October Soundtrack Picks: ‘THE WALK‘ is the top soundtrack to own for October, 2015
Also worth picking up AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., BONE TOMAHAWK, ENOLA GAY, STEVE JOBS, THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, TALES OF HALLOWEEN and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) BRIDGE OF SPIES / HE NAMED ME MALALA
Prices: $9.49 / $10.79
What is it? Since the beginning of his scoring career, Thomas Newman has rarely played the expected notes, often combining the groovily surreal sound of his alt. rock and roll aspirations (“Reckless”) with the more traditional orchestral approach (“How To Make an American Quilt”) that distinguished a film music family tree – no more impressively than when Newman combined both approaches on the same score, a la his twelve Oscar-nominated work from “The Shawshank Redemption” to “Wall-E.” Now Newman is given the chance to bridge multiple styles again as he deals with two worlds on the political stage – one for which an unassuming insurance lawyer helps thaw The Cold War just a bit between America and Russia, and the other where a brave Pakistani girl is violently attacked for daring to be speak against the Taliban. The result is two excellent, individualistic scores that show Newman is as energetically vital as ever as one of Hollywood’s boldest scoring voices.
Why should you buy it?: Having shown an aptitude for foreign intrigue with the China imprisoned American of “Red Corner” (not to mention the ethnic espionage which inflects his Bond scores to “Skyfall” and “Spectre” Newman immediately conjures an ominous, snowy identity for evil Russia in “Bridge of Spies” with a Slavically-themed chorus and gossamer percussion, while good old American patriotism is proudly stated with Copeland-esque horns and drum timpani. But if you think that “Bridge” is going to be a walk in the park of Cold War musical stereotypes, Newman, like director Steven Spielberg, has something far more interesting in mind. Keying his score from the humor and everyman likability that star Tom Hanks brings to any role, Newman’s score has a propulsive, offbeat feel as electronics mix with lush, sympathetic strings, even giving a sad measure of depth to the Soviet spy under our hero’s charge. A grand orchestra conveys the sleek, and soon-to-be shot down might of the U2 spy plane, where Newman’s talent for the simplest of poignant piano melodies captures the humanity at stake beyond how the world powers view their prisoners as chess pawns – the score reaching its exchange at the Gleniecker Bridge with a stirring, yet underplayed sense of history in the making. While one can imagine the no-doubt terrific work that John Williams would have done on dangerous ground with similarities to his score for Spielberg’s far lesser “Munich,” the director’s creative prisoner exchange with Thomas Newman has brought a new, modernistic edge to the Spielberg sound that keeps “Bridge of Spies” musically relevant while not forgetting its red, white and blue nostalgic. This is a score as beautifully identifiable in its voice as Williams’ music is, and equally effective in its approach that dares to be serious, suspenseful and whimsical for an unlikely American hero facing off against a calculating Bear.
Extra Special: Newman has had a fun time checking in twice to score the best, and second best Exotic Marigold Hotel, lovely and breezy exotica-filled scores where the biggest danger its characters faced outside of aging was faulty construction. The stakes in that musical region of the world are far higher in Davis Guggenheim’s documentary “He Named Me Malala,” which details Malala Yousafzai’s triumphant journey back from near assassination to winning the Noble Peace Prize, greatly abetted by the devotion of her father and family. Newman does a remarkable job of capturing her indomitable spirit through angelically protective voices, tender piano and gossamer strings, all of which reflect gentleness and rhythmic determination in equal measure. In its way, “Malala” is a kindred spirit to Mychael Danna’s “Life of Pi,” in combining the approaches of ancient East and film scoring West to hear the struggle of an individual determined to survive frightening obstacles, achieving a state of understanding, if not melodic Nirvana as they realize their own inner power. The difference here is that “They Call Me Malala” hearkens more towards Newman’s own sample-driven, old school experimental spirit, an approach that further gives this soundtrack an emotional transcendence, filled with captivating ethnic beats and slow, lovely string lines that move the listener in both groove, and soul.
2) THE FORBIDDANCE / FORT ROSS
What is it?: There’s never been more of a boom time for soundtrack labels catering to the collector’s market, a party where more are always welcome. It’s especially true when a hardcopy label arrives from out of the blue – or red in the case of the Russian-based Keep Moving Records, whose debut releases include the majestic outdoor adventure scores of Stanislas Syrewicz’s “Stranded” and Mychael Danna’s “The Snow Walker.” Sure the Iron Curtain fell decades ago, but somehow much of that country’s film music has remained cut off from western audiences. That just might change now with Keep Moving, especially given their love of composer Yuri Poteyenko, whose “The Forbiddance” and “Fort Ross” headline the label’s impressive, initial slate.
Why should you buy it?: Best known to American cult audiences through his epic (and still somehow unreleased) scores to the Russian fantasy-horror films “Night Watch” and “Day Watch,” Poteyenko (called “Poteenko” on the IMDB). His “Forbiddance” rhythmically conjures the waves landing on a WW2-era stone-hewn island, where distrusting allies and a lovelorn woman come to blows. Using strings, violin and a cimbalom-sounding gusli, Poteyenko creates a beguiling theme that’s the stuff of which Russian tragedy is made of. But while full of storm-tossed emotion, the score is never less than captivating in its poetic anguish. Poteyenko shows just as much of an aptitude for gorgeously sultry film noir stylings with the album’s companion score to “Earthly Eden” (a far more enticing title than the original play’s “Duck Hunting”) complete with nightclub piano and a sax that conjures images of femme fatales and their lovestruck prey in any musical language – though its actual subject is a man’s anguish over his marital strife. With the piano, mournful brass and lush strings evoking such masters as Bernard Herrmann, the musical viper coiled around “Earthly Eden” marks it as a striking, altogether remarkable entry that could easily suit the softest, seductive touch of a black widow.
Extra Special: Poteyenko’s talent for capturing a swashbuckling magic worthy of John Williams and Erich Wolfgang Korngold gets played by way of Alaska and California in “Fort Ross,” a wacky Russian comedy-adventure in which an actor’s time-travelling cell phone gets him whisked back, Indiana Jones style, to a brigand-attacked outpost. That’s just as good of an excuse as any for Poteyenko to ditch any sense of Russian grief for this thoroughly jolly score. Full of sparkling percussion, jigging rhythms and orchestral derring do, the composer gives a thematic tip of the hat to every great Hollywood movie to feature a scallywag from “The Sea Wolf” to Cutthroat Island” with a boisterous heart. It’s a score that’s pure fun in the best sense of word, showing a real enthusiasm for old-school symphonic panache, the kind of unabashed Saturday matinee scoring you rarely hear in American multiplexes anymore – but is certainly alive and leaping in Poteyenko’s homeland, whose musical treasures will hopefully keep appearing from Keep On Moving.
3) HANGOVER SQUARE (1,000 edition)
What Is it?: Kritzerland follows up their releases of Bernard Herrmann’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “White Witch Doctor” with the composer’s first score to feature a psycho, and a far more musically-inclined one that that.
Why Should You Buy It?: Tragic star Laird Cregar went from playing Jack the Ripper in “The Lodger” to “Hangover Square’s” far more refined maniac, a composer who turns into an ersatz Mr. Hyde when his work is rudely interrupted by dissonance, and more particularly exploited by a beer hall femme fatale singer. It was a groundwork of rich menace that Herrmann would build a notoriously suspenseful career from, filled with brooding strings, tormented Wagnerian romance and bursts of rhythmic menace. But most importantly of all, Herrmann gives his tormented character a measure of sympathy, and even vulnerability that would fill a rogues gallery of killers to come. But what makes “Hangover Square” stand out is how Herrmann uses instruments as literal tools of madness, with rumbling pianos and razor-sharp flutes throwing its musician off the deep end, while the the fox-hunt like rhythms of latter scores like “On Dangerous Ground” and “Marine” become the chase to murder. Often as low and hypnotically atmospheric as the London fog itself, “Hangover Square’s” highlight is its “Concert Macabre.” As played by Cregar for a memorably fiery finale, swinging with mad rapture from the piano to a full orchestra. It’s a truly legitimate classical piece a keyboard fever dream of modernistic melody that’s possessed of dark romance, raging with both violence and tenderness, like some monster love child of Stravinsky, Mussorgsky and Debussy. Though Herrmann might be more famed for a concert that built to an assassin’s bullet in Hitchcock’s redo of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” it’s “Hangover Square” that has a far more unconventional, and malefic impact, especially given Mike Matessino’s powerfully remastered presentation (featuring an additional sixteen minutes) for this this unsung Herrmann masterpiece, which created mad inspiration in Stephen Sondheim to conjure his own musical of “Sweeney Todd.”
Extra Special: Herrmann’s talent for capturing far more urbane villains is shared on the “Hangover Square” album with his cunning spy score for 1952’s “Five Fingers.” James Mason followed up his traitorous performance in Hitchcock’s “Notorious” as a real-life butler using his position with Britain’s man in Turkey to sell secrets to the Nazis. Herrmann just as effectively becomes the character here, low winds and brooding strings staying to the orchestral shadows, There’s much suave villainy to the score, Wagnerian melody again abounding in a destitute character who makes up for his lack of funds with seductive charisma towards the “countess” who’s his partner in crime. Latin rhythms imagine the couple’s hoped-for good life in South America as a subtle Middle Eastern melody stands in for a Turkey filled with spies at the beckoning for information that can tip the scales of WW2. It’s a gripping sense of skullduggery in Herrmann’s ever-tensing touch, but also capturing a certain playfulness for the kind of overly assured antagonists that James Mason made us love to hate.
4) TALES OF HALLOWEEN / UNNATURAL
What is it?: ‘Tis the season of scary music, and there’ no better treat than having one big grab bag of horror scoring with “Tales of Halloween,” a movie that just might set some record by cramming ten stories in under 90 minutes. It’s an audacious squeeze that nonetheless offers a spacious wealth of energetic approaches to the true spirit of Halloween, as heard and seen in all of its malicious gory.
Why should you buy it?: You can’t have a soundtrack released through Lalo Schifrin’s Aleph label without a contribution from maestro of “The Amityville Horror” himself. And Schifrin’s rockingly macabre “Main Title” shows that he’s just as young at heart as ever, setting the gleefully twisted and energetic tone to follow. “Tusk’s” Christopher Drake, effectively begins these tales with a steadily menacing, piano-topped theme that plays effective homage to John Carpenter’s babysitter motif in “Halloween,” until far gnarlier, razor-in-apple samples announce a ghoul who enjoys candy no matter where it’s to be found. Drake also delivers a devilishly clever orchestral salute to pokily escalating horror comedy a la Alan Silvestri’s “Death Becomes Her,” as he accompanies a kidnapping gone very wrong in “The Ransom of Rusty Rex.” More overtly absurd is the Klezmer violin -meets-metal guitar of “This Means War” by Michael Sean Colin (“Killjoy Goes To Hell”) as the music hilariously switches sides for a deadly duel of the Halloween decoration bands. Bobby Johnson (“Wristcutters”) applies his talent for off-kilter tinkertoy percussion to a boy who get his own pranking turned on him big time with “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” while Christian Henson (“Severance”) takes a computerized note or two from “Halloween 3’s” high tech witchery for the rampage of “Bad Seed’s” man-eating pumpkin. You might think you’re listening to a spaghetti western showdown given the uniquely twisted harmonica and dulcimer beat of Austin Wintory (“Grace”) for “The Weak and the Wicked” before the band Psycho turns Disney’s Haunted Mansion music into a death metal title song with “Tales of Halloween.” But the anthology’s standout segment and score is owned by “Friday the 31st,” which starts out with all of the terrifying, nerve ripping string ferocity that Joseph Bishara (“The Conjuring”) can bring to the pursuit between a Jason wannabe and his nubile prey. But when a hilariously WTF trick-or-treater appears in the midst of a time-worn slasher pursuit, Edwin Wendler (“I Spit on Your Grave 3”) jumps in with bombastic, Theremin-a-raging sci-horror and just a bit of childish sweetness to hilariously switch dismembering positions between predator and prey. If you can imagine Danny Elfman’s “Mars Attack” having a crack seizure while taking-down of stereotypically dissonant horror scoring, then you’ll get a crazed taste of the inspired heights that “Tales” reaches for in an album that offers one fun, stylistic treat after the other.
Extra Special: Edwin Wendler is also on hand for the way more serious, positively chilling killer mutant polar bear music of “Unnatural,” which like “Tales,” shows the kind of horror geek panache that is making the VOD realm a place to check out for rising genre talent. Very well shot in the Canadian hinterlands, “Unnatural” is a truly disquieting land of sound design and respites of melody, an approach befitting the presence, and voice of a creature that’s been cobbled together from high tech and nature Alternately atmospheric and ferocious, Wendler knows how to keep the score’s tension high while also making his sampled effects interesting, an ability he effectively showed on his additional scoring for Liam Neeson’s hunt for the plane-bound terrorists of “Non-Stop.” Here pretty much everyone is prey as director Hank Braxtan effectively (and smartly) keeps his great white shark as such in the shadows, it’s killer weight truly conveyed through Wendler’s unsettling approach. Raging percussion strikes and retreats, as contrasted with infrequent, haunting stillness, with eerie, clock-ticking rhythm counting down to the next victim. “Unnatural” certainly keeps the listener on their toes, much like the characters desperately holding their breath for fear of becoming bear meat, its bio-engineered snarls heard in the truly unnatural samples that keeps the film, and score running for its life towards the salvation of unmarred melody, and a goofily welcome hidden track.
5) THE WALK
What is it?: In the dozen plus films that Alan Silvestri has scored for the filmmaking muse that lifted him from the television likes of “CHIPS” and “Manimal” to such acclaimed features as “Forrest Gump” and “Castaway,” the composer has often provided Robert Zemeckis with wondrous flights of fantasy. It’s a lush, confidently melodic sound that’ given distinctive voice to a mad doctor who achieved time travel, a woman whose determination to meet aliens opened the fabric of space and kids who hopped on magic train to meet Santa Claus. But among this gallery of fantastically optimistic dreamers, perhaps none occupy a place of impossible real-life achievement like Philippe Petit, a more-than-mad tightrope walker who repeatedly paced between the World Trade Centers, in the hope of evoking a sense of amazement from the spectators far below. It’s music for “The Walk” that beautifully achieves that goal as well, going beyond the dangerously whimsical surface spectacle to hear the Zen of the daredevil spirit.
Why should you buy it?: For a good three-quarters of its running time, “The Walk” is a very pleasant, pretty much surface soufflé that Zemeckis treats with a deft, sweet touch that hints of the transcendent third act to come. Certainly the cutest Francophile score to hit the screen since “Ratatouille,” Silvestri engages in whimsical French rhythm, balancing itself on the energetic circus music he’d last gotten to play for Siegfried and Roy. There’ also jazz a la Mancini and Williams at their 60’s comedy heights, with even a bit of Schifrin “Mission Impossible” spy groove thrown into the frothy soupcon of styles. But orchestral weight is also present in the gong-ringing march of death music that plays upon Petit’s fear of falling, the music amped up for Zemeckis’ forced suspense of the tightwalker’s crew infiltrating the twin towers, sequences of sometimes-imagined peril where “The Walk” threatens to go off the wire as a film. However, they do offer Silvestri a terrific opportunity to recall the charge-ahead suspense that propelled a DeLorean, and gave muscular weight to The Avengers, while also conveying a majestic sense of NYC skyline scope to the glorious insanity that Petit is attempting. But it’s all basically a warm up for Silvestri to take that big first step into the ether, whereupon “The Walk” elevates itself stratospherically from lightweight entertainment to the spiritual.
Extra Special: As he especially proved in Zemeckis’ vehicles for Tom Hanks, Silvestri has a way of reaching into a character’s soul in an uncomplicated, moving way with a purity of melody. And in the score’s defining “The Walk,” echoing pianos, a heavenly chorus and lyrical strings have a tear-eliciting transcendence. It’s the music of touching God and his creations, and the Icarus-like spirit that has compelled Petit to touch the stars – or in this case the sky. As Silvestri demonstrated in his Emmy award winning score for TV’s reborn “Cosmos,” there’s an inherent optimism, a delicate poignancy of touch that’s imagination itself. In a coup de theatre, Silvestri builds from Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” during “The Walk’s” beguiling back-and-forth between buildings, segueing from The Maestro into his own playfully suspenseful theme as cops on opposing WTCs trying to grab Phillipe, the score jetting back and forth between goofy comedy, awe-inspiring wonder and the darkening momentum of a coming storm, a daredevil movie between overt comedy and inspiration that Silvestri somehow pulls off over the course of the cue’s bravura seven minutes. But then, it’s music that’s driving what the unfortunately limited audience has come to see as much as the perhaps too-astonishing Imax 3D effects – all creating a building peril if Phillipe’s nimble footing will finally run out. But in the end for all of its rapturous music that tells us just how blessed Phillipe was, Silvestri doesn’t let us off easy with the realization of buildings and people that no longer exist. It’s a deeply moving, soaring sense of solemnity that shows just how much “The Walk” has grown from its frothy first paces to reaching a true profundity that marks this as one of the year’s best films, and scores, a highpoint in a composer-direction collaboration whose best work has been about characters reaching for heroic heights they never thought they could achieve, but somehow do.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
Even given an impossible amount of hit television series to score, it’s no miracle that Bear McCreary can provide top quality work in radically different styles, whether it’s a Renaissance wild wild west in “Da Vinci’s Demons” (its music for seasons 2 and 3 just out on Shadows & Sparks), kilt-wearing romance for “Outlander,” or the thankfully increasing musical presence that strikes emotional fear into “The Walking Dead.” But if there’s one show’s soundtrack that proves McCreary should be a part of the bigger cinematic universe, let alone a big gun in the Marvel one, then it’s ABC’s “Agents of Shield.” Over the course of three seasons, McCreary and his own crack squad have been providing music on an Avengers-worthy level, with the show’s best work for its first two seasons finally collected onto a 78-minute CD. Driven be a memorable, can-do theme, McCreary and own crack composing squad pour on a breathless sense of excitement into cues that resonate with true orchestral power, all with the enthusiasm of a big kid who’s finally gotten to play the superhero dream. Unlike a certain other comic book label, McCreary is right along with the Marvel line of give his action stylings a sense of fun above all, the feeling of non-conflicted heroism brassily socking it to the bad guys. But while bombastic thrills are the name of “S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” game, there’s also variety to be found from this mighty assemblage, from soulful metal guitar, wild Latin percussion, an aching cello solo and the mournful voice of McCreary’s “Battlestar Galactica” singing muse Raya Yarbrough as the embodiment alien DNA. Nearly every cue flows back to McCreary’s main theme, showing just how imaginative and well thought-out the show’s connective, musical construction is. If the TV appeal to Marvel here was doing a non-superhero show that could seem like on, then it’s McCreary’s music that has the blazing appeal of costumed characters.
. ATTACK ON TITAN
When we think of “Kaiju” films, it’s usually (and gloriously) guys in lizard costumes having a sumo wrestling match whilst laying waste to miniature cityscapes. Now imagine that formula done far more realistically with genital free, Godzilla-sized nude demon people fighting cable-swinging, post apocalyptic kids in a “Maze Runner” world and you’ve got the beyond-batshit “Attack on Titan.” The folks behind the awesome regeneration of the Gamera films have turned their country’s hugely popular anime into a two-part live action film, graced with an equally crazy, epic score by Shiro Sagisu, a composer whose background is filled with such Japanese sci-fi toons as “Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water” and “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” If there’s a disconnect between how American composers might attack this sort of material and how the Rising Sun does it, then “Attack on Titan” is a glorious example of that un-Hollywood-ness. It’s hard to imagine one of our musicians starting out with a glorious, symphonic opera only to have the voices go completely off kilter as the melody swings to a head-banging heavy metal guitar. There seem to be two, or perhaps five different approaches duking it out in the same cue at times, with roaring symphonic music (very well performed by the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra) that might accompany some American 50s atomic monster flick (as well as lurching brass that would make “Godzilla” composer Akira Ifukube proud) before the score flies off into grinding, trip-hop. Then at the next moment, you’ve got a tender piano melody, a haunted female voice joining with lush, tragic melody , battle chanting English lyrics and then a piece filled with gorgeous romance. Often, this music is so completely, jarringly wrong and frequently over the top when put to already jaw-dropping images that you feel like saluting the sheer, berserker brilliance of it – especially given cue titles like “Die die die die!!” and “Rise up, Rhymetal.” Yet the shear, monster-sized thematic scope of it all seems perfectly logical as a grand battle cry when swinging sword-first into a 1000-foot tall burning anatomical man. Now with both film soundtracks gathered on a single-CD compilation, “Attack on Titan” offers a wealth of continuous, insane and often shockingly beautiful musical surprises that define the utter wonderful craziness of Japanese giant monster films, and scores in general.
. BONE TOMAHAWK
If you’ve been hungering for a cannibal western since “Ravenous” about fifteen years back, then you’ll get your finger licking satisfaction (and then some) from seeing Kurt Russell and his posse take on a bunch of neo-cavemen Indians. But where Michael Nyman and Daman Albarn last treated this body splattering with a thoroughly crazed score, “Bone Tomahawk” is far, far more leisurely paced on its way to delivering the subhuman goods, with the very spare score by Jeff Herriot and director Craig Zahler not even entering until the halfway through this two hour plus film. This duo doesn’t have brain eating on their minds, but rather an elegiac, intimate tone far more in line with Marco Beltrami’s score for “The Homesman.” Basically, it’s a score that’s cut right to the minimalist bone of a somber violin theme and a piercingly unholy guttural sustain for the troglodytes’ cave den of horrors. But while this score might be the least terrifying work done for this peculiar genre, it’s effective in an anguished, poignant way that evokes the desert landscape and a bunch of hard, noble men with a powerful simplicity and overwhelming sadness. Sure this essentially might be a two-note soundtrack, but it says a lot about just how unpleasant, and anguished the untamed west was while barely sounding like a western score at all. Offering more material than what’s heard in the film (which could have used just a bit more musical goosing), the only truly crazy thing on the album is having a trumpet introduce an Opera Man singing the movie’s events for a catchy WTF title tune if there ever was one.
70s stalwart live action Disney director Norman Tokar (“The Cat From Outer Space,” “The Apple Dumpling Gang”) had rising “Freaky Friday” studio starlet Jodie Foster (her image likely a bit shaken by a distinctly unwholesome role in “Taxi Driver”) as the star of “Candleshoe” the English estate to which an American street urchin is hustled off as the long-lost heir to dotty Helen Hayes’ fortune. It’s a perfect opportunity to recruit the services of the great British composer Ron Goodwin, better known for such patriotic WW2 action scores as “The Dam Busters” and “Where Eagles Dare,” but just as well suited to the kind of comedy he’d last proved for Disney’s Blighty-set “One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing.” Where that film dealt with skeleton-snatching nannies, the far more youthful energy of a tomboy showing her elders American spunk allowed Goodwin to have a jolly good time here, especially starting out of the estate gate with a groovy jazz theme that mixes our heroine’s LA sass with brass and flute English affections. Goodwin has particular fun ribbing his country’s musical clichés, from a mock horse race (complete with the melody of “A Hunting We Will Go”) to trumpeting, knightly action music and skewed, stately music for a teen not to the manor born. There’s also a genuine, Disney sweetness to Goodwin’s wonderfully rollicking score, which makes pleasantly gentle use of the dotty matron’s favorite classic folk tune of “Greensleeves.” As the latest treasure to be mined from Disney’s underappreciated 70s family films by Intrada (including such nearly forgotten scores as Maurice Jarre’s “The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark” and Jerry Goldsmith’s “One Last Indian”), “Candleshoe” is a real treasure, with Tim Grieving’s liner notes giving an interesting low down on the Disney live action lineage, and album producer Douglas Fake finding numerous, fun versions of the main theme in the bargain for the album’s extras.
. ENOLA GAY
As a film music fan and soundtrack collector, my obsession began during the not-so forgotten days of early 80s vinyl, when I’d hunt through the two Doubleday bookstores on NYC’s fifth avenue to see what the latest releases were from a promising label named Varese Sarabande. Where many of those titles would again see light on the newfangled format of CD (particularly through the Varese Club), many of their initial gems like “Dance With A Stranger,” “The Fourth Man” and “Prince of the City” have so far languished in the vaults. Thankfully, the vinyl that helped build a trailblazing soundtrack company has been replayed through Varese’s LP to CD subscription series. Given a smart mock ’45 case for the initial subscribers, this economically-minded record club has surprised with a variety of forgotten, and still vital gems, mainly of the awesome 80’s synth variety from the cool slasher stylings of Charles Bernstein’s “April Fool’s Day” and Stanley Myers’ “Blind Date” to the tropical battle beat of Brad Fiedel’s “Let’s Get Harry.” Given exceptional, CD-worthy mastering from vinyl (as most of these releases masters have disappeared), the $10 a pop club titles vanish back into the vaults after a month’s time (or at least the way higher-priced domain of Ebay). Now the subscription provides another great reason to buy in on their first orchestral release with Maurice Jarre’s score to the 1980 NBC production of “Enola Gay.” By that point, TV miniseries, particularly Asian-themed ones, had provided a home to Jarre with the smash hit of that network’s “Shogun.” Fans of Jarre’s romantic, and percussive way of capturing feudal Japan will likely admire Jarre’s contrast of a militarized country on the fateful eve of the atomic bomb to be dropped by the most famous plane in American history. Drawling from his patriotic WW2 scores to “The Train” and “Is Paris Burning,” Jarre provides an emotional, salute-worthy march to a band of brothers, while also getting to show off his nostalgic jazz chops. A worthy, unsung score in Jarre’s repertoire, “Enola Gay” nicely withstands the proud, military march of time with its sonic spit-polish that shows off the impressive sense of scope he brought to the small screen. Be sure to take this flight on “Enola Gay” before she jets back into the horizon on the November 14th, only to be replaced with another of the club’s pleasant surprises that brings back the thrill of finding out what Varese title Doubleday had stocked up on from month-to-month.
. IN HARM’S WAY (Expanded)
Though he might not have served in WW2, Jerry Goldsmith could certainly be given a medal for conveying a mythic sense of bravery for our armed forces in such scores as “Von Ryan’s Express,” “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” “MacArthur” and his masterpiece “Patton” (while also saluting the high-flying enemy with “The Blue Max”). While Goldsmith contributed a war score to “A Gathering of Eagles” and the attempted military coup of “Seven Days in May,” the 1965 Oscar Preminger epic “In Harm’s Way” truly marked his first major enlistment to the cinematic fight. Arguably a more entertaining Pearl Harbor movie than “From Here To Eternity” (or the Goldsmith-scored “Tora! Tora! Tora!” for that matter), this saga of a battling navy men and their women was unique in Goldsmth’s repertoire as it would feature far more of Jerry’s 1940s jazz chops than dramatic underscoring (even given Goldsmith his first on-screen cameo as a piano player). Like Maurice Jarre, Goldsmith does a spot-on job of capturing the nightclub swing and big band dance hall rhythm a la Benny Goodman, with a Hawaiian ukulele to enhance the film’s locale. But what’s even more distinctive about “In Harm’s Way” when compared to Goldsmith’s latter war scores is its focus on the characters as opposed to the armed forces, though there’s certainly drum timpani and patriotic brass to be mustered during this relatively brief, but impactful score. Choosing to play Kirk Douglas’ sly, lady killing jazz and hard-drinking anguish, as well as The Duke’s unwavering service in the face of dishonor, “In Harm’s Way” has more in common with such dramatic Goldsmith scores from the period as “A Patch of Blue.” But when the Japs bomb Pearl Harbor, it’s certainly time to fight with a terrific, hard-driving battle themes that foreshadows “Patton” in conveying the duty that unites the armed forces despite their squabbles, giving the military’s strike back a relentless, rhythmic sense of soaring momentum. A relatively unheralded score in Goldsmith’s war cannon, Intrada brings back “In Harm’s Way” to their catalogue with more underscore and source cues, as well as a presentation of the original album with exceptionally good re-mastering from newly discovered elements. For Goldsmith fans, this is a soundtrack definitely worth re-enlisting with for.
. L’ANNEE SAINT / TRY THIS ONE FOR SIZE (350 edition)
Though he might not be as well known on these shores as “The Thomas Crown Affair’s” Michel Legrand, Claude Bolling comes from the notable tradition of French composers who frequently show their love for both classic jazz and swinging pop rhythms – most notably in Bolling’s Hollywood case with “California Suite” and “Willie & Phil” (while also creating the distinctive mummy reincarnation horror score of “The Awakening”). Far more legendary on his home turf for the likes of “Love in the Night,” “Lucky Luke” and “Borsalino,” Bolling’s sense of swinging fun now gets exposure with two Music Box releases, the first of which is a delightful pairing of particularly sinful criminals and bumbling soldiers. Given the “We’re No Angles”-like set up of two crooks masquerading as men of the cloth in 1976’s “Holy Year,” Bolling comes up with a wily main theme played on harmonica, with romantic vibes and woozy strings capturing sneaky, rhythmic suspense as the antiheros try to hustle religious pilgrims only to get skyjacked themselves. What’s fun here is Bolling’s sense of religioso mischief, especially when played on an organ for all of its sanctimonious worth, or giving his theme a Bach-like swing, while disco-era pop and spy jazz turns have a delicious kitsch to them. The WW2-set “Le mille-attes faith des claquettes” (a Radio London password for Resistance fighters) opens with delightful Glenn Miller swing, a style that fills Bolling’s equally renowned career as a big band jazzman. The film’s 40s setting allows Bolling to indulge in Stephane Grappelli-esque gypsy violin energy as well as Dixieland blues and a pompous military band playing as the heroes try to snatch the Venus de Milo from the Third Reich. At its best, “Claquettes” would do just as well on the Yank’s USO dance floor apart from its tender orchestral strokes of the statue. Far more modern in its seductive Bond-ian swing is Music Box’s release of Bolling’s “Try This One for Size,” a 1980 film that features the adventures of Tom Lepski (Michael Brandon), French author James Hadley Chase’s (aka Rene Lodge Brabazon Raymond) insurance investigating answer to 007. But where Dee Dee Bridgewater’s catchy theme song “The Key” might lead one to expect John Barry a la Bolling, this composer is way more about playing broad, funky action as opposed to secret agent stuff. With Oriental mystery, oh-so French accordions, disco-action grooves and once again Goodman-style swing, “Size” is a charming, lightweight score that’s an exemplar of Bolling’s sweet energetic touch that shows his ability at whipping up delicious music froth, especially when given caper comedies.
. THE LAST WITCH HUNTER
Steve Jablonsky is one of the main go-to composers when it comes to effects extravaganzas. And there’s damn good reason, whether he’s battling aliens on the side of Autobots (“Transformers”), teen war game whizzes (“Ender’s Game”) or the U.S. Navy (“Battleship”). For Jablonsky can conjure giant walls of rhythmic muscular might with the sound effects fighting best of them, using an imposing theme to give his immense musical forces a sense of mythic gravitas. Now given the gravel-voiced Vin Diesel as an undying warrior battling the bitchy forces of darkness, Jablonsky goes roaring into his first full-blown fantasy-horror score. It’s mighty stuff indeed, capturing the emotional weight of a guy first out a few thousand years ago to avenge his family, only to get cursed with immortality by his woody nemesis. It’s a need for payback that gives the film a mythically noble sense of mission, its catchy motif powering through the score like a bulldozer, with enough exciting wind-ups to the boss level takedown crescendos. Having started off in the full-on horror genre with reboots of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Hitcher,” “Witch Hunter’s” bouts of dissonant fear give Jablonsky a good chance to revisit that scary territory, while being sure to keep his score in the comic book avenger vein. But what’s particularly notable about “Witch Hunter” given Jablonsky’s past genre scores is just how orchestrally organic it sounds, the techno-rhythm element that was a trademark given his past futuristic villains gone, especially as this “Witch Hunter” is fully in the realm of modern-day sword and sorcery. It’s a cool, new sound for him that truly resonates on this subwoofer-shaking album, the music really given its chance to thematically swing with its blasting strings and percussion sounding off outside its constant battle with shrieks, spells and bug explosions within the screen.
Olga Kurylenko’s a jewel thief with a special set of skills, which take on Neeson / Damon dimensions when that one last heist turns out to be anything but. It’s certainly a different kind of musical strength than what Laurent Eyquem gave to his last heroine “Winnie Mandela” for this adrenalin-filled exercise in subwoofer blowout action propulsion. This is certainly a realm of bad-ass VOD percussion that Eyquem knows well from unleashing The Cage in “Rage.” And while Kurylenko’s character might just be a bit haunted by her friends who rapidly become the victim of government cleaners on her trail, “Momentum” doesn’t have much moping in its score, Instead, “Momentum’s” combo of orchestra, sharp-edged electronics and enough sonic booms to fill twenty action trailers has a ballsy, mean fun to it that’s certainly never boring. Thankfully, thematic melody is a running mate here as well with the kind of lush, melodic strings that are Eyquem’s forte in far nicer scores like “Copperhead,” with this character’s sex nicely nicely embodied with a haunted female voice and piano. There’s even a quite lovely respite in the cue ironically titled “The Torture,” six minutes of feeling that the composer makes sure to run with when he isn’t rhythmically shooting it out like an ace with the genre’s de rigueur gunplay and car crashes.
Kid-friendly flights of fantasy couldn’t ask for a composer who’s a bigger child at heart than John Powell, a musician who’s rambunctious melody has never quite jetted about in a straight line. Instead, it’s crazily veered from one idea to the next at the speed of sound, from dragon riding Scottish bagpipes to chicken running kazoos and tropical bird sambas. The latter Latin rhythms are only part of this Peter Pan prequel’s wonderfully delirious yo-ho-ho energy. Powell’s music has always been about nutty adrenalin, here powered by a theme that captures a mischievous child avenger to be, soaring with magic wonder as he’s introduced to Neverland. The O.G. pirate Blackbeard is given a big, dastardly presence, while his prisoners get a rollicking, percussive stomp. Like John Williams’ “Hook” in spirit, if not exactly traditional tone, Powell’s use of heavenly voices and s lush strings capture a legendary, almost religious presence for the ever-enduring Pan in the mist of swashbuckling bombast, which never gets tiring thanks to Powell’s balance of melodic simplicity (including a particularly beautiful piano theme) with action where every blasting instrument is on deck. If some of this might feel just a bit modern in approach, hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Blitzkrieg Bop” just might be some of the biggest jaw-droppers amongst Powell’s animated scoring, though Lily Allen’s performance of “Something Not Right” is far more lovely than jarring, where her processed voice for “Little Soldier” is cute kid’s radio stuff. Sure the film might have sunk to Dave Jones’ box office, but it’s an album well-worth having as a textbook example of John Powell’s giddy musical imagination.
There’s a passionately bucolic brand of music that comes from the great, old school British composers like William Walton (“The Battle of Britain”), John Scott (“The Shooting Party”) and Richard Rodney Bennett (“Far from the Madding Crowd”) when given the chance to play the rolling hills, garden-filled estates and wave-swept shores of their home country – a romance with England’s oft-turbulent beauty that provided Bennett’s protégé Christopher Gunning (“Firelight,” “La Vie en Rose”) with a beyond lush, achingly romantic approach to this 1997 miniseries redo of “Rebecca.” If Franz Waxman’s Oscar-nominated score for Hitchcock’s 1940 take on Daphnier du Maurier’s romance was all about a mysteriously dead wife’s haunted grip over the re-marriage of her husband to an unsuspecting, sweet young thing, then Gunning’s frequently soaring work instead deals far more with picaresque romance, with only an anguished cello theme to tell us something might be amiss. It’s sweeping, unapologetically love struck music with a memorable theme and classical affectations. Even as the bride steadily becomes obsessed with the first Madame de Winter, Gunning’s approach remains mostly pastoral, its memorable theme taking on a true, physical presence, its bursts of danger. It’s “High Drama” with flair that nicely sits alongside Steiner when it comes to burning down the house in the rapturous, symphonically swirling flames of Manderlay. Old-fashioned in the best sense of the modern gothic word, “Rebecca” is a superior, lavish score (astoundingly only performed by thirty musicians) from a composer who knows how to play picaresque romance amongst the well-heeled, music that sounds more alive than ever given Caldera Record’s sophisticated presentation, with Gunning himself summing up his stirringly passionate masterwork in his own, soft-spoken words.
. SODOM AND GOMORRAH
After a fairly prestigious run of spreading the epic gospel, cinematic religion reached its apex of sin, swords and spectacle with 1962’s “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Sure, this collaboration between testosterone-filled director Aldrich and spaghetti western legend-to-be Sergio Leone wasn’t exactly “Ben-Hur” or “King of Kings” in terms of quality in its Lot-led damnation of hedonism run amuck in the ancient Sin City, but that didn’t mean Miklos Rozsa wasn’t going to treat its parade of dancing girls, massive battles and spin-the-human torture devices with all of the commitment he’d given to the far more respectable costume fare that had garnered him the Oscar golden calf. Given that Jesus Christ was nowhere on the horizon of this film, “Sodom” doesn’t have a feeling of overall holy transcendence. This is brawnier stuff for Hebrews twisted by the heathens, full of the kind of trademarked, breathless rhythms that danced like a mad dervish for Rozsa. Though much of “Sodom” sounds an action-filled alarm for valiant Lot to avoid temptation, it also has a typically lovely Rozsa “Hebrew” theme that sings for its valiant biblical icon. Holiness also comes through in a beholden chorus and climactically virtuous church bells, while the evil, exotic pleasures of Gomorrah are heard through westernized Middle Eastern melody, with outright ethnic percussion serving for the lesbianic dance sequences – all leading to Rozsa conjuring the elements for God’s furious musical demolition with a roaring pipe organ to spare. Relatively underplayed when it comes to how many re-performances we’ve gotten of “Ben-Hur” and “King of Kings,” “Sodom” gets the honor its music deserves from the always reliable team of James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Having given new symphonic magnificence to such Rozsa epics as “El Cid” and “Quo Vadis,” “Sodom and Gomorrah” has renewed sound and fury that turns great music for the tawdry into a replenished, exciting score that now truly acquits itself in the shadow of his far more lauded work for the good cinematic book.
. STEVE JOBS
Tasked with musically presenting the brilliant, mercurial personality of America’s most important tech guru as three time-spanning audiences eagerly anticipating the next big home computing thing, Daniel Pemberton crafts one of the year’s most audaciously stylistic scores as he jumps from lo to hi-fi and then back again over the course of three musical “acts” that define the Macintosh’s 1984 “vision, the NeXT Cube’s 1988 “revenge” and the iMac’s ultimate 1988 “wisdom.” Speaking in electro-symphonic tongues in a way that makes him completely unrecognizable as the composer of “The Counselor” or “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” Pemberton begins with an orchestral tune-up, only to reach into the guts of old-school synths that would’ve been playing back in the day, all the better to capture a technology on the cusp without a hint of archness. “Steve Jobs” moves into truly daring territory during its middle section, hitting the go button from New Order rhythm to bring the score to symphonically organic life, crafting a near-endless, neo-Steve Reich-ian build to a mini opera as Job’s sinister determination reigns supreme over his enemies. With the film’s concluding segment, Pemberton returns to the electronic world, now in a far more technologically advanced style, but with his score’s soul rooted in retro, crafting a religioso, synth organ sound a la Daft Punk’s “Tron Evolution” to paint a picture of Jobs as Prophet of the new computing age – the fairly cold score finally ending on a humanistic, upbeat note as he reaches his true achievement as a caring father. “Steve Jobs” offers one invigorating, smart musical surprise after the next. While there isn’t really any thematic connection as such between the film’s three chapters, “Steve Jobs” masterfully captures the dramatic thrust of each computer unveiling and Jobs’ demolishing of family, friends and associates. A lot of the score is buried under Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, or sometimes playing overbearingly on top of it (though not to completely distracting effect like the wildly overpraised dialogue-mangling score for the similarly warped guru of “The Social Network”), The album is also a showcase for director Danny Boyle’s always astute choice for songs, his use of the punk Libertines and Bob Dylan capturing Jobs viciously smart attitude, while Bob Dylan’s soulful “Shelter from the Sun” and The Maccabees “Grew Up at Midnight” play his ultimate reconnection with kindness. It’s all a symphony of high tech, and high musical concept that’s as dazzling as the character it constructs.
A Frenchman who’s certainly fought for women to take charge with an emphatic, melodically feminine voice in such scores as “Philomena,” “Coco Avant Chanel” and “Julia and Julia,” Alexandre Desplat now takes on the English women’s movement for “Suffragette.” But if you’re expecting a sweeping orchestral score right off the brick for protestors who turned to “terrorism” as such in order to get the vote, then this isn’t quite that soundtrack. Instead, Desplat starts out walking softly while carrying a big stick for the growing realization, and radicalization of its put-upon heroine. Though strings and a measure of force are certainly necessary for the good musical fight against England’s macho snobbery, Desplat keeps his music at an impactful solemn level of suspense, building from ladylike harps, piano and almost playful rhythms to brooding intensity, telling us just how brutal the fight will get for these brave women. Like them, Desplat keeps rhythmically moving forward no matter the odds, holding fast to a measure of thematic optimism, most interestingly playing only a heartbeat during Meryl Streep’s big speech as the suffragette leader, its pulse ringing in our characters’ ears like an inspirational call to battle, with constricting sustains later spelling prison isolation and force-feeding. It’s subtly rousing, emotional, music for an unlikely army that won’t stop until it throws off its societal shackles, thematically standing strong as one of Desplat’s most powerful scores.
Though Theodore Shapiro might often be particularly busy this year in the service of multiplex escapism with the fun likes of “Spy” and “The Intern,” he’s also a composer capable of true arthouse efforts, as such dramatically unheralded scores as “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” and “The Girl in the Park” have proven. Credit goes to his collaboration with director Jay Roach on the satirical “The Campaign” and the terrifying true-life run of Sarah Palin in “Game Change” that the director has now given Shapiro the chance to play one of Hollywood’s screenwriting titans with “Trumbo.” A maverick who didn’t cow before the Commie witch hunts, Trumbo kept his dignity (if not credited name) at great personal distress before Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger used him to break the blacklist by naming him on “Spartacus” and “Exodus.” With his troubles hitting during a time of American musical revolution with the advent of Beat Jazz, Shapiro brings the wildness, and anger of that music to his “Trumbo” score (though without scenes of Trumbo hanging out at coffeehouses), using the hits of a prepared piano and drum percussion, getting across his the sound and cunning fury behind his bathtub typewriter strokes. It’s music that’s packed with in-their-HUAC-faces attitude. And like most scores about a champion of the working man overcoming adversity, Shapiro is sure to employ an orchestra to sometimes lush, always potent effect, hearing the struggle and triumph of a man who made Hollywood a safe place for true artists to work again. But most importantly with this excellent film and soundtrack, “Trumbo” fearlessly shows a composer who’s at his best when given subject matter that doesn’t play it safe – much like the leftie Hollywood icon his score so potently embodies (available from Lakeshore on November 6th).
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Moviescoremedia and Screen Archives Entertainment