Also worth picking up: A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, DA 5 BLOODS, DEATH RACE 2000, FAR AND AWAY, LEGENDS OF THE FALL, THE STORY OF O2, VILLAIN, WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS, WESTWORLD SEASON 3 and many more!
By: DANIEL SCHWEIGER
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the link
THE TOP PICKS
1) BAD EDUCATION
What is it?: No black composer has had as much fun subverting white privilege as Michael Abels, a classically trained musician who brought a fresh sense of how to play horror when he illuminated “Get Out’s” sunken place with his purposefully jarring, string derived sound. Bringing hip-hop into his approach to link the untethered, orange-suited rainbow clones of “Us,” one might begin to fear that Abels would be restricted to filmmaker Jordan Peele’s deliciously bloody genre subversions. But now Abels delivers perhaps his biggest seditious surprise for a horrifying real-life tale of “Bad Education’s” entitlement, one that goes back to his concert hall roots in a story where class, as opposed to obvious discrimination, is the rot at the polished core.
Why Should You Buy It?: Abels is essentially given the same clueless suburban location here as “Get Out” and “Us” to reveal the book cooking of Hugh Jackman’s devilishly suave New York school superintendent. And what better way to introduce his hopefully Ivy League bound charges than with a Latin kid’s chorus singing “Ave Noster Redemptor.” Given Abels’ adaptations for “Run, Rabbit Run” and “I Got 5 On It” that he respectively adapted for “Get Out” and “Us,” his original “Hail Our Redeemer” is an equally ironic tune when it comes to unquestioningly praising a self-styled savior, his glory accentuated by a resplendent orchestra. Just as Stanley Kubrick used classical music for counterpoint, Abels’ erudite, sad, and completely unconcerned vibes are wonderfully biting commentaries, as good an exemplar of using the upper class’ sophistication to poke holes in them as ever. It’s also a cunning way of getting across a white-collar criminal’s relentless self-grooming, and the oh-so-outraged reaction of the school when they discover what he and their business manager have been up to. Apart from his classical approach, Abels uses spare, repeated winds and metallic percussion to get across a calculated scheme of school fund laundering. The result is a knowingly sumptuous, often gorgeously thematic score that practically sings woe-is-me for a musically vainglorious antihero (or more specifically “How the Mighty Have Fallen” at that).
Extra Special: With its gorgeous and bitingly tragic themes, “Bad Education” is one of best recent examples of satirical classical scoring, following in the fine, similarly stylistic tradition of Bill Conti and Carl Stalling. Venturing from the Baroque to the Romantic to spell out pompous sophistication as counterpoint, as heard along with hand clapping. It’s musically weaponizing privilege with a lovely, and deft touch that makes the film’s moral lesson all the more powerful, while showing a new, wide range for Abels’ satire and drama to play. At the least, Beethoven has possessed him quite well.
2) DEATH RACE 2000: THE PAUL CHIHARA COLLECTION VOLUME 4
What is it?: As a trailblazing Asian American film composer in Hollywood and a pioneer in electronic music at UCLA, Paul Chihara’s prolific work has somehow remained mostly unsung, even though he’d write the music for the TV miniseries “Noble House,” hear the Vietnam home front of “China Beach,” a town full of crazies in “Impulse” and provide the haunting dramatic scores for Sidney Lumet’s “Prince of the City” and “The Morning After.” Specialty label Dragon’s Domain which has often unearthed even the most notable composer’s obscure works has done a great job of bringing to light such Chihara small and big screen works as “The Mississippi,” “A Walk on the Moon,” “The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James” and “Family of Spies” over the course of three volumes. But it’s his wackier film entries the fourth time out that are the charm.
Why Should You Buy It?: As detailed in the second horror/sci-fi segment of the trilogy “The Greatest Cult Films of All Time,” one of the most notorious post-70’s films to be made under the aegis of Roger Corman was Paul Bartel’s berserk, bloody satire “Death Race 2000.” Positing a now-passed future in which wacky racers score points for wiping out pedestrians in the most hilariously gruesome ways possible, “Death Race” was a big middle finger to dystopian America, raised high right off the starting line with a rendition of “America the Beautiful.” It was an auspicious flag waving start as well for Chihara’s career to go from far more tasteful concert and ballet works into full, fun exploitation mode for its grand champion. Yet what’s interesting is how unexpectedly classical “Death Race 2000” is, let alone romantically jazzy for all of the film’s gleeful crashes. With rock guitar, saxophone and piano, Chihara leaves the revving, body part filled engines to speak for themselves as the music mainly concentrates on the softer bits (yet with a synth sound very much from the grindhouse day). It’s also quite clever, especially when the rhythms take on the quality of a Russian dance as the cars speed to the finish line. So spot-on is the vibe that you’d likely not realize this portion of the album is a reperformance of the half analog-half live chamber score otherwise lost to time, whose replication from beyond the grave does the lead driver Frankenstein proud.
Extra Special: The rest of volume 4 concentrates on Chihara’s outrightly comedic work to capture big city shenanigans, beginning with 1984’s Hollywood remake by French auteur Louis Malle (“Murmur of the Heart”) of Mario Monicelli’s 1958 Italian safecracking comedy “Big Deal on Madonna Street.” Given a hapless bunch of robbers who can’t turn a combination straight, Chihara uses a sad sack saxophone, a whimsical harmonica and funk rock to create a sense of eccentric whimsy. A player piano evokes silent movie escapades, strings build gentle suspense and an urban sense of ethnicity is captured with kettle drums and Spanish guitar. It’s a score that bursts with the kind of sweet energy that spells out caper comedy, with a striding theme that prefigured Elmer Bernstein’s approach to the far nastier “Grifters.” Just a slight bit more serious in its suspense was Chihara’s score for 1987’s “Forever Lulu,” a mystery that had German cult starlet Hanna Schygulla as a wannabe mystery writer on the trail of rocker Debbie Harry in NYC a la “Desperately Seeking Susan.” Chihara brings a fun, synth-pop driven groove to the crooks on both women’s’ trail, with an ironic feeling of tension that also employs lush strings, a romantic jazz combo, and a feminine flute. Like “Crackers,” there’s a neat sense of big city oddballs here, from rhumba to roaring 20’s grooves and an overall lounge lizard feeling befitting downtown art types. You can’t help but feel the vibe of Taco’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” through this, even as an organ does its funereal spin on Albinoni’s “Adagio.” It’s a distinctive spin on bohemian murder mystery in an album that shows Chihara’s humorous creativity, with liner notes by Randall D. Larson nicely explaining the composer’s diversity. Now here’s hoping that Dragon’s Domain can at last release Chihara’s beautifully mournful score for Lumet’s cop classic “Prince of the City” on their next round-up that gives props to the composer’s distinctive work.
3) FAR AND AWAY: Limited Edition
What Is it?: After the likes of Burt Bacharach, James Horner, Hans Zimmer and Thomas Newman, the increasingly ambitious director Ron Howard racked up another notable superstar composer collaboration with John Williams for 1992’s “Far and Away,” an ode to immigrant-pioneer spirit and Irish spunk in particular as the then-dynamic duo of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman proudly rode into the wild west. Williams’ symphonic talent for conjuring the majesty of the nation’s great, galloping outdoors had certainly been on display in “The Plainsman” and “The Cowboys” (not to mention capturing space itself), but “Far and Away” would give the composer his first opportunity to merge his sense of discovery with Irish flair (to be followed by the far more downbeat “Angela’s Ashes”). The result was a vast score with a particularly magical feeling of discovery, one whose land rush is given full measure on La La Land’s two-cd set.
Why Should You Buy It?: Beginning with the majesty and wink in the eye that conjures rolling green hills, brogues, bonnie lasses and an immediately recognizable nationality to soon set sail, Williams’ sense of orchestral romance captures a streets of gold dream, with a warmth that greatly adds to the power couples’ onscreen chemistry, bicker through most of this picture as they might. But what helps to really give “Far and Away” its authenticity is The Chieftains, a Dublin group whose performance inspired Howard to create an ode to his family’s heritage and their participation in the Oklahoma Land Rush (a massive property grab previously shown in both versions of “Cimarron”). The raw energy of their jigs and soulful Uilleann pipes as brought into Williams’ music works as an earthy, lovely contrast to the composer’s more refined orchestral sound, as rambunctious as it might get for a brotherly donnybrook. It’s a tender, wishful theme for the settlers-to-be that can be fired up with the glorious, bell-ringing passion of their determination to get a piece of the new land. There are as many dynamic pieces here as there are string and harp hearts afluttering to give bite to the wonderment and determination, especially in a bare-knuckle fight that takes us from rousing triumph to the agony of defeat in body as well as spirit. But the big set piece in terms of both film and music is the five minute “Land Rush,” an epic race of charging, crashing wagons and galloping horses to seize a piece of the prairie pie. With the orchestra building for the opening shot, Williams themes roar out of the gate in all of their brass-driven, smashing glory, riding proudly alongside the bounding spirit of Alfred Newman in showing how the west was won, the orchestra delightfully breaking for a jig to take center stage before the dynamic symphonic spirit takes the reigns again. It’s a celebration of the determined American spirit as well as Williams’ ability to play his melodies with a vast, trumpeting emotional force that’s the magic of film scoring itself. It’s a stirring piece that I’d argue is among the best five cues that Williams has written, which is saying a lot given with what it’s literally competing against here for that achievement.
Extra Special: Mike Matessino is a Williams restorationist beyond compare with “A.I.,” “Dracula,” “Saving Private Ryan” and Intrada’s recent issue of “The River,’ Williams’ tribute to the American farming spirit. “Far and Away” is another spectacular-sounding reissue that captures both the resonance of a recording stage as much as it does a small band performing their hearts out at an Irish inn, a mix that makes this score stand out in Williams already formidable repertoire. Not only is the complete score offered, but copious, differently orchestrated alternates are here in abundance in Williams majestic salute to immigrants as much as Ron Howard’s epic enthusiasm.
4) LEGENDS OF THE FALL
What Is It?: With his talent for putting the symphonic blood-and-thunder energy of the great Russian and Eastern European composers into scores like “Braveheart” and “Troy,” the humble frame of James Horner will always stand tall for creating some of the most powerfully muscular scores in cinematic history. But none will ever match the shear, epoch-spanning testosterone of 1994’s “Legends of the Fall,” a sweeping, mythic soap opera that turns toxic masculinity into a thing of beauty, no more so than with Horner’s rippingly thematic and emotionally noble scoring that he could play like few musicians before or since – with every glorious strain now collected on two CD’s by Intrada.
Why Should You Buy It?: While his epic playing grounds have ranged from ancient Greece to Stalingrad, what distinguished “Legends” was that this was a distinctly American epic, whose main location amidst the purple mountain majesties of Montana held a mythic past once trod upon by Indians that modern civilization had wiped out. It’s reverence and guilt that possesses the battling Ludlow brothers and their father, no more so than in the golden locks of Brad Pitt’s untamable Tristan. It’s a character ideal for Horner’s beloved use of the shakuhachi along with ethnic percussion that stands for the native blood that spiritually runs through Tristan., along with folksy fiddle that embodies the settlers of the big sky country. Given a surfeit of lyrically memorable themes, “Legends” has long stretches where Horner repeatedly plays out his melodies, lush strings and piano varying them in a positively relaxed way that films today rarely allow. Having last sent a black battalion to their noble Civil War fate for “Legends” director Edward Zwick in his Oscar-nominated score to “Glory,” the trenches of WWI here let Horner race with desperate brass-led action, while drums and strings announce Tristan riding over the hill with wild horse in all of their majesty. Horner’s distinctive electronics, voice and South America percussion are also on vengeful display for Tristan’s big payback, with a final, heroic blast of Copland-esque orchestra cementing the gun-blasting bond of a tortured, yet finally heroic family for one of the decade’s most satisfying macho notes of thematic valor.
Extra Special: Though the score of “Legends” (along with “Glory”) was somehow never nominated for an Oscar, many fans would passionately argue that this was James Horner’s best work, especially given that its full, anthemic force is now on rousingly poetic display that shows Horner’s ability to write intense, involving cues for astounding durations (with the end piece topping 15 minutes). With alternative cues also on deck, the presentation’s resounding power makes this a dream come true for fans of a composer who could turn all the heroic virtues and flaws of testosterone-driven star power into a thing of sweeping, bear-battling beauty that finally, fully gets to trumpet itself as stuff of musical legend from a soft-spoken composer who could stir the emotional core from men determined to be the stuff of myth.
5) WESTWORLD Season 3
What Is it: After being put on the scoring map with his mythic visit to HBO’s Westeros, German composer Ramin Djawadi entered far hotter cable climates with another intellectually demanding series for the network with “Westworld.” Michael Crichton’s 1973 film set the standard for mad science theme parks run amuck with a story that was pretty much a straight-up chase between a dweeb and a bald, terminating gunslinger. The hyper-intellectual re-imagining by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy instead set off hopelessly abused robots on a maze to cyber heaven. Playing as much in the minds of smart viewers as it was paying off their wanton desires for sex and violence, “Westworld” was equally distinguished by its music as its visuals, particularly given how brilliantly Djawadi twisted the fabric of hit music like “Invisible Sun” into a player piano and other western affectations. With the first season beginning a labyrinthine quest for humanity and the second paying it off, the third entry takes the robot characters who didn’t indulge with the heavenly simulation red pill into the human world, which seems to be a target for avenging robot angel Dolores. Now finally set free to really play in the high-tech future, Djawadi delivers his most coolly rhythmic, and electronic scoring that becomes the world itself, where a mad genius’ singularity shows that humans’ future moves have been just as programmed as the androids whose minds and bodies they gleefully ravaged.
Why Should You Buy It?: Djawadi has certainly rocked out with high-tech rhythms before in such scores as “Thunderbirds,” “Pacific Rim” and most significantly “Iron Man.” But it’s with season 3 of “Westworld” that he really gets his inner Tron on, riding his light cycle with the energy of O.G. Wendy Carlos and new school Daft Punk, as fused into his own sleek style. Top that off with gleaming electric rhythms and atmospheres that capture the more human than human sound of Vangelis’ “Blade Runner”, and you can hear the utterly neat conglomeration of sci-fi synths on cool-hip display. With the episodes starting off with a charcoal-black world pinpointing a super-computer’s ticking clock that calculates human fate, Djawadi creates a descending theme that washes into a hypnotic electronic ocean. Listening to the beeps, pulses and sizzling energy that surges through Djawadi’s cyber web is like being taken into the brains of machine, as well as unknowingly programmed humans. It’s a seductive place that bubbles over with anger in any number of musical set pieces, while being mournful in others. While electronics accentuate robots who have no problem wiping out any number of terrible aiming guards to achieve their end, the cold sound accentuates the calculations of humans who are no better. Yet there are musical organics here, as Djawadi playfully uses an orchestra to play the military excitement of a WW2 adventure in occupied France. A piano and electric violin give poignance to characters who yearn for a soul, a somber, fateful approach that links Djawadi’s musical universe to “Game of Thrones’,” where people carry the burden of their world’s survival on the armored shoulders. Just as the first season cleverly warped Nirvana, WW3 does hip riffs on Massive Attack’s “Dissolved Girl,” bringing out its dance-rock energy, while the kind of piano you’d find in a Delos saloon starts out “Sweet Child O’ Mine” before quickly turning into furious, epic action. The Weeknd’s “Wicked Games” becomes a cunning tango for strings and impactful percussion. “Space Oddity” gets a pensive violin and orchestra, where even the equally notorious “Shining” theme gets heard in a nice tip of the hat to synth revolutionary Wendy Carlos. It’s an inventive, musical recall that brings no end of self-conscious irony to a show about robots’ achieving theirs.
Extra Special: Given a range from the violently super-charged to the hypnotically contemplative, Djawadi’s rhythms hit it out of the park in more ways than one, making this visit the most tantalizing, exciting and highly listenable “Westworld” soundtrack yet, even if I missed being in Delos and its variety of sinful pleasures. But if anything, it’s a series and score that shows robotic evolution will find a way, here going back to a wellspring of 80’s synth sci-fi goodness that Djawadi makes fresher, and more technologically gleaming than ever.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
After a horde of killer kids in “Cooties,” directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion reduce their number to one named “Becky,” who’s given very good reason to unleash “Home Alone” hell on the white power interlopers who picked the wrong day to search her isolated house for treasure. Nima Fakhrara, fresh off his last house hostage thriller “Survive the Night” (featuring O.G. die-harder Bruce Willis) handles a thirteen year-old whom John McClane has nothing on, let alone the karate kid from “Barry.” Leading “Becky” off with a rocking, war-whooping theme, Fakhrara gives the girl a batshit, industrially attuned score full of berserker rage to. Yet there’s a tender piano melody inside of her barbed wire synth anger as well, which gives just a bit of emo weight to “Becky’s” music as it hammers in the Nine Inch Nails, rulers, outboard motor and any other scum-killing instrument that Fakhrara can get his hands on. But what makes “Becky” more than a kill fest is how her character is fueled with the anger of bereavement to begin with, a haunting empathy heard with children’s musical toys and voice that’s about the ghost of her mom-bereaved past, one whose anger is ripe to be re-channeled. Warping electronics has certainly been a forte of Fakhrara in previous scores like “The Signal” and “Detroit Become Human,” and here he has true field day of growling, shrill synths, warped percussion, feedback and metallic string sampling that makes tonal harshness into a thing of visceral beauty. With vocal rhythm recalling Graeme Revell’s “Dead Calm,” Fakhrara mixes stalking beats with a frenzy of percussion, his scream motif delighting in the punishment. But no matter how crazed “Betty’s” score might get, one can always hear the inventive complexity of its madness and the gear that’s gone into it from toy synths to a personally constructed steel water phone. It all calls up ear-bashing, revenge-sploitation scoring as emo-electro insanity that conveys the idea of childhood lost in berserker musical rage that’s supremely satisfying.
. A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME TRAVEL
As part of composer Jeff Russo’s team, Tracie Turnbull has been present through no small amount of the time-space-score continuum with her contributions to the likes of “Star Trek Discovery,” “Picard” and “The Umbrella Academy.” But it’s with her first feature documentary work in the here and now that Turnbull’s sole credit truly gets to shine with “A Brief History of Time Travel.” Given a documentary that takes one of modern sci-fi’s oldest tropes and tries to make realistic scientific sense of it, Turnbull sits confidently upon her own musical time machine that’s powered by no end of inventively graceful rhythm. Fusing together orchestra and electronics with her own cello specialty, Turnbull’s music fires off a sense of wonder in slowly drawn strings, percolating bells and full-ahead propulsion, styles that focus as much imagination from the viewer as brain power in figuring out incredibly complex concepts. It’s certainly a sense of melodic playfulness that helps the big ideas go down with a score that’s consistently interesting, if not outrightly enchanting. Like Lorne Balfe’s music for National Geographic “Genius” series that focused on Einstein (the rock star of the time travel equation), Turnbull’s captivating score captures the sound of science itself in a way that’s a notable listen, and an entertaining one at that as her music boldly goes back and forth on its intimate way, using time spent with The Federation to exceptional measure in the real world, such as we conceive of it.
. COME TO DADDY
One of the rare thrillers where you have absolutely no idea of what’s going to happen next, or what twisted rabbit hole it will take you down, one of the best batshit surprises of “Come to Daddy” is its score by Swedish New Zealander Karl Steven. Certainly prolific down under, Steven gets his first international cult exposure in this Oregon coast-set story as a dweebish son discovers what lies in the hidden compartment in his dad’s place. Having worked on the creepy environmental “textures” that were heard in the similarly ingenious Kiwi film “Housebound,” Steven really has the berserk run of the place here, along with its surrounding, blood-drenched environs. With lush, Herrmann-esque strings and harp colliding with gnarly metallic percussion (some involving precariously placed saw blades), Steven sets up the score as a weird where-is-he whodunnit. There’s certainly a point to the harsh, knocking sound given the rabbit hole our seemingly pathetic hero climbs down given Steven’s talent for blackly humored suspense, which at first captures a decidedly uncomfortable, somewhat funky meeting with dad. A neo-Theremin sound waltzes about woozily to thematically amp up the discomfort of being caught in a twilight zone. Steven also conjures the ghost of Lalo Schifrin with crime jazz vibes, and even a pleasant, parental healing melody for piano and guitar. But that’s not decidedly where the film, or score will go given the reverberating, skin-crawling strings and analogue synths that allow Steven to plunge into guttural grand guignol. With its pitch-black guitar strumming, gong-ringing Spaghetti western sense of humor, Stevens’ “Daddy” is the kind of consistently, wacked-out grisly musical fun you just want to hug.
. DA 5 BLOODS
War and racism are hell, but brotherhood in black arms is forever given the ironically patriotic approach of Terence Blanchard in his continuing, musically rewarding joint with Spike Lee. A jazzman-turned-composer whose bold, brassy sound makes him the craft’s modern answer to the anthemic work of Aaron Copland, Blanchard is no more powerful than when in the service of despised soldiers dying for the red, white and blue in the WW2 scores of Lee’s “Miracle at St. Anna” and the George Lucas-produced Tuskegee Airman salute of “Red Tails.” But if those battles were between good and evil for all of the prejudice shown, “Da 5 Bloods’” Vietnam setting is a far more conflicted battleground in both past and present for a film whose antecedent is the gold lust and bandit-filled environs of “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” Blanchard’s achievement is having it both ways with legitimately patriotic music, with his military snare drums rolling, brass blasting and strings rising to the heavens. Except here it isn’t for God and Country, but to give a 21-gun salute for this squadron and the black soldiers who served in general. Even the big flashback fight isn’t so much played for action as it is assured heroism. Just as impactful is how Blanchard uses Asian winds to convey a returning vet’s regret of the woman and unknown daughter he’d left behind (mixed with just a bit of pokey astonishment), which goes to signal how Lee is determined to make the usually dismissed (in cinema and life) Vietnamese that we allegedly fought for into emotional characters on their own. Yet Blanchard’s music has always been unapologetic in being loud, proud and emotional in a way many composers don’t dare to tread, no more so than here at stating pride and outrage. “Da Five Bloods” is a big fist raised as Blanchard thematically marshals the salutary orchestral sweep of John William while fighting with a brass dynamism worthy of John Barry. He brings back the ghosts of noble war scores while giving them particularly biting resonance in a new black lives matter age, tenderness, anger and honor wrapped in the flag as always to Lee’s pointed commentary.
With his cold, analytical eye to the near-future, “Ex Machina” and “Extinction” writer-director Alex Garland can truly assume his place on the Kubrick throne with the super big idea, small screen FX/Hulu series “Devs.” The muses that have consistently captured his glistening, high-tech-as-doom tone are Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, whose crystalline synths gave life to “Machina’s” seductive android before turning to a gnarlier electro-organic-acoustical organic approach for the invading alien life of “Annihilation.” With “Devs” they’re joined by The Insects (also known as Bob Locke and Tim Norfolk), a fellow English alt. music collaborative whose own intellectual sound-score experimentation extends back to the late 80’s with such strikingly diverse work as “Love and Death on Long Island,” “XX/YY” and recently with Amazon’s spin on “Hannah.” With any number of science documentaries on their resume this is a teaming made in “2001” Stargate heaven. Except in “Devs,” this unfathomable universe derives from a machine with a pixilated window to past and future that makes fate into an unbreakable Moebius loop. What makes “Devs” Garland’s best work by far is that there is indeed a human ghost in a giant floating structure whose vision is of Jesus as much as it is a little girl lost. This quartet of instrumental programmers beautifully fuse into a mind-blowing whole in this big box with a score that’s akin to a hallucinogenic sermon, tainted with the human sin of hubris. Certainly the best score of its intellectual kind since Cliff Martinez’s cult work on “Solaris,” “Devs” conveys a gorgeous sense of awe. It’s sterile, yet grandly emotional at the same time as religious voices, gamelan-like rhythms and impressionistic strings preach the age-old sci-fi moral that man isn’t meant to be God. Harsh, slicing percussion captures the murderous industrial espionage that surrounds the project as much as it is does the cruel, by whatever-means-necessary mindset of programmers determined to realize their experiment. While the score uses drifting tension to drive the central mystery of just what the hell this thing actually does, a daringly jazz-like theme centers the score on a higher purpose, its myriad outcomes heard through haunted gongs, spectral vocalese and a lush orchestra that becomes the Spock-like dreams of modern-day Dr. Frankensteins. Where some might have approached this kind of material with a score that could have been confrontationally weird for its own sake, the difference here is that Barrow, Salisbury and The Insects pull it off for the most part with transfixing melody and invention over the course of over eight gripping episodes and over 90 minutes of music on this album. The result touches upon a beautiful, mind-blowing holiness that distinguishes “Devs” as the show where Garland finally enters the Victorian bedroom for one of TV’s best ultimate trips, its music expands listeners’ perceptions in both sound and mind.
. GHOST WARRIOR / EXORCISM AT 60,000 FEET
In an indie empire full of the demons, aliens and maniacs that Richard Band was often summoned to score for his impresario brother Charles, one of the most unusual of the high-concept pack was “Ghost Warrior” (aka the more exploitable title of “Swordkill”). Where Richard had scored a reawakened alien mummy for “Time Walker,” unthawing an honorable 432 year-old samurai into modern day 1984 would give Band far more of an orchestral budget, human resonance and sense of Japanese honor to play with in one of his best and most melodic scores – with no small amount of his sword’s impact deriving from the music’s conducting by Shirley Walker, then striving to make a composing name for herself. Band had certainly shown a new, richly thematic side to his talents the year before with the unexpectedly poetic approach to the far better than slasher average “The House on Sorority Row,” a richly lyrical sound amidst the scares. That approach carries into this also unexpectedly quite good Band-produced film that delivers on the samurai action as much as it does a family-bereaved warrior thrown into the future. Using a rich ensemble of Asian instruments that include the Shakuhachi, taiko drums and wood flutes, which play alongside the more experimental percussion instruments of American Harry Partch (enabled by legendary percussion score Sensei Emil Richards). Band throws this mix into the setting of the west’s symphonic tradition in a way that proudly stands with such other Japanese inflected scores as Jerry Goldsmith’s “The Challenge,” let alone Bruce Smeaton’s emotional Asian-influenced way of capturing a bereaved, resurrected Neanderthal in “Iceman.” But for all of the action in “Ghost Warrior,” the tone here is mainly dramatic, conveying a millennia-old sense of samurai honor and a somber feeling of duty and avengement. Though not remotely the kind of genre film that Band is known for, there are a number of eerie musical effects to convey a man disoriented to be in alien surroundings. Yet there’s also a feeling of magic to this new foreign world. But what’s best about “Ghost Warrior” is the sumptuous playing of England’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra brings, done during the heyday of relatively massive symphonic scores being done on the budget in such Band works as “The Day Time Ended,” “Metalstorm” and “Troll.” Given a virtual army of players here, and a significant eight track upgrade from the score’s previous release, “Ghost Warrior” has an honorable feeling that would be perfectly at home in a Kurosawa samurai film, which says much in Japanese about the authenticity that Band brings to a superior score in the time-honored tradition of east meeting west.
Richard Band travels from the genre sublime to the ridiculous aboard “Exorcism at 60,000 Feet,” a “Sharkando”-esque gonzo horror film full of gleefully paycheck-cashing veteran actors who have all restraints ripped off as they deal with ravenous dead dogs, piles of green goo, lesbianic demon nuns and all manner of WTF insanity. It’s basically another, fun day at the office for Band who’s scored no end of purposefully idiotic nuttiness like this for his brother long before being it became hip – most famously when he Roger’d Bernard Herrmann for the opening titles of “Re-Animator” to let audiences know it was ok to laugh at that brilliant gore-fest. While “60,000” isn’t even remotely at that level, that homage spirit is certainly more than willing here, right from the tubular bells that lead to a salute to Elmer Bernstein’s rousingly overt drama in “Airplane!” to the exclamatory menace of said composer’s “Ghostbusters.” Veering from the obviously goofy to playing the straight man with genuinely scary horror music, Band pours in a kitchen sink of approaches with psycho strings, Hebraic music for a Rabbi and most interestingly a striking Asian flute melody for the Vietnam-bound flight. It’s a boisterously fun score that truly keeps this “Exorcism” aloft as Band is energetically compelled to step into these sorts of lunatic frays.
. ROMANCE (Wonderland, the Girl from the Shore)
1938-born composer Éric Demarsan has a decades-long history in French film and television that goes back to his scoring debut on the 1968 TV Alps-based take on Lassie called “Belle and Sebastian” (whose name inspired the Glasgow-based rock group). In the decades since, Demarsan has scored dozens of projects from “Army of Shadows” to “The Ray Bradbury Theater” and “A Private Affair” (along with Music Box’s new retro teaming of “5% de Risque” and “Demain les mômes”). Given his memorably lyrical way of scoring passion (a talent which flows through French musician’s veins in particular), Demarsan now goes back to the beginning with his gorgeous series score for 2020’s “Romance,” (also known as “Wonderland, the Girl from the Shore”). It’s a sort of translation of “Somewhere in Time” as a man who’s always felt like a cast away from modern society ends up bartending at a club, where he becomes smitten with a 1960 photograph of a gorgeous, enigmatic woman (Olga Kurylenko) on the wall. Soon enough, he finds himself transported back to that fateful year at the seaside town of Biarritz where he tries to win her affection. With an already existing, sinister suitor determined to prevent his fantasy from coming true, this kind of time tripping usually isn’t destined not to work out in any dreamer’s language, Demarsan’s score ranges from a somber, intimate approach for trumpet and violin to a striking, elegiac main theme as his exceptionally constructed score transports listeners between the eras over the course of this six-episode series. The tender music is suffused with a longing for an era where one might fit in, with the somber tone turning to robust, romantic scoring before becoming increasingly dramatic, if not outrightly stormy in the latter section. But even if the melodic score might tell us that dreams don’t come true, Demarsan’s work is both haunting and spellbinding as he plays the heartstrings with exceptional elegance and a sense of star-crossed destiny, one where you can hear an artistic life experience that’s often been caught between lovers.
. seaQuest DSV: The Deluxe Edition
One might say John Debney has the blood of Captain Nemo running through his veins, as the composer’s father Lou worked for Walt Disney as a “go-to guy,” a position that enabled him to bring home a 16-millimeter print of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” So it was more than fitting that the youngster’s own career would see him musically helm an ambitious TV show produced under the aegis of another “Leagues” fan named Steven Spielberg. But whether said futuristic sub is the Nautilus, the Seaview or the “seaQuest DSV,” there’s a naturally lush symphonic sound that comes from exploring the wonders of the ocean. Now Debney’s pilot score and selected first season episodes are collected onto two discs by Varese Sarabande. The composer’s uncommonly lavish scoring certainly marked the beginning of epic wonders ahead for him. And given the Spielberg pedigree, large symphonic resources were at Debney’s command. As he had no small amount of TV work behind him with the likes of “The Young Riders” and “A Pup Named Scooby-Doo,” Debney set course with a memorable, Emmy-winning theme that resounds with bright optimism and camaraderie that’s marked the going boldly sound of many a small screen starship. It’s music that hearkens to Debney’s own time spent aboard “Deep Space Nine” (with the Enterprise NCC-1701 and the Orville ahead for him). But if those Trek composers were restricted into noodling about, NBC’s “seaQuest” let Debney show off his boldly melodic stuff for its 1993, 2018-set launch without losing the subtly militaristic sound of a grander federation (here the United Earth Oceans). Rousing fanfares, suspenseful builds and glistening harp washes abound with a sense of nobility that marks the gigantic ship. But it’s with the second disc’s season one highlights that Debney really gets to go into even more interesting realms of the ocean, bringing a new feeling of suspense and danger to his scoring, along with some comedy. But the unexpected standout is music from “The Good Death,” whose Latin American rhythm and guitar might make you think that the Impossible Mission Force boarded this deep submergence vehicle, bringing a Lalo Schifrin vibe alongside Debney’s channeling of Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and the flowing music of Claude Debussy’s “La Mer.” Of course, there’s the spirit of “20,000 Leagues” composer Paul Smith present and account for, who’d no doubt salute the composer’s own gracefully symphonic explorations under the sea, which Debney entertainingly details in Tim Grieving’s informative liner notes.
. SONIC THE HEDGEHOG / WHITE LINES
Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) has been expanding his rhythmic rave sound for positively old school orchestral majesty (“Mortal Engines”) and putting emotional souls into cyborgs (“Alita,” “Terminator: Dark Fate”). Yet it’s nice to know he still has a need for rhythmic speed from kid games come to life or given adults in bad straits in Ibiza. Given how awkward the initial CG conception of Sonic looked, it’s amazing that this hedgehog reached the finish line as the best videogame-to-film ever made, a seemingly impossible feat that owes itself to the heart put into every department here – no more so than with Holkenborg’s score that combines the best of both symphonic and hyperspeed synth worlds for a character thrust into ours. Given that every game-based score has run with 8-bit electronics, Holkenborg treats Sonic with a mainly symphonic, sometimes folksy sound without denying the retro synth thrills we’ve come to expect for the genre. Brass is a real star here, whether embodying Jim Carrey’s dastardly villain or giving roaring speed to Sonic’s sneakers. It’s a thrilling, and often nicely emotional approach that humanizes the hedgehog as a thankfully snark-free teenager. Evoking a bright sense of magic and fun that captures an 80’s Amblin’ vibe a la Williams and Silvestri for a character that first showed up on consoles in 1991, Holkenborg’s score really takes off in its latter half with a thrilling heroic theme, bringing together synths and strings with a delightful thrills and spills, thankfully minus condescending cuteness. It’s rousing energy befitting of a big screen superhero with all magic of Sonic’s console incarnation more than intact.
The decadently tripped out world of the rave / hip-hop scene is something that Holkenborg’s beats drank from back in the day, which makes him ideally suited to return to the fantasy island of Ibiza for the Netflix mystery series “White Lines.” Holkenborg’s rhythmic concern is uncovering the past while giving the present a vibe that’s anything but pleasurable for a DJ’s snoopy sister who’s returned twenty years since his disappearance to uncover his foul play crescendo. Holkenborg spins a sleek, sinister groove that’s best suited for keyboards and sampling here. He lays out tropically intoxicating rhythms with a siren-like female voice. Menacing exotic percussion, as mixed with dark electronics cut through the feel-good illusion to reveal conspirators all too happy to finish the familial job. Yet it’s mostly an intoxicating, sax-topped menace as Holkenborg references “Riders in the Storm” as much as he might “Blade Runner,” painting a deep dive into a killing as an act of groovily melodic seduction. From the trip-hop beats to moody guitars that put Holkenborg on the pre-movie scoring map, “White Lines” swings from ghostly ambience to trance club grooves. It’s certainly cool to be back on the dance floor with a master of the beat, who ultimately and seductively spins a haunting, and even moralistic groove of trouble in hedonistic paradise. Clawing through that jungle to hear where this dj’s lies is a seductive mystery indeed as “Lines” snorts up ambience and grooves in equal, haunting measure.
. SPY INTERVENTION
Though he’s contributed darkly avenging music to the missed Netflix-Marvel days of Daredevil and The Punisher, composer Roger Suen’s own scoring has often hit a powerfully despairing note for Asian characters in “Gook” and “Mrs. Purple.” Given a musician who really needed to accept a mission for a fun break, Suen is now given his wacky assignment in retired secret agent spades with “Spy Intervention.” With the “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”-esque conceit of an ultra-suave guy who throws all of the world saving stuff away for marriage, “Intervention’s” twist is having his old pals try to drag him back into a way more exciting life. It’s cute stuff to be sure, and Suen jumps into the spy musical satire genre with aplomb. It’s one that’s pretty much been there since the 007 days as every operative from Derek Flint to Illya Kuryakin had their way with John Barry’s trend-setting grooves, as well as the more relatively recent likes of Austin Powers and Agent Cody Banks. Suen hits the humorously jazzy assignment like an old pro at this sort of thing. With flutes aflutter, scheming vibes and bongo-swinging brass, it’s thematic music that immediately nails a marriage desperately in need of evil-battling excitement. Though now situated in the suburbs, “Spy Intervention” has a globe-spanning groove to it, from heavy Latin rhumba romance to Indian snake charming. Given the nutty vignettes that make up its counseling sessions, Suen also gets to go beyond the slinky, hip sexiness to target the military while also going nuts on the drum kit. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and energetically thematic pastiche that hits its musical targets in confidently humorous style for an indie film whose sound is most definitely big spy spoof screen.
. THE STORY OF O 2 (Expanded, 500 edition)
A prolific British composer who scored numerous films from high art to wackier exploitation (often in the company of directors Nicolas Roeg and Nico Mastorakis), Stanley Myers’ work in the 80’s often stood out for its distinctive electronic voice that heralded a new age of synth-driven film music. No small amount of the sound was generated behind the scenes by German musician Hans Zimmer, a follower of Krautrock who’d soon change the sound of Hollywood. Hearing how he’d get there on such Myers scores as “My Beautiful Launderette,” “The Zero Boys” and “Moonlighting” is special pleasure of Myers’ work during the decade, or in the case of 1984’s “The Story of O 2” a second serving of exquisitely sensual bondage. As opposed to a docile heroine who allows all manner of restraint to be visited upon her by high society, the sequel offers a more assertive O sent to take down a French industrialist with her particular set of skills, and then netting his wanton family in the bargain. It’s a sexual spy aspect that allows Myers’ approach to have more of a suspenseful thrust as it were, as well as a sultry sax film noir nature. Given Myers’ pedigree, “O2” is also way better than some Casio-generated softcore score (although that computer-y disco vibe is gloriously here) especially given a string-wrapped orchestra. Myers conjures a memorable romantic theme that ties much of the music together, which when given voice might fool you into thinking it’s a Bond song (sung in both English and French as “Never Will You Know” by Véronique Lortal). There’s certainly much invention to the devices that are brought out, from piano to rock guitar and pleasurable torture dungeon organ. “O2” ranges from the intoxicatingly erotic to the ersatz classical music for depraved French aristocracy with strings also surfacing to elegantly tighten the emotional screws along with the flesh. But whether the often-romantic approach is rhythmic or languid, one can definitely hear the voice of a key player behind “O2’s” lushly melodic sound as synths ragingly embody an orchestra for a sound that’s on the whipping, cutting edge. A deliciously pleasurable listen that brings pop-rock passion and sultry elegance to an often-cheesy musical genre, “02” is unleashed across two cd’s by France’s Music Box Records for the complete score, a newly mastered original album and re-mixed cues that truly un-gag Zimmer’s voice in the naughty proceedings.
. TAKE HER SHE’S MINE
An ace in practically every genre from science fiction to drama, romance and horror, the one style Jerry Goldsmith was never quite known for was wackadoo comedy. Sure he’d score movies that were hilarious (most often for Joe Dante in such pictures as “Gremlins” and “The ‘Burbs”), but the laughs were often serving within scares. Goldsmith’s few modern-day forays like “Mr. Baseball,” “The Lonely Guy” and “Fierce Creatures” were competent, if not exactly at the levels of his more serious or fantastical stuff. But if you took a time machine back with daddy-o Jerry to the swinging 60’s, the composer definitely had the groove with kids sowing their youthful oats, from Catholic school girls in trouble with 1966’s “The Trouble With Angels” to the now-revealed hepcat goodness of Intrada’s release of 1963’s “Take Her, She’s Mine.” James Stewart, who had a habit of essaying hapless dads during that era, finds that catastrophe arrives when it comes to monitoring collegiate daughter Sandra Dee from America to Paris. It’s a swingin’ delight that shows Jerry as capable of handling these cheerfully innocent sex comedies as his compatriots Johnny Williams and Neil Hefti with a lush, brassy jazz pep perfect for screwball antics. His approach here is often circus meets Vegas cool as Goldsmith’s sweetly antic score shows the kind of deft, cartoonish swings that he’d employ for his last “Looney Tunes Back in Action” score. But here it’s in a situation comedy setting, especially as it gives militaristic determination to Stewart to keep close watch on his nubile offspring, his music veering from New England collegiate pomp to a Parisian can-can, with whistles and musical horse neighs keeping the energy up amidst the quite lovely, dreamboat boyfriend stuff. Like all of Goldsmith’s scores, there’s a wonderful theme that is as pliable as silly putty given the nutty merry-go-round adventures of Stewart and Dee, from hearing the melody on Parisian accordion and violin to a full, rambunctious orchestra. Yet no matter how sweetly crazy the score gets, Goldsmith’s distinctive voice is very much present, if never earlier 60’s with-it than for bobby soxers and beatniks. Intrada’s delightful album offers the thirty-minute score in both mono and stereo to show Goldsmith’s way with a road not really taken when he was bursting onto the Hollywood scene with a youthful energy befitting hormone on the run from dad.
. THE VELVET MACHINE
After conjuring thunderous fantasy realms for “World of Warcraft” and forging an iron-clanging Valhalla for the award-winning “Rend” game score, composer Neal Acree takes a more personal musical inner journey inside “The Velvet Machine.” Right from its titular opening, techno-voice track, Acree shows you his intent of transporting his listener’s expectations from Frostmourne to Coachella, with a couple of raves in between. The musical vision of bear furs and broad swords are definitely tossed off with abandon in this neat rhythmic album that conjures shades of David Gilmour, Massive Attack, the Eurythmics and Daft Punk in equal, throbbing silken measure. With his personal experiences translating to dance-trance tracks that show off Acree’s techno chops, the composer serves as D.J. who mixes in lush orchestra alongside haunting voices and piano to evoke an often elegantly throbbing world, with each solidly constructed piece within the machine taking us on an ever-building journey. Meditative tracks as well hearken to Acree’s more fantastical work, as graced with a percussive, electronic approach that shows a progressive quest he’s longed to take to express love, death and an ear to the rhythmic future with this intoxicating concept album. Using themes and building upon them in the same way he’d score a game or film, the seasoned Acree displays a new, high-tech persona that’s more youthful than ever, while losing none of his epically melodic nature for this neatly thrumming and atmospheric machine. Available on CD and digitally via “Velvet’s” official website.
The wages of sin have long possessed the British gangster film, from Roy Budd’s vengeful use of the cimbalom in “Get Carter” to Michael Kamen’s sinister electronics that doubly embodied “The Krays.” Where these movies’ ultimate message is that the thug life doesn’t pay (though it can be a devilishly enjoyable ride reaching that epiphany), rarely has this genre been graced with such a mournful film or score as “Villain.” Marking both the impressive debuts of director Philip Barantini and composers Aaron May and David Ridley, this is essentially the “Carlito’s Way” spin on the gold-hearted thug who gets pulled back in. Frequent English heavy Craig Fairbrass (“Avengement”) does the honors as a bloke who’s gotten out of stir, only to find himself on an inexorable plummet for all of the murderous good he tries to do, from helping a brother sunk in debt to reconnecting with the daughter he abandoned. That things won’t end up well is a given with the somber, affecting tone of May and Ridley, who were a required package deal from Fairbrass after seeing how they boxed with toxic masculinity in the short “Seconds Out.” Their music certainly delivers a k.o. here with a somewhat jazzy percussive sound, as mixed with melodic music design. “Villain’s” forlorn, smoky sound still conveys a don’t F with me attitude might not be too far off from “Get Carter’s,” if certainly moodier in its use of a solo bass clarinet, a cello ensemble and wafting electronic melodies. There’s also particularly inventive sampling, from its use of breaths to growling industrial sounds that convey an underworld unto itself. Yet amidst the dreamy darkness, piano rhythm suggests a path towards redemption that we know isn’t going to come. While there’s certainly a rhythm to the criminal doings, the overall vibe of “Villain” is one of transfixing pathos that finally turns to heartbreaking song with Kevin Leo’s “This is for My Girl.”
. WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS
Tim Williams has certainly been flashing the devil’s horns with his impressively dark music for “Brightburn’s” twisted Superboy, “Diablo’s” gunslinger gone chaotic evil and the first, demon-filled season of TV’s “Creepshow.” Now he gets to really go metal for this clever, 80’s-set spin on a wave of Satanic Panic where rock was the devil’s candy, or potential allure in the case of three girls who take a trio of heavy metal parking lot dudes out for a night they won’t forget. With retro synths ablazing for a night of date gone wrong hell, Williams has fun conjuring a decade of electro-sample driven slasher scoring, as taken with a heavy dose of ritualistic rhythm of the heat acid. It’s certainly a miasma for a bad moon rising as chimes, pulsating razor-sharp synths and twisted wind counts down a fiendish scheme and the bloody havoc of it going oh so wrong. He craftily navigates between score and sound design with a guitar truly rocking out at 11 as the body count racks up, all while creating eerie moods before its hellcats strike. Throwback horror score fans who dig everything from John Carpenter pulses to Goblin’s gory rock operas will likely have a field day with “Darkness,” which nicely establishes its genre credentials while having an evil vibrancy that’s anything but dated as Williams’ relentlessly fiendish musical chops continue to impress in a way that’s positively heaven-sent.
Special thanks to Chris Mangione