Soundtrack Picks: ‘ANONYMOUS REJECTED FILM SCORE ‘ is one of the top soundtracks to own for September, 2014
Also worth picking up ANGRY VIDEO GAME NERD, BATES MOTEL, BLOW OUT, THE DOLL SQUAD, THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, HANNIBAL, THE KNICK, THE MAZE RUNNER, THE SPIDER and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) ANONYMOUS REJECTED FILM SCORE
What Is It?: Many composers have re-purposed scores that either were tossed because they simply were too smart for the movie they were intended for, frankly didn’t work with the picture or became the victim of studio politics that shelved the scores for spite. But whatever the reason the music didn’t see the official light of day, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of release on its own, whether it’s John Corigliano turning “Edge of Darkness” into “Music from the Edge” (on Perseverance), Jerry Goldsmith transforming the main electronic melody from his blackballed “Alien Nation” way down to earth as the jazz love theme for “Russia House,” or John Murphy now morphing his own sad instance of MIA music into “Anonymous Rejected Film Score.” But where many tossed soundtracks are only superficially touched up, or used wholesale for their “new” incarnations, what Murphy has done here is to bring almost completely re-imagined new life into his work, making it even stronger as a tone poem that allows the listener’s own visual imagination to take over as its own powerful soundtrack.
Why Should You Buy It?: Like such progressive English compatriots as Clint Mansell, Murphy drew on his rock background to create the criminally insane scores for such Guy Ritchie movies as “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” an often funkily surreal melodic sound that also became a favorite of director Danny Boyle on “Millions,” “Sunshine” and “28 Days Later,” the rock and roll zombie holocaust score that became Murphy’s breakout work – and whose alternately dream-like and menacing tone “Untitled” feels closest to. Like the best concept albums, “Anonymous” takes you on an emotional journey, beginning at “3:59 am” with a hummed, chillingly whimsical theme, whose female lullaby vocalese wouldn’t be out of place in a reboot of “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Suspiria.” Murray has shown himself as a gifted musical texturalist ion such scores as “Miami Vice” and “The Last House on the Left,” introducing sound-effects like samples over the melodic intimacy of strings and pianos before kicking into edgy, angry guitar rhythms that build with a violent fever pitch – a signature vengeance-seeking groove that’s not only shown up in Murphy’s “28 Weeks Later” and “Kick-Ass,” but has also become the movie trailer cue du jour for “Avatar,” along with action builds that have been ripped off by just about everyone else. Murphy takes ownership of his simmering rhythm of the guitar heat back here with electrifying gusto in such tracks as “1-2-3-4,” topping them off with lush, melancholy string lines as he strikingly varies his main theme for the blistering epiphany of “Automatic,” even hitting a red alert trance groove with “How to Leave Your Body” along with a Theremin-like whistle. Though Murphy’s popularity for rock-driven scores like “Armored” tended to give his underrated orchestral talent less of a work out, “Anonymous” also remedies that with the gorgeously haunting waltz of “Dead Ballerina.” A somber piano, soothing chords and strings play the poignancy of “Boy,” while “Sacrifice” uses ghostly electronic voices and strings to elegiac effect. Yet Murphy is also capable of brightness, as “California” has surprising sense of optimism in its female voice and strumming guitar theme, with “Fade to” giving the album a reflective, hopeful send off, compete with an organ and exotic, resplendent melody.
Extra Special: “Anonymous” is worth naming as it encompasses progressive rock and poetically symphonic tone poem into an exceptional, involving listen well apart from any movie it was intended for. Even using the word “rejected” in this album seems an insult to the obvious passion that John Murphy has poured into these tracks. That he’s mutated them into a whole other transfixing piece of musical art says much about an intensely thematic work that would do itself proud in any gutsy film lucky enough to have it.
2) THE DOLL SQUAD / JUVENILE JIVE
What is it?: After starting out with Grade-A re-performances for the energetic scores that graced such wonderful B- genre features as “The Deadly Mantis” and “Day of the Triffids,” David Schechter’s label Monstrous Movie Music has segued to releasing the actual soundtracks for even loonier sci-fi movies like “Kronos” and “ Missile to the Moon,” with some decidedly non-creature filled detours into westerns and prestige Ernest Gold scores in the bargain But for all of their sporadic and increasingly eccentric titles so far (whose latest batch includes a herd of deliriously scored oaters with “The Gatling Gun” and a “Western Medley” collection), it’s a trio of ninja vixens and high school greasers that just might prove to be the most wildly entertaining entries of the lot.
Why should you buy it?: Exploitation impresario Ted V. Mikels can count “Astro Zombies” and “The Corpse Grinders” to his resume, but no picture of his has had the grrll power impact of 1973s “The Doll Squad,” wherein cat-suited babes under beck and call of the government take down a world-conquering crazy on a lunchbox budget – but with a premise that gave birth to “Charlies Angels.” Given the incredible funkadelic jazz action music of Nicholas Carras, you might assume you’re listening to some long-lost Lalo Schifrin score launching a renewed assault on Han’s island, given how much this score has in kick-ass common to that composer’s for a certain little Bruce Lee movie that came out the same year. While the Asian element is the only thing missing from Carras’ work, the fact that his musical dynamo’s fat brass could easily take on a martial arts army as opposed to Michael Ansara’s haplessly dying soldiers says much about the kitschy excitement that Carras generates. His brass-powered theme has a bodacious sexiness to it, which is catchy enough to be varied from jazzy assault to lounge lizard cocktail hour strains. Carras also makes the coolest use of an electric organ this side of Ron Granier’s “The Omega Man” in his action writing, whose sly, militaristic percussion wouldn’t be at all out of place if it were playing behind Farrah Fawcett delivering a karate chop. Sure Carras might not have had the budget for Schifrin’s Hollywood ensemble, but it’s precisely the lounge hour intimacy of his ensemble that makes “The Doll Squad” so wonderfully groovy as it jumps between smoldering, villain-baiting eroticism and shagadelic action. And if there’s more than a Bondian feel to its grooviness, hearing Buddy Kaye unleash his inner Tom Jones to belt out “Song for Sabrina” makes you particularly glad that John Barry never got wind of a tune that would have made for a pretty good 007 theme if he’d had more than a share of shaken and stirred martinis.
Extra Special: Nicolas Carras is back in a wild mood for 1960s “Date Bait,” which makes for disc one of the switchblade jazz which comprises the double disc collection of “Juvenile Jive.” Here he scores a teen girl who falls in love with a pill-popping fiend who ends up dragging her to the wrong side of the tracks, hook, line and marriage. When his hopping ensemble isn’t going into a dope fiend swing, Carras scores “Date Bait” with all of screaming, small orchestral danger that accompanies so many of Monstrous’ earlier scores. It’s a nifty, hilariously cool combination of creature-worthy drama, growling brass and hip marijuana den grooves that makes you half expect the musicians ran into a rumble between the Jets and the Sharks, or at least Frank Drebin and The Police Squad, complete with a particularly funny quote of “Here Comes the Bride” and the doo wop song “Date Bait Baby.” Before he had Kirk and Spock battling to brassily percussive Pon Far, Gerald Fried prowled the hallways of 1958s “High School Big Shot,” which works just as well as adult crime jazz as a kid’s big-time plans to snatch a million go awry. Fried’s work scoring the show “M Squad” comes in very hand with the crisp, brass and piano heavy score, with the kind of piercingly rhythmic melody that paved the way to the big Vulcan rub out. Carras concludes the punk score triptych with the soundtrack for 1960s “High School Caesar,” which has more empathy as a rich kid delinquent tries to fix the school election. Carras makes particularly good use of the bongos those reefer poets were playing back then, creating a neat crime does not pay combo, again given a catchy doo wop title tune. In any case, MMM’s showcase of “Juvenile Jive” stands as great crime jazz of any age, with Schechter as always providing beyond-detailed, and very funny liner notes for albums that come off as passion projects of the best kind, whether the scores accompanied the letters of A, B or Z.
3) THE KNICK
What Is It?: Where prolific filmmaker Steven Soderbergh has gone to Thomas Newman for the trippy ambience of “Side Effects,” and David Holmes for the jazz groove of the “Oceans” trilogy, Cliff Martinez continues to prove a reliable, experimental constant since director and composer made their indie bones on 1989s “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” Both have considerably broadened their repertoire from that ambient hip-hop score which redefined the look and sound of alternative cinema, their collaborations ranging from the enraged crime percussion of “The Limey,” to the modernistic orchestral score of “Solaris” and the retro-virus suspense of “Contagion.” But whatever approach he’s taken, Martinez’s voice has been an immediately, coolly identifiable one of pushing the tonal, propulsive with a hypnotic vibes of alternative scoring. One could definitely imagine hearing his hallucinatory, dusky sound in a contemporary cable hospital TV drama. But the idea of putting it into a show set in 1900 seems positively revolutionary – that is if you didn’t know Soderbergh and Martinez’s brilliant way of confounding expectations.
Why You Should Buy It?: Cinemax, or Skinimax as it will forever be known, has been doing much to shed its softcore smut skin, even if such shows as “Strike Back” and “Banshee” always had a way of throwing in multiple sex scenes so as not to lose that viewership. However, “The Knick’s” idea of NC-17 is the hardcore surgery scene of the week, which does much to inform us of the show’s intellectual pedigree, one that uses particularly dark, atmospheric camerawork to fascinatingly shine the light on turn-of-the-century medicine. It’s as much haze from the early days of electricity, as it is the opium smoke used by Clive Owen’s magnificent bastard of a surgeon, who’s doing his best to pioneer the medicine of the future. He’s literally a cutting edge dope friend whose character gives you all you need to know about why Martinez’s anachronistic, electronics-heavy work is so revolutionarily here. Using the Calypso-like glass sound of the Crystal baschet that’s become a far less dated definer of his sound that the Ondes Martinot was to the likes of Elmer Bernstein and Maurice Jarre, Martinez creates a feeling of both medicine, and plot on the movie, surrounded by haunting, melodic drones. It’s an approach that likely makes a less Martinez-familiar viewer simultaneously think WTF as it pulls them completely into this hospital. Used in the show with a deliberately spare quality, Martinez’s music at times seems disconnected from the action on screen, much like doctors trying to keep their distance from the appalling cases they’re presented with, yet determined to seek some greater purpose. But then, subtly commenting on the action as opposed to directly playing it has been another powerful trademark of Martinez’s work, which sounds more like a cool computer bank here than ever before – a 70s analog synth sound amidst the emulated organs, chimes and dulcimers that capture the era’s still-classical spirit, if not to obvious effect.
Extra Special: What this well-chosen collection of tracks from “The Knick’s” ten episodes (with another season thankfully coming) ultimately creates is melodically measured, almost intangible music that accentuates the uniqueness of the show above all, an almost transcendental, often beautifully sad meditation on visceral horrors it’s hard to believe that any hospital had to deal with, yet taking an approach that’s psychological as opposed to the physical. Martinez’s “Knick” casts such a hypnotic lull that you can easily imagine its music being used as knockout gas of the coolest, comfortably numbing kind in a way that still keeps our attention rapt.
4) STAGE FRIGHT
What Is it?: Pulling off a musical satire, let alone one based around horror movies is fraught with a lot of unintentional peril, efforts that can go as unheard of as a bear relieving itself in the forest (does anyone remember Vincent D’Onofrio’s indie band slaughter “Don’t Go In the Woods?”). But when it really works, as in the case of “Phantom of the Paradise” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the lyrics usually satirize the conventions of rock and roll as opposed to horror. While “Stage Fright” is punishably guilty of that sin, it’s scattershot satirizing of every other musical form from Broadway to classical makes this one of the more successful efforts in its delightfully peculiar genre, even if the movie itself might be pleasantly flawed.
Why Should You Buy It?: Throw “Phantom of the Opera,” “Prom Night,” “Glee” and “Trick or Treat” into one big gay pot, and you’ll come up with a mostly ingenious, and gorily shocking satire that’s all over the place (mostly to its benefit) as the daughter of a murdered stage singer ends up reprising her mom’s role at a musical summer camp – with of course a masked killer doing his best to bring down the final curtain. The music and lyrics by Eli Batalion and Jerome Sable (who also wrote and directed) along with orchestrator Aram Mandossian are hilariously dead-on taking stabs at Andrew Lloyd Webber with their “stage” production of “The Haunting of the Opera,” nailing the composer’s floridly romantic ballads to a tea in a way that both Webber lovers, and haters will appreciate. It certainly helps when you’ve cast the movie “Phantom” star Minnie Driver to sing your ersatz tune in a bloodily memorable opening, with film daughter Allie MacDonald impressively carrying the vocal torch. And just like those Broadway by way of South Park fans Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Batalion and Sable snarkily know their targets, delightfully skewering Gilbert and Sullivan in “Where We Belong,” Rodger and Hammerstein as Meatloaf belts out “The Show Must Go On,” and invariably colliding multiple songs a la Sondheim in “Rehearsals” and even that great classical composer Franz with “Lizstomania.” The songs are so damn, hilariously good and tuneful that you wish there were far more of them, as opposed to the movie becoming a fairly unfunny by-the-book slasher by the end. While Sable’s comedic scoring is nicely thematic, his straight-up horror music also isn’t that particularly inspired as the body count piles up, with a show-stopping killer reveal that proves more energy draining than anything else. But given how many humorous notes that “Stage Fright” hits on all counts, it’s a soundtrack and film at least deserving of the cult love that “Cannibal: The Musical” got.
Extra Special: Of all of “Stage Fright’s” salutes, its most inspired just might be the rowdiest, as terrifically played heavy metal thrash becomes the Broadway-crashing voice of the Kabuki killer, whose theme song “Shut Your F***ing face screams it all for those driven homicidal by musical theater.
5) THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO / THUNDERBIRD 6
What Is it?: Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s marionette-centric genre shows like “Joe 90” and “Supercar” might have seemed like charmingly ingenious kids’ stuff in other people’s wire-holding hands. Yet it was the couples’ joyful, uncondescending commitment to their literally wooden characters, and ingeniously designed models that made them truly come to flesh and blood life, especially by filling them with the robustly symphonic scores of Barry Gray. Their imaginations truly took off to become the toast of England, and the TV-watching world with their series “The Thunderbirds,” which had the Tracy family and their International Rescue roster of rocketships coming to the near-future’s salvation. With “The Thunderbirds’” global success, it was only natural that the series would launch into two feature films with 1966s “Thunderbirds Are Go” and 1968s “Thunderbird Six,” with Gray getting the chance to expand on his lavishly played weekly scores to truly fill up the wide screen with a completely fueled orchestral ensemble.
Why Should You Buy It?: While fans still had to with for “Thunderbird 6” to hear Gray’s lightning-charged main titles that promised 60 minutes of throttling action (let it not be said that the Anderson’s “coming attraction” titles weren’t the most excitingly scored of all time), practically every other memorable Thunderbird theme was on hand for these “Thunderbirds Are Go/” The presence of Space Probe Zero-X and the arch fiend The Hood make this the most exciting score (and movie) of the two to be presented on this La La Land disc, with Anderson relishing in his brassy, beyond-lush orchestrations. Carrying the same militaristic pride as any British WW2 fighter squadron might have had (especially when accompanying a marching band for the end titles), Gray’s music is the height of patriotic bombast, with snare drums and brass thrumming away for the Tracy team spirit, while romantic strings give pink-colored gloss to the spy friend zone of Lady Penelope. But the score’s most interesting moments belonging to the Thunderbirds trip to Mars to battle stone-spitting serpents, with Gray’s whistling, eerie electronic sustains, whirling sound effects and bell percussion prefiguring his scores for the Andersons’ live action “UFO” and “Space 1999,” as does his brass-and-bongo driven action for a rousing orchestra that’s either approximating the rhythms of blast-off or plunging to earth.
Extra Special: Where one could easily assume “Thunderbirds are Go” was written for Spitfire squadron taking on The Jerries given Gray’s straight-ahead, excitingly heroic approach, “Thunderbird 6” is more way out in a kid’s movie way. Given the opportunities of a world-travelling Skyship One, Barry jumps into the opportunity of doing a rocket travelogue score, proudly seguing from Middle Eastern to Indian music. Even America gets its dues with some familiar patriotic hymns and native drumming, with ballroom jazz detours along the way. There’s also wincingly goofy, high-hat cartoon music to spare, which might make the ride a little bit less adrenalin-fueled, but no less fun amidst the surfeit of perky musical Mickey Mouse’ing, with some darker brass bits coming when the Airstrip’s hijackers jettison their victims to villainous horn hits. You quite never know what style Barry will rocket to next here, which is part of this score’s ultra-thematic charm, with Barry finding ways to make even the most ethnically disparate music refer back to his iconic Thunderbirds march melody. However, the show’s opening theme does get an exciting workout here for Lady Penelope’s escape via Tiger Moth plane. And what can you say about a composer who can turn “The Flying Trapeze” into score for a crash landing? The pure, ingenious joy that this “Thunderbirds” feature score fly on might be a bit more kiddie-ish on its second route, but never once does the music betray that you’re listening to a rocket-powered dance of marionettes, its lush, wonderfully melodic symphonic energy showing just how indispensible a member Barry Gray was to The Tracy Family, let alone the Andersons. With the movies now released on Twilight Time blu ray, La La Land makes terrific-sounding use of the “Thunderbirds” sonic elements, with Jeff Bond’s FAB liner notes for a smartly designed booklet making for a nostalgic flashback to the most ambitious music to ever grace what might simply be called puppet shows, and the films to be spun from them.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. ANGRY VIDEO GAME NERD: THE MOVIE
Film scores are going through an 8-bit revolution with the likes of Nigel Gordich’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and Henry Jackman’s “Wreck-It Ralph.” But arguably non of these retro scores have the insane fanboy enthusiasm that Bear McCreary beings to a two-hour feature version of a game geek blog done good. Done with the same, blasting out of your parents’ basement energy of his epic metal-orchestral score for the RPG’er’s versus real monster score to “Knights of Badassdom,” McCreary plays this unlikely hero’s odyssey of uncovering the equally deadly E.T. game from an Arizona landfill with the same level of gleefully bombastic commitment. Indeed, no one has every played the 80s Atari synth sound to such dead-on extremes, with a wonderfully cheesy electronic vibe so accurate that one can only imagine the corpses of the Super Nintendo consoles that McCreary ripped apart to get this sound. But McCreary’s not so nerdy that he can’t go beyond a one-note approach of bowing down to Donkey Kong, as he score gets in nods to spaghetti westerns and crazed military action as the “Angry” quest takes on terrifying cosmic dimensions. Bringing all of the thematic attention that McCreary gives to his scoring for the far more respectable likes of “Shield” and “Outlander,” “Nerd” goes for gonzo broke because it hears this ridiculousness for real, especially during the ten minutes of “The Nerdy Hero,” which plays like a knockout battle of the bands between a raging metal orchestra and the speedy synth rhythms of Sonic the Hedgehog. That this score’s satiric, broad-hearted cheesiness could work just as well over a Michael Dudikoff ninja Cannon picture, circa 1985, as much as it does at convincing us that that this has the melodic balls of a real movie score, says much about the sweat-dripping enthusiasm that continues to make McCreary one of Hollywood’s busiest fanboys. More than ever, he’s got the thematic stuff to back up a wonderfully berserk and inventive score, complete with swear-filled song that Wayne and Garth might have rocked out with on a particularly pissed off day. “E.T the Game Score” “AGVN” is most definitely not.
. BATES MOTEL / PENNY DREADFUL
Two cable hits have been busy re-inventing everyone’s favorite Mama’s boy and band of Edwardian monster hunters. But leave it to Chris Bacon and Abel Korzeniowski to make these often horrific exploits go down with orchestral elegance. For Bacon, it’s realizing that melodic empathy is the room key to loving Norman Bates as much as his mom, tenderness that suffuses his often beautiful, lush score to “Bates Motel.” Yet the spirit of Bernard Herrmann certainly inhabits this abode, not in stormily gothic (or stabbing) violins, but in “Bates” long, drifting string lines and sympathetic piano. While there’s effectively uptempo percussion, stalking horror-score sample effects, and even some villainous country guitar to suit “Bates” modern-day CW-style reboot for A&E. It’s Bacon’s exceptional, intimate orchestral writing that stands out, showing his time working with James Newton Howard on the likes of “King Kong” and “Lady in the Water” as very well-spent in creating a solo career with such other noteworthy efforts as “Source Code.” Bacon’s stay at “The Bates Motel” (with this album representing the first season) continues to open intriguing musical doors that capture a horror “hero” in the making, one who’s as romantic as he is potentially terrifying.
There’s a deep sense of melancholy that runs through the bloodline of Polish composers, which makes horror scores by the likes of Wojciech Kilar (“Dracula”) and Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (“Lost Souls”) as sad as they are chilling. Now after his beautiful, romantically foreboding scores for the likes of “A Single Man” and “Romeo and Juliet,” Abel Korzeniowski gets to bring about sympathy for the devils, a rogues gallery that includes the vampires, werewolves and undead creations that clash in the alleys of fog-filled, turn-of-the-century London. But where the title “Penny Dreadful” might be a play on the gore-filled pulps of that era, Korzeniowski’s music is anything but lurid. With violins slashing out the main theme melody, Korzeniowski fills these cobblestone streets with gloomily gorgeous passion. It’s scoring that works as much for costume drama as it does unholy, bodice-ripping passion, lacking none of the lush, sweeping orchestrations that have made Korzeniowski one of Hollywood’s most promising melodists. While most certainly having its own fearsomely romantic face, “Penny Dreadful” also stands as a kissing cousin to his countrymen’s angst-filled work in the genre, and Kilar’s seminal “Dracula” score in particular in conveying a damned sense of longing, his strings becoming the creeping talons of unholy fat, which often go for the jugular. There’s real, beautifully haunted poetry in the episodic pages of “Penny Dreadful” that’s possessed with his country’s sad classical spirit, as well as the kind of lush, thematic lighting that Hollywood has been imbuing it creature prototypes with since the days when Franz Waxman’s electrified the Bride of Frankenstein. The fact that Korzeniowski’s resurrected a bunch of her pals as well says much about the unholy melodic elixir he’s conjured for Showtime.
. BLOW OUT
After “Carrie” and “Dressed To Kill,” DePalma and Donaggio were at the top of their ersatz Hitchcock-Herrmann game when they took a nihilistic detour into the paranoia-conspiracy territory that fueled such similarly bleak classics as “The Parallax View” and “The Conversation.” But while there was nothing remotely “meta” about those movies’ dark approach, the thrill of any collaboration between this director and composer was in seeing, and hearing just how close their homages could get to the originals and survive, while still being dazzlingly stylish in their own right. On that count, “Blow Out” is a terrific example of being on that knife’s edge, or rather the exactor knife that a sound editor used to cut audiotape in the pre-digital 1981 age. For DePalma’s bravura direction that mixed a fascination with the perception of narrative film with woman-in jeopardy suspense, Donaggio created a grippingly thematic score that mixed alarmed action with richly melodic string and bell builds, creating an ever-tightening spider’s web of military-industrial complex villains unraveling our heroes’ lives, silken orchestrations mixing vulnerability with snare-drum danger and piano percussion menace. The music’s sad destination is exceptionally well constructed with a shivering, anticipatory approach that also manages to have some humor about it (complete with cheesy synth horror music and a snatch of an Italian tarantella). But if “Blow Out” is more emotionally affecting than this duo’s other collaborations, it’s due to the ill-fated romance that suffuses the score, as embodied by a beautiful, ultimately mournful theme. Where Nancy Allen is great as a hooker with a heart of gold who ends up in the wrong politician’s car, its Donaggio’s music that gives her an extra depth of wind instrument empathy, especially in the white-knuckled, heart-pounding race that builds to the big, Hitchcock hero rescue moment, only to have the thrill tragically be ripped away, as the score is reduced to a tender piano melody. It’s arguably the most gut-wrenching moment in these collaborator’s repertoire, and key to the heart that rises “Blow Out” above the level of brilliantly made recreation, ultimately melancholy music that sinks in the realization that the greater, villainous forces at play will always come out the winner. It was a message that audiences at the time didn’t want to hear, but one that’s been increasingly venerated by fans, who will no doubt appreciate that Intrada’s beautiful-sounding “Blow Out.”
. THE FRENCH REVOLUTION (1,500 edition)
One can only imagine the honor for a French composer to score an epic based on the events that defined his country’s future, and for a small time the ideals of Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité. And it’s in that spirit one can understand the pure, gorgeous passion that Georges Delerue gave to “The French Revolution.” This massive, six-hour, two-part cinematic endeavor was done for the event’s 200th anniversary, starring the English-speaking likes of Jane Seymour, Peter Ustinov and Sam Neill, and ultimately turned into a TV miniseries that’s still unavailable on video in this country. Delerue had certainly done sweeping, historical orchestral scores before this, especially when it came to the excesses of English monarchy with “A Man For All Seasons” and “Anne of the Thousand Days.” But given the chance to bring Versailles’ bourgeois class bloodily down unleashed a whole other level of epic majesty to his voice that will no doubt surprise his admirers – most of whom have never heard this legendary score due to excessive Ebay prices that would have sent CD gougers to the guillotine back in the day. It’s a sense of importance heard in the choral “Hymne a la Liberte” that opened the “Revolutions” two parts, the song piercingly performed as well by soprano Jessye Norman (that you’ll also hear the song “La Marseilles” is a given). Delerue’s unequalled, and utterly Gallic gift for romantic melody plays the elegance and rollicking, regal brass of the aristocracy, a magical tone (inflected by period music and instruments) of days that will never seemingly end as the poor starve outside the palace gates. With the more optimistic tone reserved for “The Light Years,” the storm of “The Terrible Years” arrives with powerful suspense and raging brass, the action becoming swashbuckling, and outrightly cliffhanging in tone, while low strings signal inevitable tragedy for both the aristocrats and freedom fighters who can’t imagine meeting the ultimate Monsieur, their march to awful destiny led by beating drums and darkly trumpeting brass. It’s tragedy that Delerue plays for all of its tearful, chorally solemn worth, yet in his inimitable way of turning sentiment into a work of moving, ultra-melodic art, as any American who cried through his wind and string scores for “Beaches” and “Steel Magnolias” in that especially rewarding year of 1989 can attest. For few composers wore their emotions on their sleeve as powerfully as Delerue, no more so than as characters’ neck cuffs were being undone with the rousing performance by the British Symphony Orchestra. It’s a bravura expression of the go-for-broke energy that Delerue gave to a project you can tell that he regarded as a personal milestone, which can now stand tall as one of his most impressive works thanks to Music Box Records two-CD release, whose powerhouse sound, nicely photogenic booklet and smart liner notes by Gergely Hubai also show it off as an honor for this French label to release. But at 1,500 copies of the finally complete score (whose previous releases somehow switched the stereo channels), it’s only a matter of time before those Ebay debauchers get this soundtrack back in their control, much in the same way the monarchy came rolling back into France. But in the meantime, viva la “Revolution,” a la Delerue at his most epically impassioned.
. GORKY PARK (Expanded)
James Horner’s career was taking off in 1983, due to a dynamic signature sound that often meshed impactful percussion with richly thematic melodies that paid homage to such modern classical Russian masters as Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. So it was fitting that Horner’s music would journey to their Motherland with “Gorky Park,” its unique story (by “Nightwing’s”” killer bat author Martin Cruz Smith) pitting a Soviet cop against a murderous American capitalist pig, with furry sables as the MacGuffin behind a skinned face triple slaying. One need not dig far to turn up Horner’s usual, impactful suspects with a score that essentially takes the brassy jazz-pop beat of “48 Hours” San Francisco and gives it a suspenseful passport to Moscow, replacing urban rhythm with rich, cimbalom-balalaika strumming, Slavic bells and growling brass for pursuing suspects across the state, its relentless drive backed up with fever pitch electronics and an orchestra. “Gorky” has always stood as a landmark in Horner’s synth explorations, but on Intrada’s terrific release, the expansiveness of his instrumental layering is particularly astonishing at conveying foreign intrigue. “Gorky” richly contrasts its driving action with more subdued romantic mystery in his lovely, swelling theme for a beautiful dissident that of course will have a Communist cop questioning his value system. Her melancholy character infuses much of Horner’s oppressively exciting score, at last giving it a sweeping symphonic release from his musical Iron Curtain, as well as using a far happy variation as the little critters are set free from their cages. This was the score that set Horner up for the alternately pounding and piano-creeping spook house atmosphere of LV-426 in “Aliens” and the Soviet men of action in “Red Heat” and “Enemy at the Gates” in particular among the many impressive Horner scores to follow, with the 79-minutes on this greatly expanded re-issue a copious amount of alternates, while also separating Horner’s ingenious segues from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and the “1812 Overture” to his tingling suspect-tailing motif. It’s a major re-discovery of a seminal work that shows Horner working expertly on multiple dramatic levels, going into electronic and orchestral Iron Curtain with intense determination in a way that would make Russia sound both forbidden, and suspensefully intoxicating to a movie audiences’ Cold War ears.
. HANNIBAL: SEASON 1 and 2
To label the sonic nightmare that Brian Reitzell has cooked up for television’s most lethally elegant doctor-gourmand as “music” is way to simple a way of defining the wildly experimental stew of sound design and occasional shards of melody that infuse a show that by rights shouldn’t be anywhere near network television, especially scoring that could lead to seizures in more tender viewers foolish enough to tune in. But the psychological incisiveness with which Reitzell conveys the sound of insanity is like nothing else that’s ever been done within the psycho-killer genre, be it on the big or small screens. Taking a cue from the truly terrifying, razor nail-on-blackboard vampire score he created for “Hannibal” producer-director David Slade on “30 Days of Night,” Slade has gone for an experimental, constantly transforming sound collage of twisted metal, hammering percussion and unnerving ensemble playing – chilling sustains, come-from-nowhere percussion, swinging, hypnosis-inducing gestures and mutated brass the equivalent of being trapped inside a pitch-black hell of a psychopath’s mind. Yet there’s a method to Reitzell’s madness, as “Hannibal’s” impressionism is balanced with something resembling melody, mournful strings the cost of a profiler hero submerging himself in a dark parade of horrors, with Reitzell embodying the “killer of the week,” from the buzzing of bees to the playing of vocal chord violin strings, with the cannibal’s love of classical music similarly perverted amidst the morass. Reitzell’s been relentlessly scoring “Hannibal” over two seasons (with a third thankfully to come for us masochists), giving Lakeshore more than twenty hours of madness to create a four volume set that slices two seasons of “music” between them. Reitzell has done an exceptionally smart job of assembling the material, just allowing enough remotely conventional cuts among its elongated suites to serve as filler between the way more impressionistic stuff. With “Hannibal’s” first course offering a French set meal, Reitzell goes for a mocking jazz tone at its most inventive points. For “Hannibal’s” second, Japanese-themed meal, the composer noticeably scores in a Toru Takemitsu vein with cacophonic percussion, brass and piano amidst God knows what. They’re the savage contrast to lonely passages for piano and the Theremin, an electronic airwave instrument that’s been used many times to connote craziness, but never like this. Yet it’s absolute, eerie beauty that ends this collection with the chiming acoustical effects of “Bloodfest” for a second season climax so gory it’s amazing anyone will be sticking around for thirds besides the good doctor. It’s in this cue’s melodically rhythmic minimalism that Reitzell creates his most impressive serving of all, hearing one major character evisceration after another as a whispered, poetically elegant work of art. Ultimately for all of the horror he’s created, Reitzell knows he’s playing a character above his own carnage in his soundscape’s brilliant insanity – one well worth immersing oneself in for the four plus hours of hypnotically immersive goo and pure anti-matter music ingenuity.
. LES PASSAGERS (500 edition)
What Americans among us would have known that the first adaptation of popular thriller novelist Dean R. Koontz (written as “Shattered” under the pseudonym of K.R. Dwyer) was done for a French movie? But then, who’d have realized that its composer Claude Bolling wasn’t the first musician in the driver’s seat for a movie that ultimately appeared on our shores as “The Intruders” in 1977. But thanks to this intriguing Music Box Records release, both musical takes are out there to savor for as the road got paved for far better known Koontz movies as “Hideaway” and “Watchers.” But there’s nothing like the first time, as a father and son are pursued through dangerously winding Italian byways by his mom’s psychotic ex, which gives modus operandi to Bolling’s bonkers approach. With such English language scores to his credit as “Silver Bears,” “California Suite” and the chilling mummy revenge music of “The Awakening,” you’d be hard pressed to think of this music representing a white-knuckled steering wheel. Instead, Bolling’s “Passengers” are breezily accompanied by a sweet theme (which even gets a piano bar variation) and gamboling Baroque music. Slightly more typical is a sultry film noir sax and lush mystery befitting an eccentric take on Bernard Herrmann – which turns out to be Bolling’s ironic way of capturing a man who envisions that his love is still along for the ride. This just might be the least menacing psycho killer score of all time, which is part of the deceptively jaunty charm that the filmmakers wanted when they tossed the first score by Eric Demarsan to the curb. But like the boyfriend who won’t take no for an answer, his music is here as well for the ride. Having remained in France with such well-regarded scores as “The Army of Shadows” and “Le Cercle Rouge,” Demarsan’s score actually comes across as the saner of the two. One can definitely hear a mind turned to murder with low horns and the child-like bell percussion that makes for a truly sinister lullaby theme that spells out a Euro thriller, with pursuit given with pop piano and guitar in a manner reminiscent of Ennio Morricone. It’s a low key, effectively eerie approach that also has jazz to spare, but in a way that also chimingly spells out its villain’s intentions, With the movie unavailable in America, it’s up to listeners reading Giles Loison’s informative liner notes to figure out which of these two composing drivers in fact suited “The Passengers” best in one of the more interesting after-and-before score releases to hit since Film Score Monthly put out multiple variations on “The Appointment.” Here, Bolling and Demarsan handle Koontz’s mystery vehicle with an equally impactful ear for a dangerous road with more than a few cool jazzy detours.
. THE MAZE RUNNER
Starting off his career as an assistant to Jerry Goldsmith on “Star Trek Nemesis” and “The Sum of All Fears,” John Paesano has certainly been busy with DC animation, DV action and friendly children’s stuff with such work as “Superman / Batman Apocalypse,” “S.W.A.T. Firefight” and “Another Cinderella Story.” But given the chance to crush kids on a major Hollywood playing field, Paesano blazingly takes off with “The Maze Runner” to land in a zone of body-crushing walls and prowling creatures – attacking the opportunity with terrific excitement and character-oriented melody to boot. Where the YA sci-fi genre has given a similar breakout opportunity to Junkie XL with “Divergent” (and given fresh vibrancy to older dudes like Marco Beltrami with “The Giver” and James Newton Howard on “The Hunger Games”) Paesano is welcomely determined to use his own voice for an oft-trod book-to-hopeful blockbuster arena. The big difference here is that it’s a playing field where kids are fending off external menaces as opposed to each other, which opens up the opportunity for melodic warmth as well as furious action, his score given further distinction by using exotic, ethnic percussion and wind instruments to distinguish a surreal zone of death and deliverance that could just as well be taking place in Jurassic Park. Paesano suspensefully keeps this sense of mystery going in a way that thematically pumps the heroically adrenalin, its walls built from equal parts tenderness, racing terror and restrained electronic percussion of the tech that makes the maze work. A chorus helps to convey just how immovable, and suddenly crushing this awe-inspiring maze is, yet one where hope somehow survives, While its teen characters might not know where the hell they are, Paesano’s alternately rampaging, and emo scoring proves an impressive map that will no doubt have producers, and sudden fans beating a path to his keyboard.
. NO GOD NO MASTER
The anarchist movement in the early 1900s and the mass deportations its bomb-planting extremists inspired remain obscure, in spite of their lessons being more relevant today than ever in a society willing to do anything to stop terrorists in their midst. It’s a tragic, dramatic importance that infuses this historical drama, whose ambitious scope is given immense, tragic power by Nuno Malo’s score. With a sweeping, symphonic talent that actually made us musically believe in “The Celestine Prophecy,” the Portuguese composer take on affecting images of poverty-oppressed Italian immigrants struggling, some violently, for a new life in a land that’s not so free. While this movie might not exactly have the budget to equal “The Godfather 2’s” extra-filled tenements, Malo’s beautiful, elegiac theme nicely captures a neo-Italian, operatic sense of fate that Nino Rota’s “Godfather” scores did so iconically. Malo does an exceptional job of varying his own theme with more contemporary samples to give impact to its tale of David Strathairn’s straight arrow, sympathetic agent on the trail of the bombers, whose investigation leads to the not-so savory tactics of his superiors, including one J. Edgar Hoover. It’s am empathy for the unwashed immigrant underdog that suffuses the score of “No God, No Master,” from poignant violin solos to optimistic melody for the American Dream, which is tread under heel as Malo’s theme turns to dark, marching outrage. Yet the tone of “No God No Master” is more inviting than crushing, thanks to the often visually bright direction of Terry Green, whose decision not to go for the fatalistically grim period vision is a relief, as we brilliantly have more than enough of that already with the similarly set “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Knick.” Another unexpected dimension is this film’s telling of the Sacco and Vanzetti story, last dramatized by Hollywood in a still unavailable 1971 movie scored by Ennio Morricone. That composer’s talent for longing string and piano melodies also suffuses Malo’s approach in representing the characters’ nobility and unjust fate, which is no more tragic than when a Latin chorus takes up his theme to movingly close the film’s moving take on the still unending clash between radicalism and law and order run amuck. Released as a limited edition CD by Varese Sarabande (along with the worthwhile scores of Elia Cmiral’s “Wicked Blood” and Reinhold Heil’s “Haunt”), “No God No Master” shows Nuno Malo as no melodic anarchist when it comes to impressively thematic, symphonic scoring, while giving true, incredibly poignant heart to a smaller, human story swept aside by history.
Israeli composer Inon Zur is a rock star when it comes to scoring dozens of videogames from “Lord of the Rings” to “Everquest” and “Soulcaliber.” But success in one genre can often lead to a prison-like sentence from those who can’t see movie scoring talent from the sword-swing PS3 trees. Thankfully, Zur has gotten to break out with exceptional results in the far more realistic realm of child trafficking for “Reclaim.” John Cusack can certainly lay claim to that title as he keeps getting pulled back into the VOD arena as a bad guy, this time as the deceptively calm villain whose band of miscreants terrifyingly milk a desperate couple for all of their money, with the bait of a Haitian girl they think they’ve adopted. While this surprisingly well-made and acted thriller certainly delivers on the improbable, white-knuckle chases you expect from the iTunes action genre, Zur wisely chooses to put equal emphasis on the story’s emotion. So before cars end up on cliffs and people are shooting at each other in picaresque Puerto Rican locations, Zur’s strong, moving themes concentrate on emotional bonding, with an exceptional performance by the Macedonia Orchestra giving his melody-heavy score a real depth of feeling – all the better to hit the chase with rhythmic propulsion when it inevitably comes and doesn’t stop. Though meant for the small screen, Zur gives “Reclaim” a lush, exciting symphonic expanse with the kind of dramatic, human depth that elves, soldiers and androids might not exactly have for this niftily affecting score, making a winning argument that video game composers are just as capable of scoring the kind of live action assignments you might not expect their talent to lie in, no more so than when grabbing a kid off a cliff-hanging jeep works as well for emotion as it does excitement.
. RELENTLESS JUSTICE
David A. Prior, the Z-movie commando who gave the world the hilariously brutal “Deadly Prey” is back in the woods with a one-person army who happens to sport a killer figure and an Australian accent. While I don’t know if Victoria De Vries beats someone to death with their own dismembered arm, at the least she’s got Chuck Cirino as her musical wingman when it comes to racking up a body count. A composer who’s been to the ‘Nam of countless schlock movies, Cirino can be counted on to give his all to this sort of insanity, from the killer robots of “Chopping Mall” to the Godzilla-sized skeleton creature called “Bone Eater.” For just like these filmmakers and actors who know they aren’t making great art, Cirino is still out to have a fun time with the very limited resources at hand. And while he might not have the London Symphony Orchestra at his disposal, what he does give his cheesily sampled sound is surprisingly decent, self-aware music that often has more melodic and thematic content than the way bigger, and better pictures one hopes he could somehow get. “Relentless Justice” is another crafty, and funny score, coming up with a ripping, mean-ass melody that still tries to impart its heroine with an amount of piano tenderness that one might connote with the fairer sex. As she goes about winning trophies during this most dangerous game scenario, Cirino delightfully goes off the expected action-pulse reservation, first by skinning the strains of Ludwig Van Beethoven into suspense music, and then with a strumming acoustical sound that makes “Relentless Justice” into a western score with a touch of Spaghetti, especially when an electric accordion seemingly arrives from nowhere. This is one composer who deserves a female Rambo to rescue him after decades of being a POW in VOD prison camp, even if he can’t help but have a great time playing the hapless mayhem around him for all its worth – and then significantly some more.
. THE SPIDER
As the soundtrack label that’s taken up the torch for golden age score releases, one can see the blazing “Nordic Noir” light that attracted Kritzerland to release a soundtrack that’s practically unknown to American ears – and one that should be placed their promptly. For in composer Soren Hyldgaard’s music for this 2000 Danish TV miniseries about Copenhagen clawing its way out of the physical, and moral wreckage of WW2, one thrillingly hears the era’s blazingly melodic Hollywood scoring of Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann (as well as latter day masters like Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry,) as taken to a stylistically familiar land of black market skullduggery and outright murder. You can’t imagine someone getting away with the crime of scoring a movie like this in Hollywood today, which is what makes Hyldgaard’s score particularly thrilling in its skillfully bombastic playing by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Yet as colorful as the composer’s memorable themes are, the tone is pure black and white in conjuring a sense of trench-coated romantic darkness and outright fatalism, with romantically lush strings and tender piano creating a marvelously melodic web, with the very subtle use of the cimbalom helping to also evoke a “Third Man” spirit of to “The Spider’s” postwar suspense, whose reporter-hero’s headlines symphonically shout from the rhythmic presses with music that could have been straight out of some 40s montage. But then again, when you hear familiar percussion and a woozy trumpet, you’d swear that you were on the streets of Chinatown as opposed to Copenhagen. Or perhaps it’s the swaggering brass that makes one feel like a secret agent avoiding spies on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. At 79 minutes of this hypnotic throwback silk, “The Spider” is an old-school blast, and a major unmasking of a composer who definitely deserves some major play in the current viper’s den of LA after his English language indie scores for “Red” and “The Stranger Within.” “The Spider” is a score so full of smoke-filled orchestral atmosphere that you half expect it to be attached to a Maltese Falcon, as made in Denmark.
. WON TON TON THE DOG WHO SAVED HOLLYWOOD
Neal Hefti was one of the swinging-est composers of the Mad Men era, a musician who put a happy-go-lucky bachelor pad groove into the wet bar of such comedies as “Sex and the Single Girl,” “How To Murder Your Wife” and “Barefoot in the Park.” However, it’s his cool, superhero scoring via Vegas for TV’s “Batman” that remains Hefti’s best-known work among a criminally under-represented discography. Thankfully, Kritzerland comes to the rescue with this two-fer of great scores for box office bombs (whose chances certainly weren’t helped by their way-too long titles). While I can’t attest if 1976s “Won Ton Ton The Dog Who Saved Hollywood” was a mutt as a movie, Hefti’s music is a charmer as it gives a composer who most often played a 60s shagadelic beat the chance to jump into the music of Hollywood’s roaring 20s for his final score. Starting with a rousing rendition of the Paramount fanfare, Hefti unleashes his Won Ton theme with a Dixieland orchestra, then chases it about with the madcap stylings of a Keystone Cops comedy, the over-emphatic emotion of a tear-jerking Mary Pickford drama and cliffhanging thrills that could easily accompany Lillian Gish in ice flow distress. Not only does Hefti delightfully catch every nuance of a classic silent movie score, but he furthers the satire by transposing its theatrics onto the off-the-lot travails of Madeline Kahn’s wannabe actress who ends up being one lucky pooch owner. “Won Ton Ton” constantly surprises, whether it’s going for rapturous Egyptian music worthy of The Sheik, a Scott Joplin swing or out-of-tune playing that sounds like a pit band going to pieces. That’s certainly not the problem of the Jonathan Winter’s mummified husband, whom Rosiland Russell drags around in a suitcase for 1967s “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hug You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad,” a notorious adaptation of Arthur Kopit’s way-better regarded stage play. But as a score, it’s pure Hefti wackadoo gold, as the corpse’s vacation to the islands makes for kitsch fun. Another catchy Hefti theme is particularly off the wall when played with a Calypso grooves for fender guitar and kettle drum, with another brassily percussive theme that you half expect to break into the refrains of a certain caped crusader’s name. A wittily funereal mood is given by an angelic chorus, gently picked harps and a diabolical organ. “Oh Dad” get across the swinging-est corpse ever, with an especially hilarious wah-wah title song that captures the bright energy that embodied Neal Hefti’s jazzy brilliance for an album that will equally delight Rin Tin Tin and Don Draper.
. THE ZERO THEOREM
When you think back to Terry Gilliam’s latter good old days with “The Fisher King,” “Twelve Monkeys” and arguably “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” the directors’ movies worked so strikingly well by being simultaneously mind-blowing and nightmare-inducing acid trips, unleashing exaggerated performances and imagery that tended to turn the world into a dystopian wonderland. It’s a sad sign of how far Gilliam has fallen since “The Brothers Grimm” that “Brazil” and “Twelve Monkeys” have gotten upchucked as “The Zero Theorem,” which equals near insufferability – though not without Gilliam’s seemingly unbreakable visual talent on display. But the one element of “Zero Theorem” which adds up quite wonderfully is its score by George Fenton, who last took a more wildly traditional approach for Gilliams’ crazy medieval quest in modern day Manhattan for “Fisher King.” With “Zero” pretty much set in the same universe that uses Central Services, Fenton imaginatively plunges into the addled mind of a math-obsessed civil servant pursuing a computer-enhanced dream woman. It’s a mesmerizing pursuit for Fenton as he uses mind-bending bells, crazed electronic-analogue samples, techno hip-hop and merry-go-round melodies to create a soundscape quite unlike anything he’s ever done in a mostly symphonic career, though strings do provide the melodically binding force here. It’s a pleasant contrast to the movie’s spastic, indecipherable antics, the musical equivalent of the Soma that being hooked up to virtual reality provides, yet with a sad, poignant quality for anguished solo violin that reflects how hollow the babbling hero’s sensuous illusion is. At its best, Fenton’s “Theorem” sounds like a squeezebox steampunk dream machine cobbled together out of old instrumental bits and parts, doing its best to stave off a mental breakdown, but unable to hide the madness it’s running on. A sultry, 40s style lounge version of “Creep” provides another neat touch for Fenton’s mesmerizing future shock, which is easily the only good trip worth taking within Gilliam’s otherwise hallucinogenic mess of used parts from far better movies. Indeed, good is Fenton’s work at finally suggesting salvation that you wish it could scoop up the filmmaker along with it.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Movie Score Media, Perseverance, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande