. But if there’s once song choice that John Hughes would have approved, then it’s David Bowie’s “Heroes,” an eternal a rock anthem for self-empowerment if ever there was one, especially for our hero’s tunnel-standing triumph over his inner demons, made with more than a little help from his friends.
Extra Special: Just as impactful in capturing thoughtful teen confusion is the “Perks” underscore by Michael Brook (available digitally). Having played the unplugged, acoustical score for the truth seeker who wandered “Into the Wild,” Brook’s score here is a little less rustic for soul-searching that takes place in Chicago’s well-appointed suburbs. Yet “Wild’s” conflicted emotions are still very much part of “Wallflower” in the guitar-layered instrumentals that capture the soundtrack’s bourning indie vibe. Most effective in Brook’s approach is the strumming, strings, piano and aching violins of dream-like memory, gently pulling the protagonist’s past haze away to uncover the buried memory that gives “Perks” its dramatic wallop. But even then, here’s a poetic gentleness to the score, much like the hesitancy of first real friendship, and love. It’s music that resonates with the deep feeling that makes “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” perhaps the best teen angst film since “The Breakfast Club,” if not even better.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
Ben Affleck has not been a director to overtly feature underscore in his movies, which have a studied, low key quality even when dealing with child napping, bank robbery or secreting a bunch of Canadians out of Iran under the cover of a sci-fi craptacular. Where Harry Gregson-Williams had done effective, ultra low-key scores for “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” it’s Alexandre Desplat who now gets called to Affleck duty for “Argo.” Having shown an ability to score softly and carry a big stick when it came to ethnic-percussive Middle Eastern spy diplomacy for the intrigue of “Syriana” (and “Zero Dark Thirty” to come this Christmas), Desplat has just the right deep cover subtlety to rescue intended hostages from the grasp of righteously pissed-off Islamists. If anything, “Argo’s” low key quality is far more varied and interesting than “Syriana’s,” not that you can really tell it from the barely audible mix the score is given in this otherwise impactful film. But on it’s own, “Argo’s” soundtrack rocks with impressive musical diversity. Of course its De rigueur to have to have enough diduks, tablas and Arabic rhythms to accompany a bazaar in these movies. But where Desplat significantly ups the ante is in using voices for percussion, slyly incorporating early 80’s jazz funk-caper beats via Middle Eastern stylisms and a funk organ, or reflecting on the emotional tension of people caught in the middle of political jockeying. But arguably “Argo’s” most effective moment is the moving, patriotically symphonic sense of accomplishment in pulling off its impossible mission, a noble sense of pride that takes Desplat into John Williams’ “JFK” territory. Once can argue that Affleck would’ve been wiser to raise the volume dial on the composer’s work. But at least the CD marks the equivalent of the history books being opened for public view, and most importantly listening enjoyment.
. BATTLE OF THE BULGE
Perseverance Records is on a roll re-issuing the original LP-programming of such Warner Brothers titles as “Capricorn One,” “The Exorcist” and “The Witches of Eastwick,” their distribution now having grown to encompass Europe (excepting the U.K.) to allow fans to get their hands on these formerly hard to find titles. But if there’s one catalogue soundtrack just might have the most meaning for that continent, then it’s Benjamin Frankel’s 1965 score to “Battle of the Bulge.” One of the 60s biggest WW2 spectaculars, “Bulge” chronicled the Allies’ desperately fought battle to suppress a German tank offensive in Belgium, one that could have changed the course of history. When it came to that cinematically fictionalized fight, none of our boys could have a bigger weapon to overcome the Jerries than an English composer at their side, a la William Walton, Roy Budd or John Addison (“The Battle of Britain,” “A Bridge Too Far”). Perhaps it was because many of these musicians had gone through the blitz themselves, but you could always count on their scores to have a patriotically rousing, never-say-die vigor to them. But what takes “Bulge” beyond that given quality is the sheer musical barbarity of the battle. A disciple of Arthur Schoenberg’s “twelve tone” technique, and with no small amount of “serious” concert music to his credit (including an ode to The Holocaust’s six million victims) Frankel’s “Bulge” is surprisingly modernistic for a soundtrack of type. Easily the biggest score the composer got in a prolific career that included “The Curse of the Werewolf” and “Night of the Iguana,” Frankel would never again get a score that offered the scope of “Battle of the Bulge.” And it’s perhaps that hindsight that had Frankel pour a kitchen sink of blazing notes into this dynamically stirring score. Of course Frankel has the proud military percussion and stirring themes, but as blown into a savage, constantly changing frenzy of barbaric, dance-like rhythms that doesn’t so much suggest a traditional war score as it does a staging of Stravinsky’s “The Rites of Spring.” And with the Germans on the sneak attack offensive, there’s a chilling sense of Teutonic confidence to the score, from the Panzer Corps anthem to the slurred use of horns. Frankel is almost an enemy agent in how well he captures the Nazi’s sense of elation and confidence at their seeming surprise, while use tolling bells, pounding drums and an elegiac trumpet to reflect the atrocity of their massacre of American soldiers. Rarely has WW2 been both so impressionistically, and impressively fought by a composer as Frankel did for “Battle of the Bulge,” a soundtrack that just might be Perseverance’s leader of the WEA re-issue pack, with even Frankel’s stepson E.D. Kennaway on the Allied side to report with appreciative liner notes for the unsung composer’s most explosive score.
. THE BODYGUARD (3,500 edition)
It’s a great thing to be a composer on a diva-driven film whose soundtrack will go through every precious metal LP there is to hang on a best-selling wall. Not so much for score fans hoping to hear the underscore amidst the pop hits, but for the musician who has one or two contractually mandated cuts that will give him a taste of the platinum pie. Now twenty years after the release of “The Bodyguard,” and several months after the sad death of its superstar Whitney Houston, those who are equally enamored of Alan Silvestri have finally gotten their complete slice of the composer’s piece of romantic noir. While he’d previously played creeping suspense for such thrillers as “Shattered” and “Ricochet,” “The Bodyguard” offered a set-up straight out of a Bogey picture from the 40’s, the private dick protecting a little lost woman-girl against those intent on doing her harm- a formula that writer Lawrence Kasdan updated into a singing superstar who’s shielded by a lonely gun for hire. Yet there’s a lush, black and white feeling to Silvestri’s surprisingly pensive work, a cigarette-smoke drenched quality that starts off with a beautifully melancholy, trumpet-driven theme that could just as well be guarding Faye Dunaway on the streets of “Chinatown.” The score takes its delicate time at drawing this odd couple together, particularly for a film that thankfully never made their race an issue. Heard mostly from crew-cut Costner’s viewpoint, “The Bodyguard” conjures an ex-military man afraid of commitment, a job-dedicated solemnity which gradually opens up to the point where Silvestri can get in soaring, Copland-esque Americana when they shack up at her Lake Tahoe retreat. But there’s more than a share of Silvestri’s trademarked, sustain spookiness at hand amidst the brass and delicate pianos to satisfy even those fans whose taste runs more to “Predator.” While there’s not a far-more familiar note of Whitney or Kenny G. to be found here, “The Bodyguard” impresses for its subtlety. La La Land’s expanded release truly has Silvestri fans’ back with the complete score and its alternates, along with Tim Grieving’s liner notes that get the scoop from director Mick Jackson and composer Alan Silvestri about providing able support to one of the biggest pop movie, and soundtrack hits of all time, as well as a moving remembrance of its star.
. BOUND FOR GLORY
Of the major soundtrack labels specializing in retro releases, Intrada might have the quirkiest tastes in taking chances on catalogue titles, especially when it comes to movie with a surfeit of songs that might not necessarily appeal at first to score fans. But then, how can you go wrong when those freewheelin’ political tunes are by Woody Guthrie, in the personage of David Carradine? An actor most popular in pop culture for wandering the west and kicking ass along the way as “Kung Fu” master Caine, Carradine got the role of a lifetime in Hal Ashby’s 1976 biopic about the iconic folk singer’s travels across Depression-era America. And damn if Carradine couldn’t carry any number of classic guitar tunes from “This Train is Bound for Glory” to “So Long It’s Been Good To Know Yuh” and “Talking Dust Bowl Blues.” And while his voice is country pleasant, Carradine incisively cuts to the lyrics’ ironic core for his ballads about the have’s and have not’s, songs have definitely remained the same these days. But for all of its powerful strumming, “Bound for Glory” is also notable for winning Leonard Rosenman his second Oscar for Best Adapted Score, an award he’d last claimed for the classical music in “Barry Lyndon.” A composer whose revolutionary blend of dissonance and melody first smashed onto film screens for the storm-tossed rocks of Monterey Bay in 1955’s “East of Eden,” Rosenman was right at home in the 1930s American wasteland. His score here is a modernist mixture of tempestuousness and lyricism, from wild flights of harmonica and a stormily percussive orchestra to beautiful string passages that seamlessly swing from Guthrie instrumentals to Rosenman’s spiritually akin original material. Aaron Copeland is also very much part of Rosenman’s work here for music that could easily accompany a tone poem about Billy the Kid. But perhaps Rosenman’s most powerful scoring here is for Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” as a jamboree of banjos, fiddles and harmonica build to take on stirring symphonic power that’s enough to make you salute. Score fans should consider it their patriotic duty to pick up a copy for this rendition alone, though Intrada’s sparking presentation of many unused Rosenman cues (complete with his trademarked finale “tone pyramids”) make it more than worth their while.
. THE FOG
It was 133 years ago that a ship full of lepers went down off of Spivey point near Antonio Bay, and a seemingly impossible 33 years last when John Houseman told the tale to open what’s arguably John Carpenter’s most atmospheric chiller. Only a few piano chords and a barely perceptible synths accompanied the old salt’s ghost story. But in that simplicity lay a world of fear, even if the re-performed “Fog” soundtrack that came out in 2000 was perhaps a bit too sonically souped up for its own good. Now at long last, Silva Screen has released the original and infinitely more effective “Fog” tracks, along with its high-tech version on a second disc. As he’d proved with “Halloween’s” memorable theme, Carpenter was a filmmaker-composer who turned minimalism into a thing of art, much in the same way that John Williams used two notes to conjure a monstrous shark. Here the synth apparitions are far more ephemeral, resulting in a score even more stripped down than The Shape’s. Yet Carpenter’s themes (done in association with original synth programmer Dan Wyman, and found again by longtime fellow associate Alan Howarth) are far more varied and Gothic, harpsichords, tubular bells and foghorn-like effects conjuring a creeping sense of dread, a slow-burn momentum that gradually congeals into the crashing, relentless percussion that comprises the long-in-the-waiting phantom payback. As such, “The Fog” remains Carpenter’s most effectively told score-as-ghost-story. And while he’d grow in technical sophistication, perhaps no work of his is literally as atmospherically powerful. Now with the real deal, the liberties taken on “The Fog’s” last soundtrack incarnation come across as more fun for the purists, especially in how the climactic thunderclaps are electrified with computerized hisses. Completing the package are informative liner notes from the Houseman-like horror score authority Randall D. Larson, along with a Jamie Lee Curtis audio interview that gives slight insight to “The Fog” and far more concrete pointers on how to make it beyond being a scream queen.
Tim Burton and his muse Danny Elfman keep doing their darndest to give life to the genie in a stop-motion bottle that was “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” first assembling the body pieces of “The Corpse Bride,” and now the doggie bits that comprise “Frankenweenie.” And even if the public can’t quite seem to get Jack Skellington out of their minds, or ears, it doesn’t mean that this gleefully demonic duo isn’t applying a different shot of energy each time at winged bat (or winged cat-bat demon in this film’s case). Where “Bride” mainly drew life from the comedic opera stylings of Gilbert and Sullivan, “Frankenweenie” finds inspiration in the warped suburban wonderland of “Edward Scissorhands” by way of the 50’s sci-fi shtick of “Mars Attacks,” all while jigging the pieces about into a new creation, fueled by equal parts heart and mock terror. Sure there’s the Elfman horror pastiche that also filled this summer’s “Dark Shadows” with Burton. But what truly distinguishes “Frankenweenie” is that its protagonists are stop motion kids. Subsequently, Elfman’s stormy menace is inflected with an adolescent’s sense of wonder, hearing the act of unholy creation as done out of love for a pet instead of spite against God- something that was the undoing of an older guy named Victor Frankenstein. All this monster wants to do is lick you, making “Frankenweenie” veer between terrifyingly humorous orchestrations and the kind of bell-filled sentimentality that would befit a guy stuck with sharp appendages. “Frankenweenie” is always in hyperactive cartoon mode, flurrying about like Carl Stalling in a Franz Waxman “Bride of Frankenstein” mood. We also get a1930’s black and white orchestra, along with a wacked 50’s Theremin that at times makes “Frankenweenie” seem like the steroid soundtrack for the Ed Wood monster picture that Elfman always wanted to score. But in the end, it’s the swellingly magical choral and string sweetness of a little boy and his dog that sticks with you along with a truly genius horror-ification of Disney’s opening signature tune of “When You Wish Upon A Star” – easily the coolest bit of studio logo music subversion since Elliot Goldenthal turned Alfred Newman’s Fox fanfare to dissonance for “Alien 3.”
. HELEN OF TROY (1,000 edition)
As if laying tributes before an unsung Greek god, Buysoundtrax has paid tribute to the recently passed Joel Goldsmith with releases of two of his best works, beginning with an improved re-issue of “Moon 44,” and now continuing with what just might be the composer’s finest work with 2003’s “Helen of Troy.” An Emmy-nominated TV movie that hit shores the year before Brad Pitt and James Horner invaded the multiplex with “Troy” Goldsmith’s score certainly has the big screen power to become the face that launched 1,000 ships for one of mythic history’s most famous, and ill-fated love stories. Not only does Goldsmith’s authentic use of Middle Eastern percussion and instruments solidly ground the tale in Greek history, but he also brings in two memorable themes for the anger of the Trojan War, and the passion that spawned it. It’s a mix of militarism, haunting ethnic stylings and fate-crossed, flute-topped romance that definitely marks Joel as the son of Jerry, yet very much as a composer with his own voice for this alternately epic, and intimate spin on musical legend. It’s a score whose high quality makes one wish more than ever that Joel Goldsmith had the opportunity, and recognition to write more like it, especially when his talents were alive for Hollywood to see- unlike the wooden horse that stood for mythic history’s most notorious sucker punch.
. NOBODY WALKS
One of the most interest alt. score duos to arrive on the Hollywood scene since Tom Hajdu and Andy Milburn went by the name of Tomandandy for “Killing Zoe,” the Brooklyn-based collaborative of Will Bates and Phil Mossman have given themselves the not-so easily identifiable moniker of Fall On Your Sword. With their own impressively uniquely combination of rock-based percussion and hypnotic minimalism, Sword seemingly struck from nowhere with the surreal sci-fi score of “Another Earth” before getting slightly more down to our planet to chronicle the screwed-up relationships of “28 Hotel Rooms,” “Generation Um…” and “Lola Versus.” But playing romantic ennui takes on a whole new eccentric layer when set in a La-La Land where “Nobody Walks.” For the adulterous passion that arises between an art film director and the married sound designer whose Silver Lake pad she crashes at, Sword captures an existential vibe that isn’t so much about conveying palpable emotions of love and hurt as it is the whole independent scene, especially when the magic of sound design is a key factor in the story. Though always offbeat, Fall On Your Sword’s music is more than approachable, whether it’s going for glistening rock rhythms or slow erotic burns. Yet for all of their borderline experimental stylings, Fall On Your Sword also demonstrates an equally impressive talent with more traditional melodies for the piano and violin. Certainly one of the most interesting, dreamily rhythmic scores to play the city of self-absorbtion since Tangerine Dream’s “Heartbreakers,” Fall On Your Sword’s work for “Nobody Walks” is what that German band might have mutated into in an age of Hollywood hipster hedonism.
As anyone with a glow stick can tell you, there’s something about the whole trance / hip-hop / industrial vibe that’s perfect for getting deliriously wasted on. It’s not so much about “music” per say, but feeling the rhythm in your spastic mind and legs. Certainly two beat-dealers who began the craze are Phil and Paul Hartnoll, who spun a hyper, hallucinatory wave of sound as Orbital from their base in England- which is now the setting for this redo of “Pusher.” But then, whether it’s the streets of the original’s Copenhagen (or even India for the Bollywood version that hit before this one), shoving smack is a tale likely as old as time. And it’s been constantly re-invigorated in film scoring from the jazz strains of Elmer Bernstein’s “Man With the Golden Arm” to Giorgio Moroder’s synth “Scarface.” However, Orbital’s trance-hop score is easily the least conventional of the pack. Alternating between 1000 beat-per-minutes and the slow, dread-inducing downer of being majorly in debt to a psycho supplier. Orbital’s “Pusher” delivers the kind of vibe that the group’s fans and appreciators of electronica will likely find to be rhythmic ecstasy, while likely sending score traditionalists out the door. But that’s pretty much the way it should be when it comes to delivering propulsive smack for cool lowlifes, with eerie female vocals as the chaser. Mainline if you know what you’re getting into, and chances are you’ll get a kick from the Orbital rush.
. SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS
With writer-director Martin McDonagh having an obvious thing for sociopaths, it’s good for him to have a musical partner in crime like Carter Burwell for this tonal sequel to “In Bruges” that’s even wackier in its hilariously malicious way. With no small amount of criminal scoring experience after playing the Coen brothers’ rogues gallery of misfit evildoers in such movies as “Millers Crossing,” “Burn After Reading” and “Fargo.” Burwell has more often than not used a bombastically black-humored approach to play the fearsome rep these societal rejects have- much of the time in their own mind. “Seven Psychopaths” brilliantly has it both ways for a dog-fixated mob boss and a writer groupie who’s playing insanely violent crime operas in his own mind, all of which serve to benefit a schlub’s blocked screenplay. Burwell’s score does a great job of segueing between imagination and reality with equally ominous flourish, his orchestral storm clouds driven with piano percussion for one crescendo of doom after the other. But there’s also a sense of tender humanity and fate in his strings and keyboards, a sympathy that not only makes you love to hate McDonagh’s most heinous characters, but also understand them. But perhaps the best thing about Burwell’s inimitable musical personage is how good it is about grandstanding without being overtly eccentric about its operatic film noir sound for a director who wildly swings between violent shock and endearment for very bad behavior. “Psychopaths” also has a surfeit of ironic tunes, from the country stylings of Hank Williams and Josh T. Pearson’s ten-minute ballad “Country Dumb,” to the seeming refinement of Berlioze, with the soul of P.P. Arnold’s “The First Cut is The Deepest” serving as the movie’s oh-so emblematic theme song.
From “Hellraiser” to “Drag Me To Hell,” Christopher Young has scored just about every kind of ghoul, killer, ghost and pissed-off Pazuzu wannabe that exists in the underworld. Usually accompanying their shenanigans is his thunderous orchestras, religioso choruses and shattering dissonance, a bag of thematic old-school horror music tricks that’s made Young Hollywood’s answer to Bernard Herrmann. But just when you’d thought that the composer has explored every sonic circle of the inferno, “Sinister” has come along to pronounce itself as perhaps his most audacious work yet, a score so bizarre that Young’s usually identifiable style could just as well be wearing an eyeless, earless mask. Going the way of Nine Inch Nails with grinding electronics, backwards growl-voices, warped pianos, screaming guitar feedback and industrial pulses, Young’s work comes across like the devil himself is wreaking havoc with his studio’s digital controls. The effect is positively terrifying when becoming the soundtracks for an ancient demon’s murderous home movies, a combination of barely melodic music and sound design that completely sucks the listener in to some eerie netherworld, making the shocks in Scott Derickson’s beyond-creepy film all the more jolting. Yet the result is far more listenable than one might expect, if anything for trying to figure out just where the hell where this all might be going. Luring the listener along with promises of convention are snatches of melody and retro synth horror rock rhythm that are most often rudely interrupted. But for the most part, “Sinister’s” experimental, disorienting thrash is Young’s most brilliant expression of his fascination with Musique concrete that’s followed him through such abstract horror oddities as “Invaders From Mars” and “The Vagrant,” taking the genre’s scoring possibilities to the outer limits of fear, even if your idea of what constitutes music is ripped to bloody, mesmerizingly ferocious shreds in the process. It’s the first album that actually made me worried that some backwards-message to kill had somehow been implanted in my head.
. TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
Though primarily scaring the daylights out of listeners with the likes of the “Scream” series and “The Woman in Black,” Marco Beltrami can be just as capable of emotional Americana when given the shot. And for a grizzled icon whose last several self-directed pictures have suffered from his own truly horrific scores, it’s welcome indeed to have Beltrami step up to the plate for “Trouble With the Curve.” There’s no doubt that Eastwood’s longtime second A.D. Robert Lorenz can be thanked for bringing in a musical pinch hitter for his first time up at directing plate. And Beltrami shines with a solid hit to third base for this baseball-scouting travelogue that starts its trip with bluegrass guitar and bubbling car trip percussion. But most sports movies would be nothing without an Americana orchestra, the kind of noble sound that’s about the pride and history of The Game, especially for a scout at the end of his days. Beltrami is sure to bring the strings up to bat with both the familial warmth of a harp and piano, and the proud Eastwood defiance of a man who isn’t going to go gently into the night. What’s better is how Beltrami captures the soaring sports sound of such past superstars as Jerry Goldsmith and Randy Newman, getting across that same, soaring finale without resorting to the usual swelling home run clichés. Between “Trouble With the Curve” and the eccentric humanity of “The Sessions,” Beltrami has proven that he deserves just as much time up at bat with drama as he does with a butcher knife in composing hand.
. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria: Collector’s Edition
While there’s no doubt that what’s left of my life would be gone if I fully ventured into the “World of Warcraft,” the scores for these games are certainly a journey well worth taking for listeners who want to submerge themselves into fantasy music environments. Like such mythic cinematic score quests as Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings,” these various extensions of “Warcraft” keep adding to the complexity of what will likely be an eternally expanding tapestry of dungeons and dragons. Now the landscape goes beyond the “ethnic” qualities of fantastical good and evil characters to encompass a real-world land itself with “Mists of Pandaria,” even if it’s for a bamboo-hat wearing animal that represents China’s cutest export. Like John Powell’s music that’s accompanied the “Kung Fu Panda” films, “War” composing vets Neal Acree, Russell Brower, Edo Guidotti and Blizzard newcomers Sam Cardon and Jeremy Soule are out to give a child-friendly bear some serious musical teeth that confounds those kiddie expectations. The difference here is that “Pandaria” is accented more to the epic “WOW” canvas. Drawing on a battery of Chinese instruments that immediately conjure the region, “Pandaria” incorporates the soaring orchestral approach of our western part of the globe, along with vocal percussion. The result is a sumptuously produced melodic journey that goes way beyond even China’s immense boundaries in musically evoking an age-old Asian dimension of nobility and mystical atmosphere. The accent here is firmly on the latter for cues that are far more about soaring over poetic environments than doing battle, selections that make “Panderia” even more of an all-enveloping listen. “Pandaria” not only marks the evolution of “WoW”‘s music into realms as concerned with meditative beauty as they are spell-casting action, but continue to prove video game music as being evocative as any scores heard for a live-action adventure involving Shaolin Monks. You can find this enthralling 77 minute-long assembly of twenty of “Pandaria”’s most impressive tracks (including a jovial Chinese song) as part of its collector’s edition, or via iTunes to make “WoW” resistance even more futile.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes, Moviemusic, Moveiscoremedia, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande