Soundtrack Picks: “BARBARELLA and WONDER WOMAN: THE TELEVISION SERIES” are the top soundtrack to own for May, 2017
Also worth picking up: A FAMILY MAN, ALIEN CONVENANT, BABY’S DAY OUT, FAST COMPANY, GET EVEN, RICHARD THE STORK, ROCKET TO THE MOON, THRILLER and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) ALIEN CONVENANT / LIFE
What is it?: In space, no one can hear you scream. But you can certainly hear its terrifying music in these two auspicious, alien-centric scores from Milan Records.
Why should you buy it?: In “Alien Covenant,” we get the clearest view yet as to how these bioweapons work, as their spores and face huggers invade bodily orifices, bursting out with creatures that take on their victim’s shape. On that note, listeners of “Alien Covenant” might be searching for the creature running around in the form Jerry Goldsmith and Elliot Goldenthal. It’d likely resemble Jed Kurzel, whose striking, vicious creativity here is sourced from those composers’ DNA. Yet before his literal Hollywood breakthrough here, Kurzel made his own strong impression down under with his eerily tense work for “The Snowtown Murders,” “The Babadook” and “Macbeth.” Now Kurzel impressively insinuates himself among the giants that have come before him in “Alien’s” musical saga. Where director Ridley Scott had used just a bit of Goldsmith’s “Alien” theme in Marc Streitenfeld and Harry-Gregson Williams’ score for “Prometheus,” that legendary composer’s score has a far larger presence in “Covenant,” which is particularly ironic as Kurzel is called upon to use both Goldsmith melodies that were used in the original, as well as the ones that were rejected for a score that the Scott mostly tossed to use older Goldsmith work to arguable effect. Kurzel styles the orchestral side of “Covenant” in Goldsmith’s creepily orchestral fashion, using both minimal, gong-like percussion and well as grander gestures that at first reflect the optimism of seriously misguided space settlers. But as the invasive spore dust hits the fan on a deceptively pleasant planet, Kurzel introduces bizarre sampled and electronic elements, gnarled, percussive effects that get under your ears at conveying some alien civilization’s unknowable purpose in manufacturing civilization-killing dust. With the crew increasingly decimated in gory fashion, Kurzel brings impressionistic, brass heavy horror to the surface, modernistic music that veers from a whisper to frenzy in the tradition of Elliot Goldenthal’s nightmarish music for the lamented “Alien 3.” It’s an Avant-garde style that gradually consumes “Covenant” to impressive effect as eerie chorus and orchestra laments engineers destroyed by their own creations. Face huggers skitter about with terrifying percussion, and a chest burster is heard as a thing of tender beauty by an android with delusions of godhood. With a score that treads well between melodic fear and sound design, Kurzel’s unusual approach also delivers on the action set pieces, as rhythms, chopped vocal effects and orchestra capture the excitement of our heroine repeatedly hanging for dear life over the abyss, with gnashing double-jaws in front of her. Such is the intricacy of Kurzel’s work that more than a bit of it gets lost in the film mix, making this CD the best way to appreciate “Covenant’s” impressive hybrid of sound design and score that pays genetic tribute to the series’ musical heritage while skittering off in its own impressively unnerving way.
Extra Special: A major rebound for both director Daniel Espinosa and composer Jon Ekstrand from the interminably murky “Child 44,” “Life” is positively roaring with its more fiendish genetic aspects for a bald-faced, incredibly effective rip on that old chestnut of spacemen being chased about by a mutating creature with a decidedly bad attitude. However, Ekstrand really nasty trick is having his music make you think that it’s going to be a cosmically blissful close encounter between man and cute amoeba-like thing, as “Life” starts out with a richly symphonic sense of discovery and wonder. His music builds, its themes long and drifting as opposed to being forthright, reaching an “Also Sprach Zarathustra” transcendence with “It’s Alive.” But just as heavenly chorus sings with the promise of peace for “New Best Friend,” Ekstrand pulls the rug out from under the listener while severely tightening a protoplasmic handshake. “Life” from this point out builds with gripping desperation, suspensefully layering in the orchestral Where other composers might take a more frenetic route as the increasingly decimated space station’s dwindling crew try to outmaneuver the creature, Ekstrand goes for a more melodic than dissonant depiction of consuming fear. It’s scoring as relentless forward thrust, even amidst some blissful moments of dealing with the hopelessness of the situation, capturing the emotion of not only trying to save oneself, but also one’s blood brothers as well. Even when that clichéd used sonic bwwaammmm repeatedly pounds as a Soviet craft proves anything but a rescue ship, Ekstrand’s increasing momentum for blaring brass and strings is nothing less than riveting. Where “Gravity’s” Oscar-winning battle for survival against space itself showed how cool and unique one might make orchestra and electronics work for the vacuum, what distinguishes “Life” is how Ekstrand mainly uses the orchestra to convey heroes alternately running for their lives and trying to science the shit out their increasingly bleak and terrifying situation.
2) BARBARELLA / WONDER WOMAN: THE TELEVISION SERIES
What Is it?: It can be said that Charles Fox’s prolific film and TV scoring career got off to cult fame right off the bat with “The Green Slime.” Having an equal ear for era-defining pop beats and brightly energetic orchestrations, Fox composed any number of eternally memorable TV hits (often in the company of lyricist Norman Gimbel) for “Love American Style,” “Happy Days” and “The Love Boat,” along with such beloved caper scores as “9 To 5” and “Foul Play.” Among his genre projects, “Barbarella” and “Wonder Woman” stand tall as much for their camp heroines’ eye-catching uniforms as much as their space Shagadelia and groovy patriotism, musical girl power that’s now finally on full display with the two long-awaited CD editions.
Why Should You Buy It?: 1968 was indeed an auspicious year for Fox to groovily suit up astronauts, or in the case of “Barbarella,” provide much of the acid-washed clothing for Jane Fonda’s barely-dressed sex kitten. Director (and then Fonda husband) Roger Vadim created as much of a delightfully wacky comic strip adaptation as he did a stunning pop art tableau, it’s a psychedelically humorous with-it attitude complemented by the chart-topping sensibilities of Four Seasons collaborator Bob Crewe and his Bob Crewe Generation Orchestra. But with its fat brass licks on “Barbarella’s” progressively torn covering, the sensibility here is also very much of a “Casino Royale” one – with both scores very aware of their high camp purpose. But if that Bond spoof had Burt Bacharach and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, Crewe’s production expertise created a wall of sound that was like Phil Spector in space. Electric guitar stings, sensual percussive atmospheres, hep spy music and an electric organ create the kind of alternate universe where a shag carpet space craft crash lands on a planet from the combined Id of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. “Barbarella” has it every which way as Fonda’s character, not exactly the brightest bulb in the universe, becomes a love object for any number of lustful characters, from the sleigh bells of an hairy chested iceman to the sitar-like grooves of the black queen and her Sodom and Gomorrah domain. Musical pastiche reigns in the mocking vocals of killer dolls and the crazed symphony of an orgiastic organ that Barbarella overloads (back then, you couldn’t do a satire score without taking on the classics). Yet what makes “Barbarella” memorable is that it’s way more than fun shtick, wrapping its craziness in genuine adventure and memorable themes, no more so than in the joyous, ascending string and brass melody for Pygar the Angel after he’s been deflocked by Barbarella. A combo of the playfully hip and the musically otherworldly, “Barbarella” also offers memorable songs, from The Glitterhouse’s cooing opening title for Fonda’s unforgettable space striptease to the goofily pitched “Love Love Love Drags Me Down” and the Bacharach-esque romance of “I Love All the Love in You.” Crewe rings out the film, and album with his riff on Pygar’s curiously touching sign off of “An Angel is Love,” the singer’s voice climbing to the heavens with a sweet horn refrain. It’s a combo of 60’s hip grooves and thematic melody that blissfully pays of “Barbarella,” a long beloved album that finally soars with terrific sound from Varese after decades of one inferior release after the other – pure heaven for fans of Fox and Crewe’s triumph of sci fi and Shagadelia.
Extra Special: Excepting Spider-Man, the 1970’s weren’t a banner TV decade for costumed superheroes, as the motorcycle riding, barely recognizable Wonder Woman and Captain America proved to face-palming reaction from comic book fans. But one colorfully twirling exception was 1975’s reboot of Wonder Woman, whose origin in WW2 and red, white and blue emblazoned outfit were dutifully recreated on ABC, and embodied to winningly beautiful effect by Lynda Carter. Done with just slightly less camp than Batman, every enamored school kid in America instantly recognized the bullets and bracelets call to action of Fox and Gimbel’s punchy-funk brass theme, who deliriously excited rhythm and chorus extolled her Amazonian virtues. The theme was a driving force through WW’s first war-set season, a patriotically nostalgic approach set by Fox. The dastardly Nazis were given the sound of Teutonic evil, as contrasted with square jawed Steve Trevor’s noble brass and the timpani. Paradise Island’s most famous ambassador had femininity to spare in her warm strings, while a jazzy sax cemented her maybe not-so platonic attraction to her ersatz boyfriend. With light militaristic suspense setting up the inevitable scene were Carter would effortlessly throw Germans and fifth columnists about, Fox brought the theme’s chorus to the fore, the orchestra cleverly varying the melody, with brass pows every bit the uppercut that Nelson Riddle’s music landed for The Caped Crusader’s punches. Fox was also canny enough to give “Wonder Woman” a contemporary pop vibe to its percussion. With his work done after scoring the pilot, Fox left the show in the capable hands of such composers as Artie Kane and Robert Prince, who kept “Wonder Woman” very much in Fox’s vein, even as the show transitioned to the modern era and a new network for its second and third seasons. Their music was stalwart enough, with a tone familiar to fans of such sci-fi shows as “Buck Rogers” and “Battlestar Galactica,” as well as displaying the kind of jazzy suspense that could be heard in any number of cop shows during the era. But it’s on the third disc of this terrific La La Land Records presentation that “Wonder Woman’s” scoring really jumps the shark in glorious fashion, from the punchy-funk action of Johnny Harris to Robert O. Ragland’s neo blaxploitation beat that could’ve easily fit his score for “Trouble Man.” The usually more sedate Angela Morley of “Watership Down” created a tingling, ersatz sci-fi meets Bond score, Robert Prince brought the Cosmic Beam with crazed disco rhythm and Richard LaSalle applied goofy monkey shines to awesomely absurd effect. In short, “Wonder Woman” is the 40’s by way of 70’s TV scoring awesomeness that’s a delight to fans of this cult show that Charles Fox emblazoned with a pop-friendly cleverness, a musical saga entertainingly chronicled by comic book score specialist John Takis on the triple CD’s colorful booklet.
3) FAST COMPANY / TIMEMASTER
What is it?: Dragon’s Domain shows how two composers linked to the inexplicably popular horror franchise “Friday the 13th” are just as adept at playing the evils of drag racing, or the nefarious designs of alien overlords in an unusual western fashion.
Why should you buy it?: After making a bloody splash with the parasitic terrors of “Shivers” and “Rabid,” David Cronenberg took a brief pit stop on his way to becoming the cinematic king of body horror with 1979’s “Fast Company” an almost forgotten B-movie interlude where the director indulged in his love of drag racing. Fellow Canuck Fred Mollin was just hitting the road to a prolific scoring career that would include “Friday the 13th’s 7 and 8, along with 72 episodes of its vaguely connected TV series. But as opposed to grooving with the sound of haunted antiques or mutating humans for that matter, Mollin and his brother Larry crafted a cool, song-driven score that could easily be jamming on the jukebox of a New Jersey country-blues bar as some racetrack. But if the producers couldn’t get couldn’t get Bruce Springsteen to perform the songs, Mollin, Bat McGrath and Michael Stanley impressively filled in the working class groove as their throaty vocals jammed with a swaggering sax, electric organ and lite jazz vibes, with even some disco fever thrown in. Even more impressively, the band also featured future Toto members Steve Lukather on guitar and Mike Porcaro on bass. Where movies of this sort had forgettable source cues, the Mollin bros tunes are uniformly good, conveying the energetic grit of tough living and loose women that surround the racer rivalry, or a “shootout on a drag strip” as Cronenberg saw it. It’s a grooving atmosphere that even smells like stale beer and burning motor oil in the best way a late 70’s drive-in flick can. Mollin’s relatively brief, band-centric instrumental work (Cronenberg’s first original score at that) is similarly packed with that era’s rocking goodness, with travelling men piano percussion, electric flame-exhaust thrash, and drum /guitar suspense for simmering sabotage, energetic instrumentals that sound like songs waiting to happen, putting much-needed energy into Cronenberg’s laid-back direction.
Extra Special: While his “ki ki ki ma ma ma” theme for the “Friday the 13th” series will remain his defining musical signature, and the stalk-and-slash suspense of his numerous series scores his most popular works, Harry Manfredini has always been far more capable than musically embedding blunt instruments in dumb teenagers heads – as can be diversely heard in any number of scores like the darkly heroic “Swamp Thing” or the high flying action of “Iron Eagle 3.” But likely his most impressive score that you’ve never heard of until now is for 1995’s “Timemaster.” As made by James Glickenhaus, who had a definitely talent for spectacle with “Shakedown” and “The Protector,” as well as Jason-worthy grisliness with “The Exterminator,” the director’s last movie had something to do with alien overlords hijacking humans into virtual reality games before sucking up the energy of planets. Well, ok then. But for Manfredini, it’s a terrifically diverse and highly melodic playing field at conveying youthful sci-fi action adventure by way of the old west. Coming up with exhilarating action rhythms at one moment and then spaghetti western stylings the next before venturing into Shaolin Temple Kung Fu action, “Timemaster” is a score full of exhilarating diversions, and one with a magically emotion heart as well as a starstuff chorus, youthful boldness and rock-pop rhythms that jet its heroes from one time zone to the next with the help of Pat Morita and Richard Wagner. It’s music on the equal of Alan Silvestri or Michael Kamen without an orchestral budget to speak of. But such is Manfredini’s dynamic writing and enthusiasm that the symphonic emulation here never matters. It’s the quality of this terrifically exciting music that does as it propels the imagination. Dragon’s Domain’s liner note specialist Randall D. Larson’s liner notes effectively shed light on this gem, as well as “Fast Company’s” draghouse blues to illuminating effect.
4) PANIC / POWER RANGERS
Prices: $16.95 / $10.79
What is it?: For all of his effectively gigantic scores like “The Fate of the Furious” and “The Mummy,” many of Brian Tyler’s best scores center on slow-burn mood as opposed to the fuse leading to an explosion – though given his prolific output there’s certainly room for both ends of the arthouse and multiplex stick to just get along with “Panic” and “Power Rangers.”
Why should you buy it: Done very near the beginning of an auspicious career, 2000’s “Panic” showed much talent to come with a beautifully haunting, low key score for equally promising director Harry Bromell, for whom star William H. Macy twisted his mild-mannered persona as a hit man with daddy issues. As he reveals his lethal neuroses on a psychiatrist’s couch, Tyler creates a thematic bed that’s about the sad insides of the protagonist as opposed to his cruel job. Hearing a unique, transfixing sound caught between strings and orchestral emulation that would pay off well, Tyler employs the delicate sound of a piano for a hopelessly wounded character trying to heal himself through romance with another lost soul in treatment, his futile dreams of salvation played through Tyler’s own wordless vocals. It’s a choral-inflected rhythmic approach reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, but done in a different more directly emotional playing field. There’s a real tenderness to “Panic’s” music that makes it unusually moving picture for the tortured hitman genre, though with a fatalistic film noir sensibility that let’s us hear the only sad road it can end on, if one that gives us a sympathetic feeling of transcendence. Like the author gone too soon, “Fitzgerald” marked Brommell’s last movie before his sudden passing, but his powerful mood piece about the writer’s final days in Hollywood only added to the newfound vitality of Tyler’s music. Impressionistic in its detox of booze and creative madness, Tyler’s conjures the rich, sometimes hallucinogenic alcohol-drenched sound of going into the iconic night with atmospheric style to spare. Given a gorgeously fatalistic theme that sings with the lush jazzy blues of Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry, “Fitzgerald” is beautifully sad and captivating, making for a tragic double soundtrack combo with a knockout punch, featuring exceptional sound and liner notes by album producer Zach Tow. It’s a CD a long time coming, but very much welcomed in displaying Brian Tyler’s muted, intimate touch at soulful, troubled tragedy.
Extra Special: There are few kid’s series more awesome in their rubber suited kitschiness than “The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers,” Saban Entertainment’s gonzo, Americanized reworking of an already absurdist monster battling Japanese show. But perhaps the most daring thing these “Rangers” have ever done was to fight for respectability as a big screen reboot, done as seriously as if its makers were trying to create “Superman: The Movie.” That these “Power Rangers” succeed at their lofty goals in an entertaining, thankfully non-goofy film is in no small part owed to Brian Tyler’s grand, and unequally uncondescending score. Having tackled the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot with equally fannish, if just a little bit more knowingly humorous energy, Tyler approaches the multi-colored cosmic avengers with a welcome mix of earnestness and zoid-roaring excitement, his music squarely aimed at a slightly older youth audience with its alt. pop-friendly guitar energy that brings out real heart from the teens underneath these way better-looking suits. Standing proudly next to his Marvel scores for Iron Man and Thor, Tyler’s dynamic fuel of rhythm, orchestra and futuristic samples are the stuff that emo superheroes are made of, the score powerfully building to the big morphing moment, with Tyler’s music socking him a real Jor-El valor to Bryan Cranston’s pixilated head as he tells his young charges to do their multi-colored change-o thing. It’s a score that’s no more in geek heaven that when Tyler gets to have his rocking orchestra crank it up with “Go Go Power Rangers.” Given a chorus and his way with creature-smashing percussion, Tyler’s mesh of symphony and sci-fi samples does its darndest to make you believe a bunch of kids can morph. That “Power Rangers’” score succeeds with almost amazing maturity shows a confidently energetic composer who’s suited up long ago.
5) RACE WITH THE DEVIL / MAKING LOVE
What Is it?: What does the gay journey of discovery between two men have to do with a bunch of RV road tripping pals trying out outrun Satanists? Not much beyond the composer involved in one the crazier CD double feature that spotlights the diverse talent of Leonard Rosenman. Taking scoring into new, avant-garde territory with his brash, impressionistic work for piano student James Dean on “Rebel Without A Cause” and “East of Eden” before such experimentally surreal work as “Fantastic Voyage,” Rosenman wasn’t a composer particularly known for relaxed melody, which is what makes “Making Love” the true shocker that starts off this soundtrack.
Why Should You Buy It?: Perhaps the most romantic, and altogether lovely score that Rosenman ever wrote, “Making Love” speaks for all of the tenderness that goes with the most personal of connections, here a love that dare not speak its Hollywood name until Arthur Hiller’s sensitive 1982 drama, where a perhaps not-so happily married doctor comes to terms with his gay identity as his wife grows increasingly distraught. A master of using unsettled harmony to reflect psychological turmoil, Rosenman impactfully reflects a man’s sexual confusion, while not making it seem like he’s plunging into a nightmare, as so many far less enlightened films and scores did back when homosexuality and lesbianism meant the moral comeuppance of ostracization, or often worse. Here, it’s a beautifully lush thematic journey of self-realization that never goes for the musical melodrama, though one still very much in Rosenman’s tradition of blending melody and dissonance, if to way more emotionally subtle effect, with a gorgeous, harpsichord-topped classical rendition of the main theme also showing that this was the composer who won an Oscar for his adaptations for “Barry Lyndon.”
Extra Special: When you hear how Rosenman twists the harpsichord into an instrument of sheer terror along with gnarled strings the main title of “Race with the Devil,” fans will know just as quickly that this is manic ghost rider behind the Satan-driven “The Car” and the mutant savagery of “Prophecy’s” killer bear. Subversively using playful rhythms worthy of a western puppy dog round-up as pals Peter Fonda and Warren Oates drive around the southwest, it isn’t long before an inadvertently witnessed sacrifice bring out the snaky percussion, raging tone pyramids and dissonance that’s the singular trademark for Rosenman’s dark, experimental side. Indeed, there’s no mistaking the foul pit its relentless, villains have emerged from as Rosenman uses feverish onslaughts of strings, brass and perverted electric violin for black sound mass, yet one whose fearsome motifs are still evident within the madness of its primal fear. It’s music that’s pure, unnerving panic, displaying Rosenman as one of the most uncompromising, experimental composers of his day, especially when in the service of cult horror in more ways than one. Admirers of “Making Love” won’t know what hit them, but for fans of Rosenman’s ferocious genre scores, “Race With the Devil” will be twisted music to their ears.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. A FAMILY MAN
While Mark Isham has done any number of powerful, all-symphonic scores like “42,” “Quiz Show” and his Oscar-nominated “A River Runs Through it” that examined the male drive to win, his psychological journeys into a the orchestral-electronic realm have been just as effective, particularly the hypnotic atmospheres of “Crash,” “The Cooler” and “The Accountant.” Now the latter film’s producer Mark Williams brings along Isham for his directorial debut “A Family Man.” But Gerard Butler’s Sparta-avenging ferocity as a corporate headhunter seems anything but hearth and home as his hunger for success consumes all, until his son’s medical energy makes him seriously re-examine his life choices. Isham has certainly been direct about the right soaring path to take for any number of screwed-up macho men, but what makes his “Family Man” particularly effective is the overall hushed tone he takes. At first building on the kind of electric alt. rhythms that are now powering dramas about company climbers, Isham’s pulsing music earns its emotional makeover as the composer slows down with hushed, subtly transcendent atmospheres that made for the kind of haunted, electronic vibes that distinguished such early scores as “Never Cry Wolf” and “Mrs. Soffel.” Evocative piano sounds amidst haunting, voice-like sampling and vibe percussion to convey sadness, and an affectingly poignant, slow awakening, where more overt realization is conveyed through heart-rending performances for the strings and violin. “A Family Man” travels from the rhythmic rat race to the spiritual with the kind of soulful perceptiveness that’s long made for Isham’s often profoundly quiet dramatic work, of which this score is a beautiful, moving hush, heard digitally June 2nd on iTunes.
. BABY’S DAY OUT
Teen auteur John Hughes saw that he’d come into a good thing when he had an adolescent make mincemeat out bumbling burglars with “Home Alone.” So what better way to reprise what worked by adjusting the formula for a giggling infant to wreak city-wide havoc on a bunch of miscreants than with “Baby’s Day Out.” As directed by Patrick Read Johnston, this daredevil cherub didn’t exactly hit the Chicago upper class suburban payday, but it inspired an utterly delightful score from Bruce Broughton. With his lush, ultra-melodic child-friendly orchestral sound that defined such classic youth fantasy scores from the 80’s and 90’s as “Harry and the Hendersons,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Boy Who Could Fly” and especially “Honey I Blew Up the Kid,” there was no better composer to pick up the whack-a-thug, hearth and home mantle from John Williams. Given a little, lumbering theme that’s quick to dash into playful panic, Broughton’s score comes across like a gossamer spin on “Peter and the Wolf,” with the sweet melody of Baby Bink being an unwitting hunter, and accident-prone brass the villain out to snatch him. These musical forces dances about as well in the spirit of Carl Stalling and the 30’s-style city symphony energy of George Gershwin. But while every skyscraper-ascending string, gorilla-charming bell and noggin-bashing horn tells you exactly what physical comedy is going on, Broughton is far more concentrated on melodic finesse than musical pratfall shtick. It’s a wise move that doesn’t let “Baby” devolve into busy music, keeping it consistently smooth and pleasing through all of its piano runs and sneaking flutes. But the height of “Baby’s” ingenuity is “The Construction Site,” as Broughton’s gorgeous orchestra spins “The Blue Danube” into a sparkling carnival of comic mishaps, his theme a perilously ascending and plunging waltz that makes for beyond-cute sweetness with death-defying irony amidst the girders. First released as a instantly collectable composer promo that ran around 30 minutes or so, Intrada has gorgeously remastered “Baby’s Day Out” to 79 minutes that never prove tiring, showing this score’s marvelous construction of comedy as perhaps his sumptuously melodic high point, even as nefarious adults here take the bruising brass falls.
. CARRIE PILBY
Girl power is too smart in Susan Johnson’s winningly intelligent, and sensitive directorial debut, even as “Carrie Pilby’s” peppy collection of alt. and rock songs by do their best to loosen her up, from Justin Dean Thomas’ Ramones-esque “Anytime I’m Feelin” to Chauncey Jacks’ Motown groove for “You Make Me Happy” and Mose Jordan’s soulful r & b “Be Your Man.” It’s a cool variety that speaks for a young, warmth-starved and intellectually confused woman trying to find herself in a musically hip big city. Thankfully, she’s got adept indie movie and TV composer Michael Penn (“The Last Kiss,” “Girls”) as her emotional wingman. In the welcome, brief score tracks on display here, Penn uses a gentle, sympathetic approach for strings, piano and guitar, dream-like samples yearning for something more. It’s a quietly memorable portrait of Carrie that has both tenderness and whimsy in evoking musical poetry from a wannabe novelist, much in the way that Penn has created emotionally fragile, female portraits in such scores as “Sunshine Cleaning.” Like “Carrie Pilby,” Penn has a poetic intelligence to his musical way, which points this soundtrack in a lyrically affecting emo direction.
. THE DEVIL’S CANDY
Black metal has certainly played its demonic part is horror scores from “Rock and Roll Nightmare” to “Trick or Treat” and “Ghost Rider.” But never before has it seemingly had the power to summon Satan himself than in the fevered fingers of Michael Yezerski (“Mental,” “The Little Death”), whose twisted power chords join with the artistic severity of Tasmanian director Sean Byrne, who last subjected a prom date to the looney tune family of “The Loved Ones,” and now loses any sense of humor when subjecting a rock-loving family to a serial killer’s musical fixation in the middle of Texas nowhere. But as opposed to slash, which certainly flavors this “Candy,” Bryne treats this potential grindhouse material with the visual art of Terence Malick, leaving an impressive playing field for Yezerski to work his dark incantations on. Like “Devil’s” dad’s fever dream painting coming to life, as the composer twists the screws in for his daughter’s peril with unbearable tension. Subsonic sustains lead to bone-splitting percussion, bizarrely sampled atmospheres reek with pure evil, with slicing power chords and pulse heartbeats unbearably build to relentless, howling attack. It’s a flaming climax that’s the equivalent of having a hair metal band thrash away to multiple homicides. In other words, easy listening this ain’t. But in terms of creating a score that will actually scare the shit out of you, while leaving the more adventurous horror listener transfixed, Yezerski creatively hits the insane, black mass sweet spot that makes your preacher’s worst warnings of metal come true.
. EMERALD CITY
NBC’s severe sword-and-sorcery reboot of “The Wizard of Oz” recently had Nielsen’s house dropped on it. But that’s no reason not to let the continuing imagination of Trevor Morris’ music fill your own quest down a colorfully twisted yellow brick road with this sumptuous presentation of the late series’ music. Having impressively accompanied a hero raging against the Greek gods for “Immortals” for Tarsem Singh, Morris now accompanies the visually opulent director for his take on Frank L. Baum stories. Just don’t expect affable munchkins and the heroic triumvirate of a scarecrow, lion and tin man, as displayed in child-friendly music terms. We’re talking about Dorothy getting water boarded by barbarians, with a steampunk wizard severely seek her termination. Morris, a composer with is own impressive track record in such genre series as “Kings,” “Dracula” and “Iron Fist” conjures an “Emerald City” that’s a world of darkly magical, musical possibility. Formidable choruses, ancient percussion and a miasma of creative sampling conjure mystical threat, where grand symphonic writing and an organ lead to a famed metropolis. Evil, good and the many green shades in between of just who are the heroes and villains are here are bound together with Morris’ impressive tapestry. But beyond conveying the constant threat to Dorothy, Morris also rejoices in the soaring beauty she encounters. From the raging brass of a locust attack to a lyrical crucifixion and the soaring, violin-topped tragedy of a cowardly lion, you never know what style of scoring you’ll encounter over this well-crafted collection of music for one of the network’s crazier fantasy efforts. “Emerald City” is a consistently invigorating quest of positively cinematic music that show just how much imagination Morris has when it comes to re-inventing iconically sunny music into something far more dangerous, or as trippy as a poppy field.
. GET EVEN
As one of the truly remarkable composers working in the often mind-bending videogame scene with his talent for melding expansive, classically-influenced melody with futuristic synth and sample rhythm in such scores as “Assassin’s Creed IV,” “Bound By Flame” and “The Technomancer,” Olivier Deriviere reaches new heights of surreal musical visions between the past and future as he plays a detective who wakes up in “Get Even’s” nightmarish realm. Trying to puzzle out where a bomb-strapped girl vanished to whilst mapping his way through Kafka-esque enemy territory. Deriviere creates entrancing atmospheres from heart beats, ticking clocks, human breath, train whistles and a siren, each creative sample morphing itself into music that recalls the composer’s brilliant time and pitch-bending game score for “Remember Me.” Action pulses merge with cues that recall Vangelis’ trippier noir scoring in “Blade Runner,” where other electronics bring to mind “Tron’s” game grid – as imagined here in a hallucinatory maze. “Get Even” probes as deeply into a sampler’s creative possibilities as it does a hero’s unsound mind, offering the most stunning use of classical impressionism and futuristic music since Garry Schyman explored the undersea metropolis of “Bioshock.” For more often than not, Deriviere’s score is in the haunted land of such modern classical composers as Arvo Part, using trembling, slowly drawn melody and chamber music to convey a sense of guilt-wracked tragedy and identity unraveling, the piano washing over the listener with lyrical loss. Though “Get Even” promises hard-edged music with its title, let alone with first person shooting, Deriviere is mostly in a fragile, tenderly emotional realm just as suited for a concert stage as a PS4, especially as beautifully recorded in Auro-3D technology, its all-enveloping audio making you feel like you’ve been thrown into a neo-classcial Twilight Zone you can perhaps shoot or map your way out of if you don’t go mad first.
. KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD
After his crazed, super fun, Eastern European-accented Cold War spy score to Guy Ritche’s unsung reboot of “The Man from UNCLE,” Daniel Pemberton applies the same punk rock sensibility to reinvigorating the round table into an electrified Rorschach test for the director’s far more uneven, if still enjoyable in-your-face spin for “King Arthur.” Proving that there’s truth in advertising for a film that trumpeted that this wasn’t your grandpa’s Camelot (likely to “Arthur’s” box office detriment), Pemberton’s treatment of not-so noble knights is as far away from the Wagernian take on “Excalibur” as you can imagine, let along Hans Zimmer’s “King Arthur.” Here the effect is like wandering into battle of the bands night at a particularly dangerous tavern in Camelot, as a director hell-bent to O.D. on style can imagine it. Going for striking themes comprised of heavy breathing heavy metal and all sorts of bare, sword-slamming percussion, this is more like some AC / DC 70’s album cover come to long hair waving, ultra-colorful life. Often, “King Arthur” is stripped bare to rhythm to accompany sarcastic storytelling rhythms, i.e. “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Swords.” Yet as hard as his score tries to reinvent the wheel, often to fun WTF effect, Pemberton actually does convey the expected period with Celtic-influenced strings, bagpipes and balladeering, creating a score that’s at once the most iconoclastic and authentic Arthurian scores in a long line of them. Yet for all of the delinquent fury that’s conveyed for a hero that’s anything but sterling, even Pemberton realizes that he’s got to go old school as a heroic orchestra shows up here and there, most notably for the iconic sword form the stone sequence. It’s the kind of go-for-broke work that fans of the musical legend will either love or hate. But at the least, “King Arthur” will catch their attention, which is more than can be said for many scores that follow the straight-ahead road to Camelot.
. MONSTER FROM GREEN HELLL
When it came to musically embodying the howls, roars and buzzing of any number of 1950’a bug-eyed, mutated monsters from “Earth Vs. the Spider” to “The Amazing Colossal Man” and “The Cyclops,” there were few composers as rampagingly prolific in the genre as Albert Glasser, especially when given already nasty wasps grown to beyond-Raid size by rocket radiation in 1957’s “Monster from Green Hell.” Where today’s horror scoring for far smaller ghouls is usually comprised of dissonant string and brass, the approach to these genre pictures from back in the day turned that frenzy up to 11, its strident orchestrations effectively conveying unstoppable terror beyond atom age imagination. While pleasantly strolling melody might not have been these pictures’ thing, what distinguishes Glasser’s approach in darkest, insect-infested Africa is that it’s got a titanic, distinctive theme to embody the wasps, an immediately evil three-note motif that hangs over the score. Better yet at giving these “Monsters” musical variety beyond the giant tarantulas and ants you’d find hanging in the American southwest is “Monster’s” exotic setting. Much of the score is trekking about the jungle to find what’s freaking out the tribes, allowing for native drums and tribal rhythms that make “Monster” sound equally like Tarzan score from yore. Ultimately ending up in a nest of smashing cymbals and shrieking brass, “The Monster from Green Hell” is pure hog heaven for enthusiasts of this delightfully over-the-top1950’s style, with the theme even becoming “Jungle Jazz.” As Monstrous Movie Music has seemingly ceased releasing these genre highlights, it’s great to have Kritzerland excavating these spine-tingling behemoths here and there with impressive, blasting sound, complete with a cavalcade of literal stingers for what’s arguably the most nightmarish flying insect of all, as well as one of Glasser’s more memorably insane creature feature. “Monster’s” inherent goofiness in the bottom half of drive in bills is hilariously chronicled in producer Bruce Kimmel’s liner notes for a glossy booklet that likely cost more than the movie itself.
. RICHARD THE STORK
Eric Neveux has had a long, internationally dramatic career with the spare likes of England’s “Intimacy,” Italy’s baroquely vengeful “Borgia” family and France’s lush artistic bromance in “Cezanne and Me.” But none of his scores have the migratory flight like the wonderfully energetic and surprisingly soulful “Richard the Stork.” Taking stylistic wing from the rambunctious, animated land of “Rio’s” John Powell, Neveux uses strongly melodic orchestral winds (exceptionally well generated by the Brussels Philharmonic) to jet between any number of constantly surprising approaches. Given a sparrow who thinks he’s a stork, Neveux goes for a thematically optimistic, rhythmic spirit that knows it will make the journey sans adoptive parents. Launched with catchy, can-do brightness, “Richard” dances about with ethnic, bird call elements for the oddball fowls he encounters, or cleverly panics with the theremin and improv jazz when chased by bats. Jazz of a soft shoe kind also inflects “Richard,” along with fuzz guitar rock, thrilling action, African percussion and a French accordion for the composer’s good, native measure. Not veering about quite as crazily as Powell’s similarly terrific efforts in the CG animal kingdom, Neveux’s firm grasp of symphonic melody make “Richard” consistently pleasurable, while also hearing real, wounded emotion from a character learning to take pride in his own species. That “Richard’s” most moving power comes from Neveux’s lush show just how well he’s jumped out of the gate for his first animated score, given Stacey King’s charming, pop-powered “Zootopia”-worthy song “We’re Coming Home” to send Quartet’s album off on striving wings of wonder.
. ROCKET TO THE MOON
From “The Great Race” to “The Magnificent Men in their Flying Machine” and “Those Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies,” transportation was grandly running retro amuck in the swinging 60’s. Competing multinational teams of eccentric inventors were just racing for the gun to go so they could engage in this genre of riotous demolition derbies, which got a comedic sci-fi spin with 1967’s “Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon” (soon changed to the adjective cash-in title of “Those Fantastic Flying Fools”). Aboard this cannon-propelled trip were of course the sputtering, iconically buck-tooted Terry Thomas, as well as Lionel Jeffries, who’d previously made the eccentric tip along with “The First Men in the Moon.” But there’s really no person aboard who propels “Moon’s” very English buoyancy that Patrick John Scott. A jazz band player as well as an esteemed session man for the likes of The Beatles and John Barry, “Moon” helped launch Scott’s career, then in its auspicious start with the Sherlock Holmes thriller “A Study in Terror” and the shagadelic femme fatales of “The Million Eyes of Sumuru.” Still standing as one of his most delightfully buoyant entries, “Rocket to the Moon” is ever so English in its approach, from the imperious brass of Queen Victoria to its bucolic orchestrations amidst the more overtly comedic music for dastardly villainy. Constructing a sturdily charming theme whose whimsy translates through marching bands to lush strings, Scott’s fondness for brass is apparent throughout, from the gamboling Victorian source music to the Teutonic swagger and blarting tuba of Gert Frobe’s explosive mastermind. His rising and plunging orchestrations are musical lessons in physics themselves as e a cliffhanging orchestra contributes to the joyous pastiche that powers “Rocket to the Moon.” Its given slapstick given gravity by Scott’s terrific orchestral writing that also manages to convey a sense of wonder at the insane enterprise of shooting man out of cannon. Now this decades-old rocket that’s been sonically polished up to snuff by Kritzerland for its trip from LP to CD (a greater voyage than anything in the film), with album producer Bruce Kimmel providing real appreciation for John Scott, and his robust approach to the kind of 60’s madcap comedy inspired by throwback traveling technology, as well as the bright melodic future that mostly seriously lay ahead for a most inventive composer.
. THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER
You might not have found an odder couple than Elmer Bernstein and John Wayne. One was a short, vastly talented composer who was nearly blacklisted, while the other was a towering performer who represented red-hating, God Bless America values. But The Duke certainly can thank Bernstein for adding immeasurably to his legendary Hollywood stature over the course of six, rousing western scores that included the likes of “Big Jake” and “Cahill U.S, Marshall.” Having released Bernstein’s climactic score for Wayne’s noble movie exit “The Shootist,” La La Land Records now goes gun blazing into 1965’s soundtrack for “The Sons of Katie Elder.” And it’s hard to imagine a more emblematic score at defining a Wayne western. A rousingly heroic theme, sonorous, desert-spanning orchestra and rough-and-tumble brass action are just some of the classic sounds that Bernstein brings to this Mexican-flavored round up as Wayne leads a brotherly four-pack out to avenge the varmits who’ve done their parents grievously wrong. But then, the year before he’d first saddled up with Wayne on “The Commancheros,” Bernstein had been part of the western game-changer with 1960’s “The Magnificent Seven,” a scored that defined an Americana brand of gunslinging heroism. Given the brotherly “Sons,” Bernstein has more of sentimental, bromance range to his melody, while the men’s punch-happy antics get treated with the most delightfully brawling Irish jig this side of Gerard Fried helping Captain Kirk give a beatdown to Finnegan in “Shore Leave.” With drumming suspense, a sturdy orchestral sense of righteous vengeance and a melancholy accordion, Bernstein’s score is great, rousing stuff that showed Bernstein as every bit the rough-riding gunslinger as Wayne. La La Land’s presentation offers rousing sound for “Katie’s” decades-old, eternally vital age, while offering three versions of its song along with Jeff Bond’s always interesting, well-researched liner notes on the legacy of Elmer Bernstein’s Old West.
The golden age of television served as a fertile training ground for many great film composers to be, with perhaps none learning how to unleash terror from the cathode ray tube quite like Jerry Goldsmith. If there’s a program that sowed the seeds for “The Omen,” “The Mephisto Waltz” and “Poltergeist,” then it would two seasons of the unheralded anthology show “Thriller.” Sure Rod Serling may have gotten more popularity over in his CBS corner of “The Twilight Zone” where Goldsmith’s devilish fiddle conjured the tiny astronauts for its beloved “Invaders” episode. But Boris Karloff certainly was no slouch when it came to introducing tales of terror on NBC from 1960 – 1962, where Goldsmith applied said fiddle as well as a battery of chilling instruments to those in need of terrible moral comeuppances. Though given a TV-budgeted ensemble at the time, the dependable rescoring restoration team of producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra apply expanded symphonic weight to Goldsmith’s work, choosing six of the sixteen episodes he scores to make his “Thriller” work more impactful than ever before. Each episode is a malefic set piece. “The Grim Reaper’s” Shatner-cursed painting is personified by the retro-electric sounds of the Novachord, old scratch violins and the kind of eerily lovely waltz that would send a ghost down the Freling family’s staircase. A darkly lumbering theme and snarling brass push the listener into “The Well of Doom that recalls the more monstrously suspenseful music of Bernard Herrmann, where the shivering electronics and harpsichord of “The Prisoner” pave the way of Baroque psychological fright that would bring Goldsmith an Oscar nomination for “Freud,” as well as his truly unhinged asylum-set score for “Shock Treatment.” A girl’s ghostly protector “Mr. George” seems positively kind with a tender, tinkerbell-like theme, where “Hay – Fork and Bill – Hook,” offers Irish lyricism. But the perhaps the most striking suite is saved for last as Goldmsith pens “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” as signed in a delightfully diabolical way that suggests a drunken dance band stumbling about the fog-shrouded alleyways of Victorian England. Ace TV music journalist Jon Burlingame writes the liner notes that shed light on Goldsmith’s memorable contributions to this unheralded anthology series, whose music couldn’t be scarier given this impressive new Tadlow Recording that shows a composer grabbing onto the psychological, if not outright monstrous fear that would serve him so well on the big screen.
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