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Varèse Sarabande Records will celebrate composer [c.15]Elmer Bernstein with the release [a.13899]Elmer Bernstein: The Wild Side available digitally and on CD [da.2014-12-09]December 9, 2014. This special recording focuses on the jazz and big band scores from the acclaimed composer, from such films as [m.16420]The Man with the Golden Arm, [t.39247]Johnny Staccato, [m.6501]Devil in a Blue Dress, and [m.27828]Walk on the Wild Side.
"This is an album I have been dreaming about for years," said producer Robert Townson. He would first work with Bernstein in 1989 on [m.18012]My Left Foot. "It was when we were in Scotland in 1997 to record some of Elmer's older scores that we first started talking about an album that would present new recordings of his classic jazz film...
Soundtrack Picks: ‘THE HOMESMAN‘ is the top soundtrack to own for November, 2014
Also worth picking up BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES: VOLUME 3, BIG HERO 6, BIRDMAN, ENTER THE DRAGON: EXTENDED EDITION, FAR CRY 4, MY SCIENCE PROJECT, RIO CONCHOS, TOKAREV and many more!
(To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD covers)
THE TOP PICKS
What Is It?: La La Land Records is the undisputed home all of scores DC superhero animation – a realm that easily continues to out-power its live action costumed counterparts in terms of drama, and imagination. Among the characters that populate this two-dimensional universe, none remains more forebodingly impressive than the first run of Batman cartoons from 1992-93. Over the course of 65 episodes, the Emmy-winning show told TV that the caped crusader wasn’t condescending kid’s stuff anymore, especially when caped in the explosive, film noir tone that Shirley Walker spun from Danny Elfman’s seminal movie score (one she knew intimately from co-orchestrating it). Walker truly made this theme-driven, operatically orchestral approach her own, continuing a thunderous tone that was simultaneously unified, and idiosyncratic though the many unique voices of the eager, talented composers whom she trained to be her own Robins With Walker’s own scores dominating La La Land’s first volume of BTAS music, its time for a new four-disc edition to highlight her protégés’ work, resulting in what just might be the most bat-tastic entry into the CD series.
Why Should You Buy It?: Batman might lay claim to the most eccentric rogues gallery this side of Dick Tracy’s, giving ripe opportunity for Walker’s musical Justice League to embody these foes’ bizarre villainy, Carlos Rodriguez gives “The Clock King” a plethora of chiming percussion and playfully ominous comic brass pizzicatos, while Todd Hayen brings out the jungle percussion for a most dangerous game between Cat Woman and Tygrus in “Tyger, Tyger.” Rodriguez, and Mark Koval created a dark web of Asian percussion for Batman to face-off against his old ninja nemesis Kyodai Ken in “Night of the Ninja” and Day of the Samurai,” while Lolita Ritmanis made her own thematic presence known with an alluring melody for Poison Ivy in “Eternal Youth,” with the menacing, clanging percussion of robotic duplicates distinguishing the two parts of “Heart of Steel” as engineered by Richard Bronskill, Tamara Kline and Carl Johnson.Where Walker created the shows’ most notorious villain motifs with the carnival-from-hell music of The Joker, Michael McCuiston gave his own, equally evil calliopes spin to the cackling white-faced fiend in “Be A Clown.” Walker herself is certainly back in force here with some of her best work for the show, as sinister school yard bells, innocent flutes and relentlessly suspenseful rhythms become an ex con out to snatch his kid in “See No Evil.” But while she certainly rode the Wagner-esque thunder, Walker also kept her approach instrumentally fresh as harmonica and guitar blues accompanied an amnesiac Batman into the homeless underworld of “The Forgotten.” She also demonstrates her amazing thematic recall for the Man-Bat’s furious, flying action motif (as heard in the very first episode), all while creating a new chirping motif for a She-Bat in “Terror in the Sky.” But undoubtedly Walker’s finest half-hour (minus toy commercial breaks) goes to the lush, doom-filled romance that marks the dissolution of Clayface in “Mudslide,” her rousingly dark, 1940s-style strains the equal of any Miklos Rozsa suspense score from the period.
Extra Special: Among the twenty-plus episodes, containing over four hours of music that represent the collective effort of a dozen composers, the biggest consistent is Shirley Walker’s Batman theme (and even Danny Elfman’s on occasion), creating an overarching sense of BTAS as being part of a musical whole – a portrait of an anguished, heroic avenger driven as much by his inner demons as the evildoers he fights. It’s an epic listen that’s been exceptionally well organized, never becoming tiring due to the sheer versatility of the scores’ cohesiveness. John Takis takes up the bat-mantle once again in delineating the story behind each score in liner notes for this collection’s smartly designed booklet, its look enhancing the vibrant, retro-atmosphere of a small screen Dark Knight who couldn’t have sounded more cinematic. Doubtless there’s more powerhouse music to choose from as La La Land pays respect to the ultimate incarnation of DC’s toon avenger.
What Is it?: “Babel” director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu has always had an iconoclastic, and esoteric approach as to how music should work in his often downbeat character studies like “Babel” and “Biutiful.” Now taking an unexpectedly humorous look at the screwball world of the NYC stage that might be as close as he’ll ever get to a Farrelly Brothers picture, Innaritu has inspired a truly batshit soundtrack from fellow Mexican Antonio Sanchez, a jazz artist who lays down “Whiplash”-worthy percussion for “Birdman.” But while using jazz in its uncaged form is way better in idea than it is application for the actual movie, the wild drumming of “Birdman” certainly has merit when flying solo from any picture it otherwise turns into a cacophony.
Why Should You Buy It?: Thrusting us into the back-stabbing squawking that fills Broadway’s star-driven theater scene, the impromptu, rapid-beat percussion of Sanchez’s blazing ensemble only compounds the din that’s already there, confusion upon confusion that makes it impossible to hear what characters are saying (though this seems to be the overlapping dialogue point of Innaritu’s Altman-esque approach). It’s only much later when we see the Sanchez laying down the grooves on-camera that any of this noise begins to make sense, letting it truly find a way to play with some sort of artistic coherency. But if you’re a fan of free form drumming (with just a little bit of synth sustaining here and there), chances are you’ll likely be in heaven with “Birdman” as Sanchez gives the feel of a washed-up actor banging his head on a self-made cage, until finally bursting out to the thrashing wings of unbound, percussively undulating flights of fantasy.
Extra Special: Where Innaritu’s musical tastes truly pay off are in his bold choices of modern impressionist classical music, featuring lengthy pieces from Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Ravel. Its within the beautifully anguished passages for horn, strings and operatic voices that we can hear the noble, operatic yearning of a washed-up comic book hero to truly reveal his artistic powers to the doubters and poseurs that surround him – a soulful mission of finding the religious purity within the craft of performing that’s far more melodically rewarding in driving home “Birdman’s” journey than the crash of drums. It’s just too bad Innaritu didn’t go with this “source” approach entirely, though hearing the entire orchestral passages on this ample album definitely make “Birdman” a rewarding listen for more conventional, and classically-inclined soundtrack listeners.
3) ENTER THE DRAGON (Extended Edition)
What Is it?: Long ago, martial arts movies meant by-the-motions choreography, awful dubbing and beyond-cheap Casio keyboard music that only accented the goofiness of a genre whose ambitions rarely lay beyond the grindhouse Dojo. But that was before Bruce Lee kicked some serious Hollywood ass into chopsocky films with 1973’s “Enter the Dragon,” its superbly staged choreography, the solid direction of Robert Clouse and lush production values given funkadelic, Asian action stylings courtesy of Argentinean composer Lalo Schifrin. As a jazz-centric musician with a solid symphonic backing, Schifrin’s scores for the likes of “Enter the Dragon” and “Dirty Harry” did for 70s he-man jazz what Alex North dramatically accomplished for the art form in the 50s with “A Streetcar Named Desire,” showing how hot brass energy could translate its fists of fury to an Oriental arena that would be truly authentic in its sound (if not exactly done with Chinese instruments) – capturing a musical vibe with its high-kicking feet firmly planted in both Eastern and Western musical worlds.
Why Should You Buy It?: Having left his own country as a protégé of Dizzy Gillespie, Lalo Schifrin truly displayed his Hollywood chops with the spy jazz likes of “Mission Impossible,” “Man from UNCLE” and “The Liquidator,” its fat brass and sneaking percussion putting him in excellent stead for Bruce Lee’s breakthrough “American” movie, its plot of a CIA-sponsored martial arts master essentially using the trappings of a Bond film as Lee takes down a world-conquering wannabe with a truly bad hand. Schifrin whole-heartedly jumped into the chance to righteously kill a few hundred henchmen with a powerhouse combination of Asian exotica, Blaxploitation grooves a healthy dose of brass and a whirlwind orchestra, as driven by a theme that reflected Lee’s ability to jump from rage to Zen calm. But then, Lee himself had been working out to Schifrin’s iconic theme for “Mission Impossible” long before Schifrin took this career-defining gig. Indeed, few scores have been so keenly attuned to the charisma, and spirituality of its star, all while exuding ultra-70s Jim Kelly cool with its Wah Wah guitar, mirror-shimmering, neck-cracking synthesizers and strings that could creep around a compound with cat-like grace.
Extra Special: “Enter the Dragon” has journeyed to its tournament-to-the-death numerous times on vinyl and CD. But this “Extended edition” on Schifrin’s Aleph label literally gets in the last Bruce Lee battle cry when it comes to beefing up this “Dragon,” significantly expanding Schifrin’s Asian fisticuffs with rounds of pure drum percussion and breathless brass, showing off how richly thematic the score is beyond its iconic main title. At last, “Enter the Dragon” truly grooves with the ethnic, energetic finesse of Lee’s martial arts moves while showing off all the now retro-hip Western jazz chops, as heard during a midnight jazz set-to-the-finish on Han’s island of doom.
4) THE HOMESMAN
What is it?: There’s nothing wrong with having a big symphonic score for a western, as composers from Max Steiner to Joel McNeely have more than proven when giving orchestral sweep to America’s new frontier. But now that the genre has mostly taken great pains to come across as being authentic in conveying just how much awful behavior and beautiful barrenness filled up that untamed space, musicians like Clint Eastwood and Harry Gregson-Williams have taken pains to strip down the approach to solo pianos, filling the strings with anguish, or using scratchy rustic instruments to convey an unforgiving time and place. On that note, perhaps no western score has ever sounded more “real,” or beautiful than the lyrical harshness and subtle, emotional compassion conveyed by Marco Beltrami for “The Homesman,” a score that you could truly imagine coming from a saloon in a prairie ghost town.
Why should you buy it?: “The Homesman” marks the second western collaboration between Tommy Lee Jones while wearing the hat of filmmaker and star, the first hearkening to the modern take of “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” a truly bizarre genre piece for which the composer applied an equally unconventional approach that was the equivalent of film music Mexican peyote (heck, even Beltrami’s more standard western approach for the reboot of “3:10 To Yuma” sounded just as uppity in its mix of bizarre percussion amidst orchestral action). For “The Homesman,” Beltrami accompanies a one-wagon train back east, whose occupants are three deranged women – with a not-so old maid and an aged coot holding the horse reins with unbalance that’s nearly their passengers’ equal. It’s a set-up that could easily have made for comedy, especially if the composer was looking to play “crazy” music on the range. But it’s a tribute to just how unconventional, and beautifully done Jones’ approach here that makes “The Homesman” play out with impactful, haunting subtlety where even moments of great import are portrayed as just another day on the life-or-death prairie. While the score starts out with the relative normalcy of a string, and solo piano that’s easily the most intimately haunting western theme since “Unforgiven,” our traditionally melodic footing floats in and out with eerie abandon as Beltrami draws on his more horrific scoring roots to convey madness with weird, tingling sustains. However, this isn’t the type of dissonant insanity that screams for a trio of young battle-axes coming after the audience, but rather the sadness of women driven to despair through no fault of their own. Nothing gets played typically in “The Homesman,” whether it’s the quirky strings, skittering dulcimers and dark string sustains that sum up the to hell-with-it attitude, and surprisingly vengeful determination of Jones’ very reluctant antihero, or the ominous, tribal percussion of Pawnee warriors that’s anything but Hollywood “injun” music. Yet “The Homesman” is just as full of quiet tenderness, casting its heroine’s religious, poignantly longing attitude in a way that quotes, then recalls the hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves,” the theme the melodic constant we can grab onto amidst the score’s hypnotic weirdness – though to be sure time-honored western music traditions like the guitar and violin are on hand. Through it all, there’s a wonderful sense of experimentation in just what dusty instrument Beltrami will find from the ghost town fossil site, or create for a musical atmosphere (at times literally created from the air with a giant wind harp or recorded in the middle of the desert with a piano) so believable that you can almost smell the sod and dust coming from the CD.
Extra Special: “The Homesman” packs both weirdness and heart to it. It’s just about as outré and memorable a score, and film that the genre has ever gotten, showing how Beltrami’s desire to push the western “sound” within a memorably thematic framework simultaneously take its scoring right to the edge of the experimental frontier while returning it right back to the place western music started, creating a work full of raw, rough edges and memorable, poetic pleasures as simple and complex as the people who tamed the frontier, and those who were driven crazy by it.
What Is it?: Nicolas Cage seems to be on a quest for revenge at least six times every month in the villain-filled land of VOD. Yet it’s the Cage quirkiness that makes this stuff more watchable than you’d expect, especially when given the powerfully dramatic score that Laurent Eyquem has created as a very serious counterpoint to the unintentional laughs on hand foe this particularly grim picture – understandably changed from the character’s name of “Tokarev” to the one payback-title-fits all moniker of “Rage.”
Why Should You Buy It?: Recently impressing with his lyrical scores for the somewhat less vengeful films “Winnie Mandela” and “Copperhead,” Eyquem nonetheless knows how to play characters haunted by past acts of violence, more often than not with a sense of somber, often beautiful emotion. And he knows that the most powerful weapon in “Tokarev” are themes that cut to the bone, bringing out the mournful guilt of guys who thought they’ve put their brutal pasts behind them (or course until the VOD outrage-du-jour has them pull the knives and guns out in spades). Eyquem’s music poignantly captures “Tokarev’s” wages of sins as Cage is pulled into his inescapable descent into revenge. Lush, anguish-filled strings, delicate piano and the darkly angelic female voice of a dead daughter give no sense of pleasure, though they are certainly melodically rewarding to listen to. But when it comes to tailing the (always) Russian malefactors and getting behind the wheel for the big car chase, Eyquem knows well enough to break out the stalking, cimbalom-topped samples and rocking, percussive ammo.
Extra Special: Eyquem’s unabashedly woeful approach ends up being a real thing of melodic beauty in “Tokarev.” He hears its Cage-isms as things of sad, musical art, determined to go the pulp exploitation distance with a score that’s playing on a whole other level of drama. Props go again to Caldera Records for continuing their pattern of nicely designed graphics, informative liner notes by Gergely Hubai, and most noteworthy of all offering an audio addendum for the composer to explain their craft. Eyquem does so with truly heartfelt passion here as he reveals his own life’s tragedies that set him upon a fare more beatific course than Tokarev.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BIG HERO 6
Henry Jackman is becoming a superhero composer in a very big way, ranging from the dark side of the steely electronica that embodied “The Winter Soldier” to the satiric strains that makes the teen thug slayers of “Kick Ass” puff their chests out with the noble strains of Superman. It’s the latter camp of conveying the thrill of kids being given super-powered training wheels in scores like “X-Men First Class” that Jackman has really been excelling in, boisterous scoring that now takes on the form of an obese, fluffy white robot and his nerd fighting force for “Big Hero 6.” Where Jackman’s given his past comic book scores the threat of major bodily damage, “Big Hero 6” is pretty much all about jetting optimism taking on brassy, dastardly villainy, even if its loss that propels its young hero to team up his own anime-inspired nanobot-busters (why Marvel can’t acknowledge this Avengers-worthy film is their property remains anyone’s guess). There’s a stupendous wealth of wonderful, symphonically-fueled themes that sock home the Americana-meets-San Fransokyo joy of the good high-tech fight, as backed up by bubbling, retro synths that make “Big Hero 6” a kissing cousin to Jackman’s similarly enjoyable Disney score for “Wreck-It Ralph.” Jackman can write bouts of action scoring like no comic book composer’s business, long stretches of two-fisted, power-shooting fun that this score thrills with. But as always with winning Disney fare, it’s our emotional bonding with the often misfit heroes that proves to be the winning equation, as Jackman beautifully humanizes what’s essentially a big white pillow in human form as a gentle ‘bot with a heart of snuggly gold. “Big Hero 6” is epically accessible in its combo of old school symphonic heroism and musical retro-tech, conveying the kind of high flying wonder that no doubt will have kids running about to imagine their own flights of fancy as this soundtrack blasts in the background. One certainly can’t imagine a better, massive entry into Superhero Scoring 101 than this “6.”
. COLISEUM: GAMES OF ROME
When you hear the bugling horns of arriving generals, rousing strings befitting a chariot race or the smashing percussion of fight to the death, you’d think you’d just slipped though some soundtrack time warp and had landed the score to “Wanted” director Timur Bekambetov’s 2016 reboot of “Ben-Hur.” But what you’re in fact listening to here is Marc Timon Barcelo’s impossibly cinematic music for a live, European-produced stadium show celebrating the first Hunger Games, where the audience is very likely entertained by seeing the “Gladiator”-esque fight for redemption of an unjustly disgraced soldier-nobleman. Judging from this immense, and lushly-produced score that Charlton Heston and Russell Crowe would be proud to call their own, it’s a show that definitely pulled out all the stops – no more so than in giving Barcelo a majestic symphonic orchestra to fill any arena with. It’s certainly a major step up from his last Movie Score Media release of “The Little Wizard,” as Barcelo unleashes a greatest hits parade of everything you loved in ancient blockbusters, yet very much in his own voice as he pays musical tribute to such predecessors as Rozsa, Zimmer and Holst. Tribal drums unleash hordes of barbarians, Egyptian rhythms dance with temptation, sweet harps serenade Cleopatra, battle sequences rock with ferocity and lavish waves of choral melody give its hero a biblical sense of nobility. “Coliseum’s” live recreation of Rome practically explodes with this old school feel of musical mythmaking that’s a glorious throwback to the days when Hollywood was confident in their thematically symphonic muscle to give real mass to men in armor. This “Coliseum” might hail Caesar, but “The Games of Rome” more importantly announces some major talent in Marc Timon Barcelo for a score that definitely deserves a home on sword and sandal celluloid.
. FAR CRY 4
When Cliff Martinez was last in Asia, it was providing an enticingly weird, Bernard Herrmann-meets-Asian techno rock beat atmosphere for “Only God Forgives,” a miserably violent film whose only dispensation was likely given to Martinez’s brilliant score. But if his music may have been hampered by a mopey western hero out to bring biblical punishment on himself in Thailand’s red light district, the even more ultra-violent (if imaginary) open-world land of Kiryat gives the composer the chance to do far more exploration, this time battling a warlord, and picking sides between those out to depose him in this Himalayan-like land. The beautifully envisioned country of snow-covered mountains and mystical tigers proves of more interest to Martinez than foes to musically harpoon, shoot and otherwise eviscerate in his overall ethereal approach to “Far Cry 4.” But then, Martinez has never been an exploding car / bullet-to-the-head kind of composer to begin with (though he certainly hasn’t shirked that call of duty). Given what’s essentially his first major videogame score, Martinez braces those usual rock-action rhythms with an array of Asian and Indian instruments with action-telling traditions reaching back to the days of Sanskrit, including the Ney, Punji, Yayli Tambour, Balinese Suling flute and Tibetan throat singing in his arsenal. This is a score that’s definitely in its own, distinctive country as opposed to a retread down avenging angel lane. The result is a miasma of action cuts that go amazingly deep in their layering of ethnic beats with techno-industrial percussion – of course given a dose of Martinez’s favored Crystal Baschet that’s distinguished such scores as “Solaris” and “Traffic.” But it’s truly the wash of meditative tunes that are the most enchanting aspect of “Far Cry 4” beyond the boys-with-death dealing toys aspect of our hero’s endeavor, as Martinez seems to take in the entire bell-ringing, horn-blowing ensemble of every Tibetan temple in sight with hypnotic, chiming melodies. On one hand, his “Far Cry 4” is about meting out electrified punishment, and on the other, it’s about turning to a mesmerizing musical spirit animal for peace. The charm is that his impressive, all-enveloping music for “Far Cry 4” works equally well in true open world fashion, delivering the rhythmic first person, Asian-inflected hyperbeat shooting while reaching to the Buddhist heavens with an open palm to achieve a hypnotic sense of transcendence.
Rob Simonsen is one composer who knows the rich are different from you and me, especially when it comes to their propensity for murder. But while he’d already gone inside the mind of one well-off psychopath with his drivingly suspenseful score for “All Good Things,” that musical exploration of a real-life killer who held his lethal intent close to his chest seems like pure, emotive opera when compared the absolute coldness that Simonsen brings to the hawk-nosed John Du Pont, an entitled, wrestling-loving scion of immense wealth who put one of the men he seemingly admired in his grave. This true crime plays out with near-complete detachment in the hands of filmmaker Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” who’s chilly direction has inspired a transfixing, tightly-wound score from Simonsen and his tag team comprised of West Dylan Thordson and composing mentor Mychael Danna. Yet surprisingly, it’s their beyond-subtle music that provides “Foxcatcher” with the true emotion an audience can grapple onto. With strings barely speaking above a whisper, Simonsen conveys a pathetic, social misfit who’s cut off from human contact, a loneliness heard through solo piano, Americana brass that conveys the nobility that’s part and parcel of a fortune made during the American revolution and the especially evocative cello work of Jacob Cohen (a musician discovered playing in the decidedly uncouth environs of a Manhattan subway by Simonsen). The forlorn, weirdly poignant score captures Du Pont’s mansion as an island of lost souls for the Olympic hopefuls he brings together, intentions of victory that reveal a quickly unraveling core through twisted cello effects, sustaining melody creating an sense of inevitable, quietly awful tragedy. Miller has also cannily chosen tunes that reflect on Du Pont’s weirdly patriotic nature, from Bob Dylan’s “This Land Is Your Land” to the brain-buzzing voice samples that dance o the edge of “Times Achanging,” with the final, poetically haunted bleakness of the soundtrack conveyed with the ten minute, solo piano of Arvo Part’s “Fur Alina,” While “Foxcatcher” looks inside the dead eyes of an inscrutable, entitled killer and finds not much looking back beyond Steve Carrell’s incredibly good off-putting performance, the melancholy lyricism that Simonsen puts into the music is anything but limited in its enforced restraint.
Splatter-rific director Alexandre Aja (“The Hills Have Eyes,” “Mirrors”) finally finds a heart in horror, as opposed to just ripping one out, with this unexpectedly exceptional adaptation of the novel from “Locke & Key’s” Joe Hill (a.k.a Stephen King’s son), which finds a decidedly un-Potter-esque Daniel Radcliffe as the anti-hero of a seemingly satanic spin on “Liar Liar.” One particularly blazing element that modernizes the fairy tale elements that “Horns” ingeniously plays with is its score by “Rock the Casbah’s” Robin Courdert (simply billed as “Rob” here), who takes a similarly far more emotional approach to the genre than his previously visceral score to “Maniac.” For what drives “Horns” is true love torn asunder by a vicious murder, an achingly tragic mystery captured with a strikingly melancholy theme that takes supernatural shape with strings, piano, glass-like samples and a heavenly voices. But yet there’s something more horrifically eccentric, and sometimes humorous afoot with our devilish avenger, whose vinyl-loving DJ profession is captured with grunge guitar as mysterioso orchestrations sending his investigation deeper into a pit of anger and regret. Rob builds the alternately malefic and movingly poignant intensity of Izzys’ investigation until all thematically choral hell breaks loose. Coming across like a score that could have fit an updated “Brothers Grimm” fable, Rob’s effective, and very human score works so well by showing that that devil does care.
. A MERRY FRIGGIN’ CHRISTMAS
Such is the snark culture of The War on Christmas that whenever we hear one of those old holiday chestnuts in every movie from “1941” to “Elf,” then it’s no doubt intended as the height of ornamental irony – as we know those singers are belting out their cheerful lyrics over scenes of screwball family’s going for each other’s gift-wrapped throats. It’s surefire comedy magic as golden as treetop star (or yellow snow), which makes “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas’” soundtrack an especially delicious bell ringer, led off by Rufus Wainwright’s swinging rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” And the knowingly (or not) eccentric spins on the Santa standards keep rolling with a particular spin on country, from the clopping reindeer and sleigh country guitar of Chuck Meade’s “Jingle Bells” to Ryan Culwell’s weary “ho ho ho’s” on “It’s Christmastime I Know” and Aaron Tipton’s strumming “Silent Night” with a voice as deep as Merle Haggard. The Yuletide song eggnog continues to get spiked by Ben Kweller’s Sex Pistol’s approved “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The California Feetwarmers give a Dixieland spin to “Up on the Housetop,” and Anna Su‘s oh-so-adorable strumming of “Santa Will Be Flying Over the Moon.” Yet like all of these movies where even the grinchiest Bad Santa gets into the holiday spirit, “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” finds its heart, with Spencer Shapeero’s acoustical “The Weather Outside,” Alex Rhodes’ Charlie Brown-worthy arrangement for “Best Time of Year” and John Isaac Watters’ longing “Gently, Mary Laid Her Child” warming our hearts. By the time the Rufus Wainwright returns to bookend this utterly charming album with the poignant, piano-topped “Christmas is for Kids,” “Merry” has of course revealed itself as a big old softie Scrooge. It’s an album equally good for squabbling, and hugging the relatives you can’t stand under the mistletoe.
MY SCIENCE PROJECT
It’s certainly not an easy thing proceeding in the footsteps of a legendary film composer, a task that requires one’s own voice while giving the people who hire you the feeling that they’re getting just a bit of dad’s magic in the bargain. One particularly unsung scion who’s certainly distinguished himself among the few maor studio scores (though plentiful TV ones) on his resume is Peter Bernstein (“L.A. Story”), Elmer’s talented offspring who began his career as an orchestrator on his dad’s scores like “Meatballs” and “Heavy Metal.” Bernstein got some particularly fun Hollywood assignments on his own during the 80s with “Silent Rage,” “Class Reunion” and “The Ewok Advenure.” But for all of those furball’s adorablity, no score during that decade allowed Bernstein to strut both his epic sci-fi stuff and 80s rock-pop chops like 1985s “My Science Project.” The third, and practically forgotten of of the “mad science” teen movies from that one crazy summer that counted “Weird Science” and “Real Genius” among them. This oddball Disney genre film (directed by “The Last Starfighter’s” writer Jonathan Betuel) had a bunch of high schoolers go dino-busting when their nutty professor (of course played by Dennis Hopper) goes way too far with a mysterious orb his students have discovered. Bernstein meets the challenge with a terrific, swirling orchestral score that gives a real sense of magical grandeur to the film’s often unexpectedly violent shenenigans, full of swirling strings, military percussion, sweeping romance and awe-striking moments of symphonic revelation that you can imagine opening up the dimensional barriers of Zuul. Listening to the sheer, energetically fun cosmic spectacle of “My Science Project,” it’s no wonder that Peter was an orchestrator on pop’s “Ghostbusters,” as that classic score’s rambunctious spirit is very much on display here, conveying a disbelieving attitude to an array of world-ending threats jumping from the wormhole, each given a distinctively fun voice, among them a tyranosaurus’ rampaging brass, savages’ tribal drums, Roman heraldry and playfully eerie electronic effects. And given that was a noble, if box office failed attempt for Disney to grab the 1985 youth audience, Bernstein also provides some truly groove rock-pop grooves tthat make “My Science Project” both timelessly symphonic and synthily groovy, especially when you’ve got The Tubes prividing the title song. Now at long last given voice by Intrada, a label that particularly digs Disney’s often oddball 80s output, “My Science Project” shines as one of the era’s most impressive genre scores, showing Bernstein as both a chip off the iconic composing block, and a talent very much his own who definitely deserves a return to the studio special effects laboratory.
. ONE ON ONE
Varese Sarabande follows up their release of “The Idolmaker” with another golden (if not so) oldie song-driven soundtrack with “One On One,” in this case featuring the Southern breeze-esque soft rock duo of Seals and Crofts. Their gentle, folksy voices provided the inspirational ballads that helped teen heartthrob Robby Benson sink in the points for this surprisingly smart, circa-1977 view of a basketball prodigy discovering the point spread that truly propels his college scholarship, bouncing between G.D. Spradlin’s slimy coach and the vivacious beauty of more-than-tutor Annette O’Toole. The meaningful lyrics, and often poignant vocals of such tunes as “My Fair Share,” “The Day Belongs to Me” and “It’ll Be All Right” represent a pretty much lost art in films of song-as-storytelling, effectively becoming the soft pop conscience, and yearning of a once-cocksure kid trying to find his way through the game of life, with the alternately bouncy, and gently driving rhythm of each song pushing the story forward while hitting whatever action’s on screen. With tunes like “John Wayne” having the harmonica playing, guitar-strumming energy that will satisfy Seals and Crofts fans (minus any viewing of the film itself), these also succeed as memorably melodic songs that represented the “Rocky”-sparked resurgence in underdog sports movies. If the instrumentals often feel like the opening tunes to some television series from the era, then credit to their memorable thematic hooks would go to composer Charles Fox, author of such iconic 70s TV titles as “Love Boat” and “Wonder Woman.” Here he contributes pop scoring at its best, using the song melodies as themes, while varying from lite, cheerful jazz funk to more introspective, classically-influenced piano rhythms that took off on the spirit of Bill Conti, while also being very much in the key of the smooth, electric keyboard heavy scores by such jazz compatriots as Dave Grusin and David Foster. All in all, “One on One” makes for a greatly enjoyable score that will equally please fans of Seals and Crofts, Robby Benson admirers and wearers of a certain soundtrack hairstyle age where positive, soft pop rock vibes were the real inspirational deal. Here’s hoping that Varese Sarabande keeps digging into this vast wellspring of 70s solid, sport-centric soundtrack gold like “The One and Only,” scores that are just waiting to make a CD play.
After such long-awaited releases as “Young Sherlock Holmes,” “Silverado” and “Tombstone” (I’ll even give “So I Married an Axe Murderer” a mulligan) Intrada continues their justifiable love of the symphonic talents of Bruce Broughton, who was at the top of his suspense game when in partnership with filmmaker-of-all-hats Peter Hyams on “The Presidio” and “Narrow Margin.” While the soundtrack for their second collaboration is long sold-out, one can now visit a certain 1988 San Francisco miitary installation with throttling action to spare for the first official time. Indeed, “The Presidio’s” “Chinatown Chase” still stands as one of the great races in cinema history, an on-foot automobile vaulting sequence between perp (of course given Hyams’ favorite villain name of Spota) and Mark Harmon’s streetwise ex-military cop. Broughton’s ever-escalating, breathlessly thematic interplay between percussion and brass is a textbook example on how to score an action scene (as is his cue for “The Car Chase”), and its this particularly beloved track that’s made “The Presidio” a favorite among his fans. There’s plenty to grippingly savor as well in this investigation guarded over by Sean Connery’s Scottish-accented American Colonel for a score highlighted by a memorable, mysterious theme for piano and keyboard, dark brass and lush strings, the tingling stuff of 70s thrillers given an 80s synth touch here, especially during the “Presidio’s” more romantic cues for Meg Ryan. And given nine minutes for a “Waterhouse Fight,” Broughton shows his sneaking dexterity for keyboard perussion, ominous strings and liquid-like gestures before shooting off bursts of his action theme, his music given tense control that’s continued to distinguish him as one of Hollywood’s most dexterously thematic composers, especially when given the chance to track a murderer in Hyams’s one-two suspense punch, or convey darkly patriotic nobility (which he’d get to do even more explosively in the underrated “Shadow Conspiracy”). Where you previously had to break into an army base to get a hold of “The Presidio’s” composer promo, Intrada’s new, unlimited release offers up the score plus about ten minutes of alternate cues that build onto this score’s deserved status way beyond its exhilarating foot chase.
RIO CONCHOS (1,200 edition)
The Wild West first helped put Jerry Goldsmith on the Hollywood map with his 1957 feature debut score to “Black Patch,” a trail he’d continue to blaze right through to the 90s with the likes “The Ballade of Cable Hogue” and “Bad Girls.” But if there was a decade where the composer’s style shot off in leaps and bounds, then it was the 1960s with “Stagecoach.” “Hour of the Gun” and “100 Rifles.” But if there’s one sagebrush soundtrack of his with blazing western attitude to spare, while also embodying Goldsmith’s burgeoning style, then it’s arguably 1964s “Rio Conchos,” wherein a bunch of revenge-crazed ex-Confederate takes on a former southerner now selling weapons to Apaches. Goldsmith gets the adventure rolling right away with a memorable, whip-cracking theme with attitude to spare, immediately setting the sunbaked Mexican environs with orchestra, harmonica and a pokey guitar in a manner that might be called a more traditional take on the spaghetti insanity that Ennio Morricone introduced the same year before with “A Fistful of Dollars.” Goldsmith’s melody drives this expansive, yet often broodingly psychological score, giving a true sense of the journey these hard men take to stop the of-course gun-crazy savages, getting across both a sense of rollicking adventure and mysterious percussion that sets a primitive tone for the Forbidden Zone his music would trek across in “Planet of the Apes.” The military rhythms and wild brass that also distinguished Goldsmith’s powerful, army-centric scores like “Patton” and “In Harm’s Way” are also on hand, while his treatment of a lonely Indian has all the sparkling, Oriental atmosphere of “The Sand Pebbles.” And when it comes to staccato, trumpeting action, Goldsmith’s cues would be right at home on stage with Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” wild rhythms that are now turned into fandango violence. Where “Rio Conchos” had come out completely before on Film Score Monthly, Kritzerland continues their tradition of shining up a score’s classic boots by releasing this benchmark score for the first time in what’s nearly all stereo, technologically made possible by soundtrack restorationist Mike Matessino, who’s also done s similarly vibrant job for Kritzerland’s new edition of Bernard Herrmann’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” The results are a real spit-shine for this benchmark Goldsmith score, a rousing tribute to the composer’s distinctive way with heroic, often mean men riding into the stuff of Hollywood legend, along with a career destined for it.
Composer Howard Shore has usually traveled to the Middle East under nightmarish circumstances, from the surreal jazz-spiced, drug-addicted tableau of William S. Burroughs’ “Interzone” (i.e. Tangiers) in “Naked Lunch” (recently expanded on his HOWE label) to ancient, Arabic sounds literally being an exotically terrifying place of mind for a serial killer’s “Cell.” Now Shore gets locked inside of an Iranian prison whose interrogator smells of “Rosewater” in what stands as his most realistic take on a region beset by religion-dictated fascism. Yet what’s surprising is that for all of the threat that dances about, or directly pounces upon its journalist due to his appearance on host-turned-filmmaker Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” Shore mostly chooses to center his East meets West ensemble on a relative key of optimism. It’s the feeling of humanity as its own musical spirituality, with Iranian winds and percussion doing a subtle moving in subtle tandem with guitar, strings and hauntingly eerie electronics. Shore’s poetically contrasts the dark of a cell with the light its hero lets in through his memories of freedom, a score whose often-beautiful lyricism refuses to break under pressure. Given how dense Shore’s writing can get, the relatively stripped-down essence of “Rosewater” is all the more powerful for its subtlety in painting its theme of transcendence in the midst of a spirit-crushing experience, with the composer offering his most accessible, and at times hip-hop groovy Middle Eastern score to represent people desperately hoping to take its country forward into a modern, democratic society. Notable source tunes also filter through “Rosewater,” from the mental escape of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” to jazzily hip-hop rhythms of such decidedly progressive Arabic artists as 25 Band and Mahdyar Aghajani, all complementing a listen whose theme in the sound of hope flowering amidst a true desert.
. TITAN A.E.
It was a giant leap for Don Bluth to go from the talking animal, kid-friendly toon likes of “The Secret of NIMH,” “An American Tail” and “All Dogs Go To Heaven” to the interstellar, teen-targeted space opera called “Titan A.E.” Voiced by such stars as Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore and Bill Pullman, this visually impressive, if unwieldy animated epic threw in a kitchen sink of sci-fi influences from “Star Wars” to “Space Hunter.” But if its intentions of being an intergalactic animated epic (along with the similarly sunk “Treasure Planet”) succeeded on one level, then it was by giving New Zealand composer Graeme Revel one of his biggest symphonic scores yet, the entirety of which is finally offered on La La Land’s 79-minute release. This former mental asylum aid worker and avant-garde industrial SPK rocker caused a minor sensation when he rocked the Hollywood scoring boat with the 1989 import “Dead Calm,” his use of breath-rhythms and warped chorus setting him on a path to mixing more traditional orchestral approaches with alternative rock and world music beats in such relatively unconventional action scores as “Hard Target,” “No Escape” and “The Saint.” 2000 A.D.’s “Titan A.E.” was a year that marked a particular sci-fi renaissance for Revell with “Pitch Black, “ “Red Planet” and the “Dune” TV miniseries. And with the resources of a hopefully 20th Century Fox tentpole behind him, Revell showed his talent for conjuring grand, Williams-esque melodies in the service of another punk kid seeking brave new horizons, with particular emphasis on noble brass, revelatory strings and sparkling percussion for a mystical star map. But what makes “Titan A.E” way more interesting than a “Star Wars” score wannabe is Revell’s alternative touch that brings in Aussie aboriginal voices, ancient wind instruments and tribal drumming to give the score a true touch of alien exotica, as well as bizarre synth samples that bring gnarly CGI sheen to the metallic Drej villains, with percolating electronics giving extra, hip thrust to the battle sequences. It’s a combination of blazingly thematic orchestral tradition and a feel of rock and roll daring that truly makes “Titan A.E.” an especially hip, and symphonically satisfying work in Revell’s repertoire, finally given its chance to fully shine after the film’s box office reception scotched its release back in the day. Jeff Bond’s especially informative, and honest liners trace “Titan’s” evolution from live action to animation, while appreciating the epic unconventionality of Revell’s approach for a thrillingly massive score that’s sci-fi in the true musical definition of that term’s sense of coolly odd discovery.
. WORLD OF WARCRAFT: THE WARLORDS OF DRAENOR
Every time Blizzard brings out the fifth expansion of their “World of Warcraft” universe, their music gets even more titanic in matching the franchise’s Tolkien meets D & D ambitions Now with the Orc rampage that makes for the “Warlords of Draenor,” “Warcraft’s” scoring reaches the scales a new peak of sonic magnitude. Credit goes to battle-hardened WOW players Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Clint Bajakian, Sam Cardon, Craig Stuart Garfinkle, Edo Guidotti and Eimear Noone, humans who knows the musical ins and outs of these never-ending domains, not to mention all the powers it takes to conjure up goblin armies, mages, elves and rangers – all of whose melodic characteristics are cast in this truly wide-ranging album. Starting off with a raging orchestra whose armor is forged percussion and voices, “Draenor” hammers in its mythic menace in a “Siege of Worlds” that lives up to all the grandeur of that title. And while impressive sound and fury follow for quite a bit, “Draenor” steadily opens up its styles to show itself off as far more than thrilling fantasy thrash, bringing out tender violins, spell-filled religioso voices, bird song, mischievous flutes, Arabic winds and even a stomping Irish jig that capture all of the wonder, and perils of jumping about alternate Orc worlds. Yet though beyond dense in its cosmic wall of sound, there’s always a sense of true enchantment to this flowing soundtrack, a continuous sense of heroic, and darkly sinister discovery to familiar musical worlds of past, fire-breathing dragons and valiant warriors. With a gold-spilling wealth of themes and melody, WOW is a true musical quest that’s as constantly energetic to listen to as it is for the people to play the game, especially with a furiously skilled orchestra-of-thousands performance that puts an axe solidly into the noggin of naysayers who think that video game music hasn’t come of movie age. Indeed, one could easily imagine the music of “Draenor” rushing headlong into a battle of the bands with the armies of a certain other group of fantasy brothers hitting theaters this Christmas, with the winner of sheer, epically thematic fantasy scoring anyone’s guess.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Movie Score Media, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande
[c.137]Ennio Morricone will resume his European tour on February 1st in Amsterdam. The Maestro's 2014 tour was delayed due to health complications.
Morricone said "[i]t is with great joy that I can finally say that I have truly, fully recovered. I am most grateful for the loyalty that my audiences around Europe have shown. It was with great sadness that I have had to cancel and reschedule so many concerts during the past year."
This past year has proved a trial for the composer of more than 500 film and television scores and winner of an Honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement. He underwent back surgery and was originally hoping to return to the concert hall next month, but physicians recommended he allow himself more time for recuperation.
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.1154]John Paesano ([m.42112]The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials), [c.564]Christophe Beck ([m.35583]Peanuts), [c.1730]Andrew Hewitt ([m.42548]The Stanford Prison Experiment), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 43 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-11-17]Click here for the full schedule.
Only [m.34618]The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (with music by [c.151]James Newton Howard) is opening nationwide this week.
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song credits for:
- [m.34618]The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2 songs)
- [m.41985]Pulp: A...
Disney's recent hit [m.35579]Big Hero 6 features a score from composer [c.1480]Henry Jackman. Fellow composer [c.75]Nick Glennie-Smith conducted the recording of the score with the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the Newman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox. Our friends at [url.http://scoringsessions.com/news/280/]ScoringSessions.com have made pictures of the session available.
[a.13776]Big Hero 6 - Original Score was released digitally on [da.2014-11-04]November 4 and will be released on CD on [da.2014-11-24]November 24. The [a.13874]Big Hero 6 Bundle, which includes the score on CD and a vinyl pressing of "Immortals" by Fall Out Boy, will be released [da.2014-12-16]December...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.14]Marco Beltrami ([m.41410]Hitman: Agent 47), [c.682]Marius De Vries ([m.42445]Strange Magic), [c.14425]Mark Ronson and [c.1271]Geoff Zanelli ([m.40774]Mortdecai), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 44 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-11-10]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.39563]Beyond the Lights ([c.91]Mark Isham) and [m.39504]Dumb and Dumber To ([c.14257]Empire of the Sun).
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song credits for:
- [m.39563]Beyond the Lights (38 songs)
Oscar nominated composer [c.752]Alexandre Desplat will be conducting the London Symphony Orchestra next month in a concert which will include music from [m.30730]The King's Speech, [m.32588]Argo, [m.38812]The Imitation Game, and many others. Prior to the concert, which is titled "The Magic and Majesty of Alexandre Desplat," he will host a pre-concert talk.
Thursday, December 11 at Barbican Hall
6:30 PM: Pre-Concert Talk
7:30 PM: The Magic and Majesty of Alexandre Desplat
For further details and tickets, visit...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.560]Lisa Gerrard and [c.1836]Marcello De Francisci ([m.39499]Jane Got a Gun), [c.14354]Jason Moran ([m.41458]Selma), [c.200]Howard Shore ([m.42372]Silence), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 47 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-11-03]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.35579]Big Hero 6 ([c.1480]Henry Jackman) and [m.36450]Interstellar ([c.237]Hans Zimmer).
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song credits for:
- [m.35579]Big Hero 6 (3 songs)
- [m.36450]Interstellar (no...
Varèse Sarabande Records will release [a.13989]Hector and the Search for Happiness Original Motion Picture Soundtrack digitally on [da.2014-11-10]November 10, 2014. The soundtrack features the original score composed by Juno Award-winning Canadian musicians [c.12731]Dan Mangan and [c.13918]Jesse Zubot.
"I did something I've wanted to do for a very long time and that is to have a singer-songwriter score a film," said writer/director Peter Chelsom. "I think these days they are as much, if not better, melody makers than a lot of composers. Because it's a fable, it needed a strong identity, a 'through line'. I wanted themes that became songs and songs that became themes, rather than the usual film score."
"Peter likes music that 'almost isn't there.' He used that...
More than ever in science fiction, humans are being proven to inferior, doomed species in the face of the infinitely more compassionate creations they now want to destroy. It’s a message that science fiction cinema has increasingly hammered in, whether the lab-born synthetics were virtually indistinguishable from us (“Blade Runner,” “A.I,” “The Machine”) or had an artificial appearance that led us to think it was impossible for them to have a soul (“I, Robot”). But now, even the most pathetically abused, humanoid-shaped machines are given the grace of God in “Automata,” no more so than in the gorgeous spirituality of its score by Zacarias M. de la Riva. Infused with Latin verse, warm string melodies, and suspended electronics, these robots are truly Children of The Creator in this remarkable soundtrack, and film.
Sure “Automata” is constructed from the scrapheap of sci-fi antecedents, yet in much the same brilliant way that every next-gen genre classic from “The Terminator” to “The Matrix” has been. It’s familiarity taken to the next level of discovery as Antonio Banderas’ burned out robot insurance Jacq is sent from his gloomy, retro-fitted future city to discover what’s behind the impossible glitch in his company’s machines. But when he ends up being seemingly kidnapped through the radiation-baked wastelands by the his products, the emotionally wiped protagonist discovers that these followers of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics have their own promised land in mind.
Marking Spain’s most ambitious English language effort yet into the kind of genre filmmaking that bears the Hollywood bar code, “Automata” marks the most impressive, not to mention musically epic collaboration between director and co-writer Gabe Ibanez and Zacarias M. de la Riva after the far more horrifically-minded “Hierro.” Where Ibanez started off in CGI for agent provocateur director Alex de la Iglesias on “The Day of the Beast” and “Perdita Durango,” the Barcelonan-born de la Riva began his studies in telecommunications before switching into movie composition at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. Serving as an orchestrator to Roque Banos on “800 Bullets” and “The Machinist,” de la Riva applied his own, impressively melodic skills to thrillers in particular with “Imago Mortis,” and “Exorcismus,” as balanced with more child-friendly, animated melodies for “Snowflake, the White Gorilla” and “Tad, the Lost Explorer” (with many of his scores available through Movie Score Media).
But it’s the orchestral majesty and memory bank of impressive themes in “Automata” that just might be de la Riva’s breakthrough when it comes to following the Spain-to-Hollywood migration of such other notable composers as Banos, Javier Navarette and Alberto Iglesias. For “Automata” is easily on the level of any studio blockbuster score, though one done with an intelligence worthy of his metallic subjects. De la Riva fuses modern classicism and impressionism as eerie electronics and percussion convey a seeming robot threat, an aching cello linking human anguish to the despair of their cast-off creations. But as “Automata’s” visual scope widens, de la Riva equally broadens his score with a symphonically rhythmic sense of wonder that reaches a striking, religious requiem, all while delivering the dark threat of humans come to permanently put the robots we’ve come to love in their place. But most importantly of all, de la Riva’s score opens up both deadened human emotion as it expresses the feelings within the blank, locked faces of what stand as some of the most realistically believable robots yet seen in film. It’s a conceptual intelligence, firing on every circuit, that makes “Automata” worthy of the Spielberg-Williams “A.I.” crown, especially with de la Riva’s sumptuous orchestral melody and use of voice to convey the holy ghosts within the machine, an emotionally organic technology he now discusses.
Tell us about what attracted you to film scoring, and were science fiction scores a part of it?
I fell in love with movies as a kid. I don’t remember exactly what movie was my first, but it was the time when all those incredible movies were being made. Films like “Superman,” “Star Wars,” “Close Encounters,” “Raiders of the lost Ark,” “E.T.,” “Back to the Future,” etc. It was through those movies, almost all science fiction movies, that I started to love film music and John Williams especially.
How do you think working as an orchestrator for Roque Banos on such scores as “800 Bullets” and “The Machinist” helped prepare you for your own composing career, and how did you make that solo breakthrough?
Working for Roque was like being in the best film scoring school in the world. I would send him my orchestrations printed on paper and he would return them filled with red markings all over the place: “This is going to sound better this way, this bowing here, double that with clarinets, etc.’ Being able to watch and learn from the inside, seeing how he managed to solve scenes dramatically, how he produced the mockups and how he used the orchestra, is one of the greatest learning experiences I’ve ever had. About my solo breakthrough. Back in 2004-2005 I had done some co-composing for Filmax in two movies “El Cid, The Legend” and “The Nun”. And they offered me their newest Fantastic Factory movie, Brian Yuzna’s “Beneath Still Waters”. I probably feel that movie is my solo breakthrough, since it allowed me to continue working for Filmax, which made me more visible to the industry.
How did you come aboard “Automata?”
I’ve known Gabe Ibáñez, the director, for some years now. We worked together in his first feature film “Hierro”. So I was one of the composers considered for “Automata.” When I learnt that Gabe had finished filming and was beginning to edit, I knew it was the time to start bothering him so I began sending him music “inspired” by what I knew about the movie. Then I would drop by to see how the editing was going. I insisted and lucky for me I got the job!
Though you’ve done horror scores like “Imago Mortis,” I believe that “Automata” is your first outright sci-fi score. What was it like tackling that genre?
Well, it’s kind of weird now that I think of it because although it is my first pure sci-fi score, the music came out more naturally than often. Probably because I am a big fan of sci-fi. I’ve done a few horror movies and animation movies as well, and it’s always so hard when I have to compose to those genres.
What do you think makes “Automata” different from the movies that have inspired it, i.e. “Blade Runner” and “I, Robot?”
I agree with you that “Blade Runner” might be an influence, but I think that the biggest influence in “Automata” are those science fiction movies of the 60’s and 70’s like “Planet of the Apes,” “The Omega Man” and “The Andromeda Strain.” “Automata” takes elements from all these movies, but combines them in a different way. I think this combination is what makes “Automata” unique.
Tell us about your collaboration with filmmaker Gabe Ibanez, and how you developed your themes for “Automata?”
The creative process with Gabe is always intense. It is an exhausting challenge, but a useful and immensely interesting one. He is extremely careful with every aspect of the creative process. During our spotting sessions we discussed at length the use of leitmotivs. “Automata” is a movie that moves constantly between two levels. The first and obvious one is the science fiction thriller. The second, less apparent is the sensorial level, the philosophical, the metaphysical, the one that dwells with the essence of the being and its reality, human or robotic. The resolution of this dichotomy was what this movie required musically. Making the coexistence of these two levels possible.
How did the use of “real” robots influence your score?
I don’t think it did influence my music. Although it was really strange to see in the first cuts of the movie all these puppeteers manipulating the robots.
It’s a given in movies like this that the robots are far more human than the humans. In that respect, how did you want to the score to develop into more obviously orchestral, and emotional dimensions as the film progresses?
For me the central axis around which the movie revolves is the spiritual axis. And it’s with accurate use of the orchestra and especially the choir that we can elevate the music to this spiritual world. Around this central axis many other pieces revolve that have their share of importance inside the score: the robotic ambiguity, the concept of technological singularity, the protagonist melancholy and the human violence. All this “themes” keep developing throughout the movie as the emotions they accompany become more and more complex.
Did you want to give “Automata” more of a classical sound then the kind of propulsive, sample-based one that most sci-fi scores have now?
I don’t think I would be able to do properly this type of propulsive sample based music you are mentioning. My belief was that for the music to work in those two levels I was talking about before (science fiction thriller and the spiritual-philosophical) I needed the use of an orchestra and a choir. It’s true that the soundtrack features a lot of samplers, but in most cases it was due to budget restrictions more than anything else.
Your use of the cello gives a particular sense of sadness that suffuses “Automata.” How important was it to play that melancholy, while also giving a glimmer of hope to the movie?
Well, that was probably one of the biggest challenges of this particular score. On the one hand, Jacq, our protagonist, is exhausted of living. We see him walking with his back bent; his face looking tired all the time. He’s had enough of this polluted city. He doesn’t like his job. He doesn’t like the flat he lives in. But on the other hand, we see his dreams of the sea, of a better future. His wife is pregnant, and that gives him a drive to keep going. I thought the cello could portray this two confronting feelings in a proper way.
Do you think the orchestra gives more a “weight” in terms of production value to a relatively lower budget movie iike “Automata?” Did you use any particular approach to get an especially epic impact when you need it?
No, I don’t really feel that way. I am familiar with complete synthesized scores (Vangelis’ “Blade Runner” to mention one) that have the same “weight” as a full orchestral score. I think it really depends on what the movie needs. This score doesn’t have that many big orchestral hits, as science fiction scores nowadays do. It’s probably because this is not the normal type of science fiction movie of today. I do remember one epic impact though, probably one of my favorite moments in the movie in which I feel that the music emphasizes the tone of the movie with proper strength and character. It is a long scene made of two very important moments in the movie, the death of the automaton Bold and the birth of a new robot. The big challenge here was to make the music flow naturally from Bold’s death, which is a slow build up till he is shot and falls to the ground, into a new and stronger musical gesture that is constantly building up through bursts of different parts of the orchestra while the choir delivers those strange syllables ending in a big epic orchestral hit as we see the new robot finally coming to live. That’s, I think, the only big epic orchestral impact throughout the soundtrack.
Was the use of voice important to reflect emotion and character from their “locked” faces?
This exact point I discussed with Gabe extensively. We decided that we needed the viewer to empathize with the robots right from the beginning. To “feel sorry for them.” A very direct way of accomplishing that is by using the choir.
Did you want to give a particularly feminine touch to the robot character of Cleo?
Well, I am not sure if it’s a feminine touch but the first time we see Cleo, is in this futuristic dungeon filled with blue neon lights. Jacq approaches her cautiously, he doesn’t know what to expect from this sex robot. It is one of the scenes I like most in the movie. I underscored it with an airy sampled voice that gives the scene a strange atmosphere; I wouldn’t know really how to describe it. But it’s neither menacing nor innocent.
How did you want to play the particular menace of the humans?
There are three distinctive scenes that feature human violence. Those three scenes are treated exactly with the same music. It’s a percussive piece created using vintage synthesizers. It’s strange sounding, raw, edgy and creates a deliberate chaotic atmosphere.
How did you want the chorus to reflect the movie’s religious metaphors as well, and what was the translation of the Latin requiem that plays over the end of “We Want To Live?”
The choir is used in three different ways:
A) Associated to the robots in a way that the viewer will empathize with them (as we mentioned before). This creates an interesting counterpoint between something genuine and natural, like the human voice and something artificial like a robot.
B) Associated to the concepts of robotic ambiguity and technological singularity. In other words, we used the choir when the robots were doing something out of the ordinary, something they were not supposed to be able to do. Like in the beginning of the album’s third track “Robot On Fire” where a welder robot sets itself on fire.
c) The third one relates to the idea of humankind being eradicated by radiation while this new robotic race takes over. This is portrayed in two different ways: 1) a two chord little anthem that appears in many different places (track 1 at 0:46, track 8 at 1:20, track 10 at 1:18, track 13 at 2:28) and The Requiem. The choir sings: “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine.” These words come from the “Introitus” of any Requiem Mass. They mean more or less: “Lord give them eternal rest.”
Once Jacq is in the desert, you use some impressionistic writing that has “2001” feel to it. Did you want to convey a weird sense of wonder to this wasteland? And were there any particular composers that influenced the score’s more modernistic moments?
This desert scene you are talking about, when Jacq realizes that he is in the desert alone with this robots and commands them to go back to the city with no success, is the very first one Gabe showed me. It was temp tracked with Goldsmith’s “Planet of the Apes”. In fact, Gabe in our first conversations about “Automata’”s music frequently mentioned this Goldsmith’s score. He loved the audacity and the sound of it. He suggested that we should follow that path somehow. But when they started editing, they realized that this type of music was too “complicated” for this day and age, and that we couldn’t go as far as “Planet of the Apes” type of score. Goldsmith used many atonal devices in that score that would just not work in ours. We also knew that the standard type of science fiction score wouldn’t work also, so I think we did something in between.
Do you think Spanish, and European composers as a whole are allowed more melodic, and thematic freedom than those in Hollywood are? You almost can’t imagine “Automata” getting this kind of lush, lavish approach if it was made here.
It is hard for me to say since I don’t have that much experience in Hollywood. Probably “Automata” is the closest thing, since there is an American production company behind it. Our musical approach in this movie was very much determined by me and by Gabe. And we stood by our ideas even when people from the American production company complained about the path we were taking with the music.
“Automata” is probably the most impressively made genre film yet to come from Spain. How do you think it bodes for its cinema’s bid to appeal to more of an international audience, and how do you think your music here plays a part in that?
In Spain we’ve been making movies with an international appeal for some time now. Alejandro Amenabar´s “The Others”, J.A. Bayona’s “The Orphanage” and “The Impossible”, Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” are a few of those. We have exported horror movies quite successfully, and maybe “Automata” begins a new trend in which we start exporting sci-fi movies. As regarding the second part of the question, I think my music just plays the part it needs to play. It supports the story the movie is telling.
Watch “Automata” on iTunes HERE, with its release on blu ray November 18th HERE. Listen to Zacarias M. de la Riva’s score on Movie Score Media Records HERE
Visit Zacarias M. de la Riva’s website HERE
One could say it’s the cold, volcanic icescape of the earth’s most forbidding land mass that have often infused Johann Johannsson’s music with a beautifully foreboding presence. Like his innovative countrywoman Bjork, Johannsson received art-music acclaim by merging modern classical and alternative music to haunted and mesmerizing effect, creating a series of conceptual albums like “Englaborn” and “Dis” at the same time he began scoring a myriad of shorts, features and documentaries – usually involving brooding, disaffected characters he could apply a psychologically-minded musical style to (even giving ennui to prairie dogs in the process). With his songs playing a major part in “Wicker Park’s,” soundtrack, Johannsson segued to English-language fiction with the 2009 Ashton Kutcher film “Personal Effects,” then gave an eerily gripping threat to David Morse’s rogue cop in “McCanick.” But the true, eerie thunderbolt of Johannsson’s transfixing and often unsettling style came with the major studio release of “Prisoners.” Using agonizingly slow, sustaining melodies, percussive menace, and a church-like organ, Johannsson’s impressively thematic score created a sense of moral guilt like few crime thriller scores before as it depicted a father’s tragic path down the rabbit hole of vigilantism.
Given how icily minimalist Johannson’s music can be, you wouldn’t think of him as being the composer to come up with an emotionally warm, mainly upbeat score, especially when put in the face of a character’s physical catastrophe. But that’s exactly what he does for “The Theory of Everything,” creating a smart, yet accessible score that personifies a scientist who’s turned seemingly indecipherable ideas about the time-space continuum into best-selling books – universe-spanning ideas that have awarded him rock star status. However, the cosmic joke is that Stephen Hawking is practically immobile, a sense of humor not lost on him or this biopic by “Man on a Wire’s” James Marsh. Tracing Hawking at the start of his seemingly lethal descent into ALS, while at the same time signaling the birth of the romantic relationship that saved his life, “The Theory of Everything” is everything but the sort of mawkish, life-affirming disease-of-the-week movie Hollywood usually offers, especially given this now “hip” ice-bucket challenge disease.
Beyond its excellent performances by Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as his first wife Jane, a major reason why “Theory” sings the body electric is due to Johannsson’s rhythmic, sparkling but no less serious score that brings affecting humanity to the story, as well as a cosmos-spanning sense of discovery that can improbably leap from a world of debilitation. For audiences only familiar with “Prisoners,” Johannson’s work is nothing less than a “Eureka!” moment, full of poignant, waltzing revelation of warmth that put “The Theory of Everything” in the same kind of classically-minded, intelligently emotive universe occupied by the likes of Alexandre Desplat. Beginning with a sense of bubbling, string-driven rhythm that will always connote a mind on the move, Johannson’s gentle, propulsive melodies for strings, harp and piano gradually take on his more familiar, haunted, sampled sustains as the disease’s affects are felt. Yet it’s a mood that never stays long in a movie that doesn’t beat its music over the head with the message of never saying “Die.” Johannsson’s elegant melodies rise with smoothly flowing ideas, while also capturing the heartfelt emotion of a wife who goes beyond the cause of devotion while coming into the realization of her own needs. The overall effect of this composer’s “Theory” is truly enrapturing as Johannsson enters the dramatic mainstream with melodic intelligence that distinguishes an intellectual approach that Stephen Hawking would likely admire.
How do you think the environment, and people of Iceland contributed to your music?
I think a person’s background and where they grow up always influences that they are and what they do, so I’m sure my Icelandic background has had an influence on my music somehow. Iceland has a very vibrant music scene and it’s a great place to grow as a musician – the scene is very collaborative and encourages experimentation and taking chances, and it greatly benefited me in my formative years as a composer.
Would you say in a manner that you were “scoring” invisible movies with your concept albums before you became a film composer? And did that move you into wanting to compose to the real deal?
I’ve always felt the need to frame my music somehow, to have a conceptual dimension to my records. My albums ‘Fordlandia,” and “IBM 1401, a User’s Manual” have a documentary and historical aspect to them that in my mind is a very important part of their conception. I always think and write very visually – I often start with an image in my head when I’m writing – either a painting, a half remembered film scene or a passage from a book or a poem. So film composing came very naturally to me and feels like a very logical extension of my natural way of writing.
Did film scores play a part in your development as a composer, and was it something you always had in mind to explore?
I’ve been a great fan of certain film composers for a long time. Discovering Bernard Herrmann was a big moment for me. I’ve always admired the way he works with harmony and the simplicity and clarity of his ideas. Morricone was an early influence as well. I’m a big fan of Georges Delerue, Wojciech Kilar, Zbigniew Preisner, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, to name a few.
Having essentially quit studying music at 11, how difficult was it for you to adapt to the technical constraints of scoring to picture?
I studied literature and languages at University and I studied piano and trombone until age 18 or so, and then continued studying composition and music theory on my own. I’ve been writing music since I was 15 or 16 and recording music for as long. I had a lot of studio experience as well as experience writing theatre music for string and wind ensembles before I started writing for film, so it wasn’t a big technical jump for me to start writing for film.
You’d worked on numerous Icelandic, and foreign shorts and features before scoring your first English language movie with “Personal Effects.” What was that experience like?
“Personal Effects” was a good experience. Although the film didn’t really find an audience, I’m quite proud of the music.
What do you think of the power of the kind of minimal style of strings and drifting melodies that suffused “Prisoners” and “McCanick,” and also play a smaller part in “The Theory of Everything?”
I’ve developed a style that favors a kind of simplicity and directness, I think. I like music that is emotionally resonant and direct while being quite restrained and often introspective somehow. “The Theory of Everything” score is more exuberant than “Prisoners” for example, but they are also very different films and required different approaches. I was very conscious of reining in the emotion in the “Theory” score – there is already a lot of emotion on screen and the music doesn’t have to repeat what’s already there. James and I were very much in agreement on this, that the music should only be there if it can add something.
What was it about your music that attracted director James Marsh, especially given how non-minimal this score is? And what was your collaboration like?
James is a great collaborator. He has a strong vision, but he has a very open approach to collaborating and he gave me a lot of freedom – which I think is the sign of a good director. He was familiar with some of the documentary scores I had written in Denmark, some of which are similar to “Theory of Everything” stylistically. So he knew I had the range to write the music that the film required.
Did that fact that ALS essentially locks-in its victim’s ability to communicate makes the role of music in opening up Stephen Hawking world even more important?
This was one of the challenges of the film as whole: how to depict in a visually interesting way the life and environment of a man who lives most of his life in a wheelchair. James Marsh and his DP Benoit Delhomme did an amazing job of creating a very colorful and visually dazzling palette for the film and this certainly influenced the way I wrote the music.
When Stephen is first introduced, he’s riding a bike. How did you want the theme there to set up the idea of rhythmic motion in the score, especially for a man who becomes immobile?
The Introductory theme, “Cambridge, 1963” was composed very early on. It was in fact one of the first themes written for the film. It underscores a sequence that shows Hawking riding through Cambridge on his bicycle in the full vigor of his youth as a young doctoral student. Knowing what we do know about his fate makes this scene very poignant. The music has a lot of forward motion and is very kinetic and exuberant. This theme provided a lot of the musical material that I use later in the film in various different guises. The four-note piano motif that begins the film re-appears in different modes in later scenes and the harmonic material is developed in subsequent cues in various ways as well. For example, there is a scene late in the film which in many ways mirrors the beginning, where we see Hawking giving a lecture in the late eighties in London, witnessed by Harry Lloyd’s character, who also accompanies him on the bike ride in the beginning. The Intro music re-appears in this scene, but in a much more serene and philosophical rendition, with the four note piano motif now in a minor mode.
How did you want the music to capture the kind of eccentricity that usually comes with scientific genius?
There are scenes that show the humor and warmth of Hawking character and it was a challenge to capture this without sacrificing the seriousness of the drama.
In spite of its tragedy, this is certainly your most “pleasant” score you’ve done yet, despite subject matter. Was it a good break from you to do this after so many moody scores, and how important was it for you to give the score its sense of hope?
The brief from James was definitely to give the film warmth and reflect the relationships depicted in the film. It’s a film about an astrophysicist, but it’s at its heart a love story. So the music had to communicate this very strongly. After “Prisoners,” I was aware of the importance of choosing a very different film project that would reflect another side of my musical personality. While “Prisoners“ is very dark, bleak and brooding and sometimes quite abrasive, “Theory of Everything“ offered an opportunity to write with more color and to really play with orchestration and to create a really lush and glistening sound. So while “Prisoners“ explored the darkness and the depths of man’s soul, “Theory of Everything“ is all about the music of the spheres, so the contrast is quite substantial.
Conversely, a movie like this offers a wealth of opportunities for the score to be overly sentimentally “inspirational” and manipulative. Was it important for you to help earn the movie’s emotions honestly?
James and I were very aware of this. With a story like this there is a lot of emotion on the screen already and the music has to be very finely tuned for it to emphasize and underscore the emotion effectively without laying it on with a trowel, so to speak.
How did you want to represent the calculations of math-based astronomy via music? And how did you want the score to go beyond dealing with one person to capturing the wonder of the universe that Hawking writing conveys?
There are sections of the film that show the philosophical aspect of Hawking’s approach to physics in a very lyrical way – an aspect that he reflects so well in his writings. We wanted to show this very poetic sense of the universe, the awe and wonder he feels when faced with the immensity and beauty of creation. One reason I chose the piano as a lead instrument in the score is because it’s a very expressive instrument but also a very precise one – it can have a mechanical, mathematical quality as well as a very expressive quality, which fit the purposes of this score very well.
Did you ever have any communication with Stephen Hawking while scoring the film? And if not, did you do your own research on his life and theories for musical ideas?
I have not met Hawking yet, but I did re-read most of “A Brief History of Time” – which I read back in college originally – in preparation for the score, mainly to get a sense of his voice as a writer.
One hears the spirits of such melodically repetitive, “new” classical composers like Philip Glass and John Adams in “The Theory of Everything.” What kind of influence did these composers play in your development as a composer, and this score?
I’m a huge fan of Reich, Glass, Nyman, Bryars and all the so-called “minimalists” in general. They were all big influences on me as a composer when I was starting out. I think there’s also some Ennio Morricone in “The Theory of Everything” score in some places – I was listening to some of his 70’s melodrama scores in preparation for it. There is also some Ravel, Debussy, some Sibelius in there and some 1970’s British folk music as well, in cues like “Forces of Attraction.”
There’s an especially luxurious, and melodic orchestral feeling to “Theory.” Could you talk about achieving this kind of glistening warmth? And how did you want to fit the far less obvious electronic elements into it to achieve the music’s “spacey” feel at times?
In this score, a lot of the music is just an orchestra playing in a room, whereas much of my previous work, both score and non-score has been created in the studio, with the orchestra being only one element of many. There are some cues, like “Cavendish Lab,” which incorporate more processed elements. All sounds are acoustic in origin so the electronic sounding material is created from processed and manipulated acoustic sounds. I like this combination of orchestration and sound manipulation and a lot of my work is informed by this approach. In terms of the orchestration, it’s a combination of strings, woodwinds and French horns, with celeste and a lot of different keyboard sounds. I recorded various pianos, both the Abbey Road grand and also various older, more lo-fi instruments, including a curious old piano with a pedal that turns it into a kind of tack piano.
Could you talk about your theme for Jane, and how you also had it work as on screen “source” music for her relationship with Brian?
There are themes in the score that relate to different relationships between characters. Jane and Jonathan have a theme and Jane and Stephen have a theme and so on. I felt it was more important to underline the relationships with themes rather than individuals.
“The Theory of Everything” is getting a big Oscar push, with your score a part of it. What’s it like to part of that, and do you think that having a memorably melodic score like this helps?
It’s a big enough thrill for my score to even be mentioned in the conversation, so that’s enough for me. Being invited to be a part of project like “Theory of Everything” is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and it was an enormous pleasure and thrill to be a part of James’s team.
Could you tell us what to expect from your upcoming score to thriller “Sicario?”
It’s still in the early stages, but it’s again shaping up to be quite different to both “Theory” and “Prisoners.” I’m recording a lot of percussion for it, some guitar and some analog synthesizers as well. Not a lot of orchestra yet, although that will certainly become a part of the texture as the writing progresses.
Where do you hope that scoring studio films takes you? And could you see yourself pushing into styles that people might not expect from you?
One of the things I love about scoring films is that every project has its own requirements and that your role as a composer is to find the voice of the film and every film is different. So the fun thing is that it’s a journey and the destination is unknown which is something I find hugely exciting.
Isaiah Berlin divided the world’s thinkers into foxes, who see the world through the lens of one big defining idea, and hedgehogs, who draw on many different experiences and reject the idea that the world can be defined with one single theory. I’m not a thinker, but if I were I would definitely be in the hedgehog camp. I think the beauty of the world is that it’s too complex to be understood and distilled into one big idea. I do understand the attraction of an all-encompassing theory, but I’m not enough of a mathematician to become enchanted with something like this.
“The Theory of Everything” opens in theaters on November 7th, with Johann Johannsson’s score available on +180 Records HERE
Visit Johan Johannsson’s website HERE
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.564]Christophe Beck ([m.40395]Get Hard), [c.124]Cliff Martinez ([m.42348]Beasts of No Nation), [c.1465]Lorne Balfe ([m.42312]Dough), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 52 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-10-27]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.38813]Before I Go to Sleep ([c.301]Edward Shearmur), [m.41399]Nightcrawler ([c.151]James Newton Howard), and [m.22583]Saw ([c.1133]Charlie Clouser) is having a 10th Anniversary Re-Release.
Among all new theatrical releases, we are tracking song credits...
October Soundtrack Picks: ‘FRANK‘ and ‘RUDDERLESS’ are two of the top soundtracks to own for October, 2014
Also worth picking up BAD MILO, THE BOXTROLLS, IN LIKE FLINT, JOHN WICK, MARY POPPINS, MR. MOSES, OUIJA and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE BOXTROLLS
What Is It?: With his impressively elegant use of a full, assured orchestra, the Italian-born, English-based composer Dario Marianelli hasn’t had to scavenge for major assignments, as such epically romantic historical scores like “Atonement,” “Agora” and “Anna Karenina” have proven, along with the mythic genre scores for “The Brothers Grimm” and “V for Vendetta” have shown. But even that latter film’s shadowy, dystopian-busting superhero doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of a morally bankrupt (and cheese-obsessed to boot) town like “The Boxtrolls,” its delightful score marking Marianelli’s first venture into perhaps not-so tyke friendly territory.
Why Should You Buy It?: Laika, the producer-animators of “Boxtrolls” have always had a weird taste when it came to scoring their off-kilter stop-motion subjects, whether it be Bruno Coulais’ surreal fantasy approach to “Coraline” or Jon Brion’s eccentric send up of 50s horror music in “Paranorman.” Marianelli’s approach to “Boxtrolls” effortlessly veers between wackadoo music, eccentric creeping about and truly fearsome symphonic menace. Marianelli conveys the titular creatures for the sweet scavengers they are with loads of chiming percussion, his spooky-ooky tunes getting across their gibberish bark that’s far worse than its bite. But best of all, “Boxtrolls” offers a bounty of themes that seamlessly tie together its grab bag of styles, whether it be rampaging suspense, clanging, cliffhanging peril cheesefest accordions or a brassy Viennese waltz. Yet there’s an undeniable, heartbreaking quality to Marianelli’s main theme as it personalizes a little boy lost to the far crueler human world above. It’s a nice, emotional potency that gives “The Boxtrolls” a mature power, no matter the nuttiness at stop-motion hand. But more often than not, “Boxtrolls” is about Marianelli unleashing his Halloween-loving child at heart, the sense of fun that knows the monsters under the bed offer nothing but love in spite of the real adult darkness about them.
Extra Special: “Boxtrolls” offers wistful, Devotchka-esque tunes by Loch Lomond that serve as catchy pleas for creature tolerance, a theme that extends to a charming spin on the kindergarten standard “Whole World.” Far more deliciously evil in a nursery rhyme vein is “The Boxtrolls Song,” with Sean Patrick Doyle doing his cross-dressing, Kurt Weil best in appealing for ogre annihilation, a song at once hilarious for its “Three Penny Opera” affectations as it is truly terrifying in recalling a Germanic-toned appeal for annihilating the seemingly ugly “other – an idea that proves “Boxtrolls” as anything but kid’s stuff when it comes right down to the inside of it.
2) FRANK and RUDDERLESS
Prices: $16.98 / $15.99
What Is it?: For all of the rock stadium popularity that a studio polished song soundtrack might have, it’s often the raw tunes of a decidedly unsigned, outsider band that reaches into the heart, or madness-addled brain in a way no Grammy-friendly album can. At their best, these little tune-filled albums can even find appeal with score fans who normally regard songs CDs as heresy, an open-minded listen especially deserving from them for a big-headed bizarro and a garage band finding the power of healing in unthinkably written songs.
Why Should You Buy It?: “Frank” is very loosely based on the strange career of England’s Frank Sidebottom, who had way more success than the band of misfit alt. rockers shown in this delightful, odd-head movie featuring a mostly masked Michael Fassbender. If “Frank” has a theme amidst the clanging, squealing and buzzing a band quite naturally named the Soronprfbs, then it’s of mediocrity versus truly insane brilliance, a musical idea that’s very smartly conceived by Stephen Rennicks (“What Richard Did”) with an outsider groove so dead on that you think he was likely a roadie for the equally insane Daniel Johnston. But yet this borderline 80s underground-meets-Devo mish-mash of synths, wacky samples, guitars and some truly beautiful piano melodies (with of course a Theremin thrown in for extra quirk) make sense, and are even catchy in their poetic psycho-babble as Frank’s unexpected brilliance is humorously contrasted with his acolyte’s non-talent. “Frank” truly rocks during its longer songs like “Secure the Galactic Perimeter,” or when the sound of a “Creaky Door” becomes an ever-amping shaman-like song. It’s Frank by way of Jim Morrison, which is part of the album’s charm of watching an outsider savant reveal that he’s as crazy as a fox, even while refusing to take his cartoon head off. Despite such hilarious, babbling breakdowns as “Frank’s Most Likeable Song…Ever” or Three Stooges samples filling “Frank’s Cacophony,” most of “Frank’s” tunes are surprisingly rockable, with Rennick’s snatches of underscore conveying a folksy, blissed-out vibe of the misfit Soronprfbs’ cult-like adherence to their masked leader. But it’s in the concluding song “I Love You All” where “Frank” reaches true, moving poetry. It’s an incredibly catchy song that’s a beautiful plea for acceptance, first performed for its raw, unhinged worth, and then played over the end credits with far more musical finesse. It’s one of the best, and most emotionally clever movie songs this year, though I suspect “Frank” is way to wonderfully weird to be on the Academy’s radar.
Extra Special: A far more serious kind of insanity fills the songs of “Rudderless,” though one might not hear it in the affecting lyrics and performance by stars Billy Cudrup, Anton Yelchin, Selena Gomez and ex Radish member-turned actor Ben Kweller. But that’s exactly the point in these poignant tunes that reveal a wounded soul desperately seeking an emotional connection through his songs – his tragic legacy forming the movie band of actor William H. Macy’s impressive directorial debut. You’d have to think back to “Once” to find such a memorably spiritual collection of acoustically driven tunes that also capture the energy, and enthusiasm of performers beginning to make it big in a small way. “Rudderless’” tunes range from the toe-tapping, grungy top 40 energy of “Beautiful Mess” to gentle hope for “Home,” a feeling of asking for forgiveness that also provides for the movie’s powerful message. But there’s also humor here in the bouncy groove of “Real Friends,” a real school rock version of “Wheels on the Bus” and a relationship laid unplugged raw in “Asshole,” a dead-on song that manages to make even that word sound pretty. Alt. rocker Eef Barzelay, who provided the inventively rhythmic score for the wonderful “Rocket Science” does similarly clever, if more haunted underscoring here, mixing folksy grooves and gentle vocalese that gets across the haunted journey of a father reluctantly turned into a not so over the hill coffee house rocker. So good are Rudderless’ sets that one could easily imagine the band becoming the real deal, especially lead singer Cudrup, whose delivery of the emotionally climactic “Sing Along” makes one feel the ghost of John Lennon as much as it does his character’s son. Not since Prince’s end set of “Purple Rain” has a movie singer ripped his guts out to such powerful effect, if done here to understandably more lyrically strumming resonance for one of this year’s most powerfully moving film scenes.
3) MARY POPPINS / SLEEPING BEAUTY – THE LEGACY COLLECTIONS
Prices: $21.88 / $13.88
What Is It?: For a company that’s re-released their soundtracks as many times as there have been DVD editions of “The Evil Dead,” Disney might have finally reached the alpha and omega of truly special special editions with their new spectacularly presented Legacy Collections. Begun with Hans Zimmer’s Oscar-winning “Lion King,” these gatefold CDs have used beautiful original art, copious liner notes and a kitchen sink of complete scores and outtakes to chronicle the creation of Disney music that remains undying for good reason – a heritage that now wonderfully continues with series producer Randy Thornton’s impossibly ambitious release of “Mary Poppins” and a stay awake edition of “Sleeping Beauty,” improving on the sound of a score that stands as the first stereophonic soundtrack release ever back in the day.
Why You Should Buy It?: “Mary Poppins” flew away with five Oscars in 1965, among them statuettes for Original Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”) and its “substantially” Original Score, all channeling the wondrous energy of what’s arguably the most eternal tune-filled soundtrack created by The Sherman Brothers. Sure Richard M. and Robert B. had done some memorable Disney work before on the likes of “The Parent Trap” and “The Sword and the Stone,” but their alternately jolly and melancholy numbers like “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed the Birds” and “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” captured a real emotional resonance that went way beyond just having incredibly catchy hooks. It was music that heard beyond the dancing chimney sweeps and penguin waiters the subtly capture the emptiness of money-obsessed Edwardian England, and the desperate need of a family to make their father love them – all of course fixed in the end by the world’s best nanny. The first CD of the set offers the entire soundtrack as heard in the movie in a presentation that offers easily the best sonics that “Poppins” has ever rung across the rooftops with. But the true treat of this collection lies on CD two, which reveals a cornucopia of unused material. With nearly every song (heard and unheard in the film) given a jaunty piano demo by the brothers, the perhaps they should have used ‘em highlights include the unpacking cheer of the “Mary Poppins Melody,” the Gilbert and Sullivan-esque militaristic pomposity of “Admiral Boom,” the cheerful wake-up of “The Right Side” (a song that could just as well be the template of every heroine song introduction for Disney hereafter), and the deliriously rhyming kazoo melody of “The Chimpanzoo” – though one might understand how the walrus-voiced “North Pole Polka” might not have been prime material. But the far more grown-up stand out is “The Eyes of Love,” a song that likely made Mary a bit too womanly for Walt’s tastes. The Shermans are at their most enchantingly trippy when venturing to “The Land of Sand,” whose exotic, dream-like melody and haunting, sphinx-like chorus make for a striking precursor to the outright native songs the duo would write for “The Jungle Book.” Beyond its original interview with the cast and look back with the Shermans on the creation of “Mary Poppins,” the third CD is mostly comprised of the speaking sessions between the brothers and Australian author P.L. Travers. While their collaboration was depicted as combative in the wonderful making-of “Mary” movie “Saving Mr. Banks,” what’s heard here between the English-accented old woman and the peppy Shermans comes across as being an way-more pleasant experience for all concerned, not to mention an interesting peek into the real creative process that made “Mary” so cheerfully indelible for generations to come, fans who will delight in her new CD triple-play.
Extra Special: Many spoonfuls of Tchaikovsky sugar grace 1959s “Sleeping Beauty,” which uses that Russian composer’s “Sleeping Beauty Waltz” to base its music on. There’s a thoroughly pleasant grace and beauty to George Bruns’ Oscar-nominated “adaptation” of the piece, as well as thoroughly original, and exciting prince-to-the-rescue music that makes for the climactic battle between the now-misunderstood Maleficent. But for the most part, “Sleeping Beauty” is bird-chirping, sashaying strings that embody the Disney Princess at her most iconically pure-hearted, making for the most ingenious use of classical music the studio employed next to “Fantasia.” The lyrics by Tom Adair, Sammy Fain and Jack Lawrence are the definition of now un-p.c. desire for a woman to find her place in the arms (and singing duet) of a prince wit the lilting “I Wonder,” while the thematic tune “Once Upon A Dream” is likely the most gorgeous example of lyrics being put to any famed concert hall piece, with a waltzing enchantment that likely would have made Tchaikovsky smile. Though “Sleeping Beauty” offered far more score than songs, the second CD gives us the chance to hear the likely sillier musical that could have been, from the dueling kingly dads kvelling out their kids accomplishments in “It Happens I Have A Picture” and the pre-Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious wordplay of the fairy godmothers in “Riddle, Diddle, One, Two, Three.” And if the devilishly delightful numbers in “A Nightmare Before Christmas” could be traced back in spirit, then they’d find a hilarious Halloween town in “Evil – Evil,” a spell-reciting duet between a goofily-voiced demons as they relish the chance to make the world a miserable place, complete to the accompaniment of nursery bells. It’s a song so wonderfully outside of “Sleeping Beauty’s” orbit that one can only imagine its fiendishly delightful spirit somehow entered Danny Elfman’s consciousness – and a reason for those who might be put off by “Snow White’s” overwhelming niceness to grab this album.
4) HOWARD SHORE COLLECTOR’S EDITIONS
What is it?: Howard Shore made his musical bones on the body horror of director David Cronenberg, a match particularly made in visceral-intellectual heaven with “Dead Ringers,” “Naked Lunch” and “Crash,” three scores that show the chilling diversity in what’s arguably the most rewardingly unhinged (and ongoing) collaboration between two creepily-minded auteurs of this dark side of Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock. Now Shore gives this twisted trio a collector’s edition re-mastering, made complete with additional music that truly brings out his music’s mesmerizing power.
Why should you buy it?: 1988s “Dead Ringers” marked Shore’s fourth collaboration with Cronenberg for the most realistically disturbing movie the director had made so far, especially as it was based on the true, awful fates of twin gynecologists. But beyond its instruments for operating on mutant women, what made “Dead Ringers” emotionally unnerving was the soft, poignant sadness that Shore gave to its score. Gifted with what’s still the most deceptively beautiful theme he’s written for Cronenberg, “Dead Ringers’” theme plays like a waltz for two men inextricably bonded together. Shore’s silken strings and flute lead his thoroughly accessible, and tenderly melodic approach – at least for a short while before Shore contrasts one brother’s luxurious calm with the other’s drug-addled unraveling. A sinuously lush orchestra leads into piercing strings, the score’s delicate themes gradually unraveling with its feeling of inescapable, almost soaring tragedy that makes for one of Shore’s more Herrmann-esque scores. It’s a power that comes from his deft psychological probing as opposed to shock effects, creating “horror” scoring at its most silken in its mix of pathos and ghastliness. 1991s “Naked Lunch” threw reality out in the wastebasket of Interzone, the alternate drug reality inhabited by junkie novelist William Burroughs’ barely disguised stand-in of “Bill Lee.” Taking an equal seat to dine on this drug-addled score is jazz legend Ornette Coleman, a beat-jazz musician who truly could understand the 50s dope friend groove. His wild, untamed sax playing over Shore’s brooding score captures that elusive sound of “pure” jazz. The score reaches its terrifying apex with a pistol-shooting game of “Robin Hood” gone wrong, capturing the kind of life-changing agony that usually gets turned into a novel if the offender is literary-minded.
Extra Special: Shore had started out for Cronenberg with the eerie synth-filled scores to “Scanners” and “Videodrome,” an approach he’d mutate into the hypnotic, electric rock groove of 1996s “Crash” (and continue on with for “Cosmopolis” and their most recent effort “Map to the Stars”). Here, the sound of guitar-shredding metal is brilliantly appropriate for characters that can only get off in the aftermath of automobile wrecks. Shore twists about the music with their enthused, unholy fetishism, scraping, banging and clawing at all manner of iron and piano gut detritus to create a true “metal” score, but done in a completely unique way that’s anything but longhaired rock and roll. As topped with flutes, “Crash” has an Oriental Zen quality to it as well that makes the score even more hypnotically unsettling, going for voice-like tonal clusters that recall the pioneering moog work of Walter Carlos. The orchestra also plays its part here a la “Naked Lunch” in capturing increasingly shivering realization of just how bizarre this behavior is, giving “Crash” the impression of a modernistic tone poem as Shore gets into these characters’ metal-embedded skins to unsettling, and often beautiful effect. It’s one factor that makes the re-polished “Dead Ringers,” “Naked Lunch” and “Crash” stand out more than ever as disturbed evolutions into the outer realms of movie scoring, as practiced with surgical, intellectual precision by two men who really know who to mess up human beings.
What Is it?: After doing numerous re-performances of John Barry’s work through the years with “Lion in the Winter,” “Robin and Marian” and an especially spectacular resurrection from the deep of “Raise the Titanic,” the team of producer James Fitzpatrick, conductor Nic Raine and the now-stellar performers of The City of Prague Philharmonic take another trek with the composer’s sprit into what’s arguably his most successful continent. But where the themes for his furious jungle drumming, sweeping romance and brassy adventure of “Zulu” and his Oscar-winning scores to “Born Free” and “Out of Africa” can be recalled by audiences the world over, 1965s “Mister Moses” is a score that’s essentially been in the dark continent of soundtrack obscurity, which makes their new Barry safari all the more thrilling.
Why Should You Buy It?: Directed by “The Poseidon Adventure’s” Ronald Neame, “Mister Moses” starred Robert Mitchum as a n’er do well diamond smuggler who’s very reluctantly pressed into service as a would-be savior for an African tribe to relocate them from their homeland, which is about to be flooded for a dam – their journey led by an elephant named Emily and (of course) a beautiful missionary’s daughter. Despite their challenge, “Mister Moses” is a markedly more fun for Barry in its approach than the life-or-death challenge or raising an orphan lion club or guiding lovestruck Europeans to kill them. Led by the kind of rousingly repeated theme that the composer could write like no one else, Barry’s use of trumpeting brass is particularly appropriate for embodying the real, long-nosed star of the film, its pace led by native drum percussion. If anything, Barry’s rhythmic exotica even more authentic than “Born Free” and “Out of Africa” with its focus on a tribe, which Barry thankfully gets to play with more orchestral nobility than the thundering music for the “savages” in “Zulu.” Written the same year as “Thunderball,” “Mister Moses” is given passages of string suspense and dynamic bursts of brass that fans of Barry’s James Bond classics will appreciate, while the younger set of the time no doubt delighted to the monkey shines of Barry’s more outrightly playful moments, especially in the higher, tree-climbing register of its wind instruments. But while the western-style orchestra is rousingly present in “Mister Moses” as Barry notes the highlights of the journey like the Tarzan movie he never got to score, what particularly impresses is just how native the composer went to mostly convey darkest Africa at its brightest.
Extra Special: The microphone placement and mixing of Fitzpatrick’s projects have gotten so good at this point that it would likely be impossible to tell the difference between “Mister Moses’” original (and lost) tracks the mixing of the orchestra keep Barry’s sound energetically fresh while sounding as nostalgic as a 1965 LP, as played through a particularly good hi-fi system would. Frank K. DeWald’s knowledgeable liner notes shed light on the movie that still hasn’t reached the DVD promised land, while the attractive, animal-filled graphic layout can be complemented for evoking the movie’s iconography without having any original key art available – a pitfall that many albums of this sort usually are unable to cross successfully.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. BAD MILO
Ted Masur is an ass clown in the truest sense of the world with a memorable physical soundtrack debut that poops out his delightfully twisted score about a monster that emerges from a nebbish’s butt to unleash hell on his master’s tormentors. Packed with devilish fury and eccentricity to spare, Masur’s music is a clever delight as it not only goes rampaging about in Elfman-esque fashion, but channels horror-indie energy into a uniquely comic sound that would be perfect for some Mike Judge movie down the line. There’s lunacy to spare in the off-kilter clocks of a “Firing Montage” to hilariously embodying the awful straining that produces “Meet Milo. And when it comes to the year’s best cue ever with “Myth of the Anus,” Masur uses with a cimbalom-like effect that might make you think you’re hearing the score to an absurdist werewolf movie, a diagnosis that that eerie violin of “Doctor’s Orders” only confirms. It’s all part of an amazingly successfully tightrope act as Masur walks the very, very fine line between cartoonish comedy and serious menace, often at the same time. It’s an attitude that also makes the movie’s one-joke, Troma-ready premise wildly better than any viewer or listener could possibly expect. Masur uses his limited musical means especially well with a wistfully poignant sense of child-like melody, a clanking xylophone and forlorn whistling giving us real sympathy for the little butt-devil, who nonetheless relishes in grand strains of swirling, nicely thematic horror action that ballsily goes for broke with raging chorus at its movement’s climax. At the least, “Bad Milo” has the best music ever written for a bloodthirsty hemorrhoid in the history of cinema. And what composer can make that claim?
. LA BUCA
Fans of Pino Donaggio can only visualize Brian De Palma’s frequent suspense music consigliore holding up a butcher knife composed of lush orchestrations for such scores as “Carrie,” “Blow Out” and “Body Double” given his work that hits stateside. Undoubtedly, they’ll get a big musical shock if they hear how he’s equally adept at handling the styles of George Gershwin and Stephan Grappelli with the finesse he usually gives to Bernard Herrmann. The latter two are the jazzy partners in musical crime for this Italian comedy that finds a shady lawyer using hook and crook to reverse the record of a just-released, decades-long prison inmate. But the real revelation of “La Buca” is just how equally beautiful Donaggio can be given a far lighter tone. While his telltale, romantically heavy use of strings definitely tips us off to the composer’s far more dangerous identity, he’s effortlessly able to switch to a rhapsody in blue, tango’ing about with a strumming Gypsy guitar. You’d swear this was the score for a wildly romantic adventure in 40s-era Havana by way of black and white Manhattan if you didn’t know better, but it’s just part of this wonderful score’s diversions that Donaggio can so beautifully evoke jazz vastness and intimate pathos in this odd couple’s not-so legal travails. Especially impressive here is Donaggio’s use of piano and brass melodies, turning his obvious love of Gershwin and that sparkling era to his own voice. Working as both modern, sophisticated comedy scoring and a gorgeously nostalgic album, “La Buca” is an homage so good that you might not even care if Donaggio ever picked up a knife or power drill again.
Between the sword and sorcery that helps seat the “Game of Thrones” to the tongue-sucking plague brought on by “The Strain,” Ramin Djawadi has been having a hell of a time giving eerily adventurous production value to genre TV. Now with “Dracula Untold,” Djawadi gets to unleash a truly epic supernatural score that bat wings its way to the top of his work. Vlad the Impaler gets his most emotionally vulnerable treatment a la that other not-so villainous revisionist movie “Maleficent,” the horror springing from the character’s humanity. Djawadi powerfully responds by giving Dracula a memorably bold, darkly heroic theme that becomes damn near operatic as he luxuriates in his satanic superpowers while trying to be on the side of the angels. Where Djawadi’s music is mostly restrained (though the shackles are definitely coming off) on “Game of Thrones,” “Dracula Untold” gives the composer the chance to really go for the period sweep with this neck-kissing cousin to that HBO hit, evoking a real-world Dark Age atmosphere for royalty-ruled Transylvania by using such Eastern European exotica as cimbaloms, yet sure to make the sound contemporary with the kind of propulsive, rock rhythms that are staked into today’s action scores. Especially effective is Djawadi’s tragic, music for Dracula’s immorata, a lush, pained feeling that mightily abets the character’s tragic nature, and righteously twisted vengeance. Where Dracula always talks about his nobility, this is pretty much the first score to actually play that blood-splattered lineage for all of its valorous, sword-swinging worth. When he truly assumes his mantle as the Prince of Darkness, Djawadi’s terrifically exciting use of a percussive, full-blast symphony shows off an orchestral power that’s rare for any “horror” score these days. It gives “Dracula Untold” a pretty great musical shove off for what Universal hopes will be the launch of an action-oriented monster line. This thrilling score gives us high hopes for that said franchise will be calling on the children of the old-school orchestral night for its supernaturally thematic panache.
Varese Sarabande continues to diversify to different audiences, in these two cases musically appealing to the younger set. The wee ones, particularly children with a thing for crayons, should enjoy repeated listening to “The Hero of Color City.” There’s a sweet, gentle enjoyment they’ll find in the songs and score by ex Ziggy Marley drummer Angel Roché Jr and Zoë Poledouris-Roché, who helped her dad Basil cook up an especially important theme for the way-more adult “Conan the Barbarian” back in her younger days. Tunes like “Color the World” and “Heave Ho” have cleverly rhyming lyrics and catchy melodies perfect for bedtime playing. As led by a catchy, hand-clapping theme, “Color City’s” instrumentals capture a similar charm, with lullaby-ready bells, energetic lite rock percussion and a fun Reggae rhythm, creating the kind of tinkertoy band tunes budding composers might be playing in their heads as they let their imaginations put crayon to blank musical paper. The tone of “Ninjago” has a decidedly more adult feel as Jay Vincent and Michael Kramer give an epic, Oriental sweep of the Lego knee to the “Masters of Spinjitzu.” Collecting music from the hit Cartoon Network series into an impactful hour of the score’s biggest hits, “Ninjago” impresses with its determination to reach the musical power of “Kung Fu Panda.” If anything, Vincent and Kramer are determined to be really serious (though no less fun) in melding a western approach with Oriental block fists of fury. Strong orchestral samples work quite well in tandem with Asian percussion, metal guitar, and a Chi-channeling chorus, creating a sense of dramatic excitement, and even danger that belie the playfully animated concept. It’s an admirable determination to really play in a big martial arts music sandbox that gives “Ninjago” an appeal of truly strong themes that chopsocky score aficionados will be pleased by, even as the score’s dynamic range begs out for a true symphonic army that could befit the excitement that the composers get a black belt for in conjuring.
. OUR MAN FLINT / IN LIKE FLINT
In the ying-yang universe of deserved film score karma, Jerry Goldsmith might have ended up with flying with “Supergirl” instead of “Superman,” or battling a “Swarm” of killer bees as opposed to climbing “The Towering Inferno.” But that never meant that Goldsmith didn’t give his musical all to some truly wacky wannabes, especially when it came to putting on a lady killing outfit for America’s Z.O.W.I.E. agent Derek Flint (as opposed to musically tailoring that certain other British spy). But as 60s-jazz as John Barry might have gotten with Her Majesty’s Secret Service, one couldn’t imagine that composer scaling the shagadelic heights like Goldsmith did with aplomb for 1966s “Our Man Flint” and its subsequent sequel “In Like Flint.” Where James Bond inspired all manner of spin-offs for the small and big screens during the 60s spy craze, the Flint films got the biggest studio sanction of all from 20th Century Fox. Given a mood and look just slightly less campy than “Austin Powers” would spoof, Goldsmith broke out his Nehru smoking jacket, along with the fuzz guitars, groovy electronic Solovox organ, and swooning saxes and trombones that typified a stylishly ridiculous era, given an extra puff of way-out electronics for the mad weather-controlling scientists of GALAXY in “Our Man Flint.” But given Goldsmith, “Flint’s” appeal goes way beyond its kitsch grooviness, as the composer thematically pulls it all together with a dynamically lush orchestra to give the score a relative saneness beyond the Watusi’ing action, his bongo-drumming spy action skills already honed on TV’s “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Yet the catchy score for “Our Man Flint” seems positively square when compared to “In Like Flint” as Goldsmith teams up his old Flint melody with an even better score-song riff in “Your Zowie Face.” Here Goldsmith helps Derek take on a legion of femme fatales trying to brainwash the world in beauty salons. There’s hep, insane energy to spare in Goldsmith’s delightful grooves, ostinato excitement and confident strings, especially when he roughhouses “Swan Lake”-style with bongo prancing, horn-slurring Russian dance moves. And even given the score’s way-lighter tone, there are also some dynamite two-fisted brass moves that Bond would envy. The effect is like crashing in on Dean Martin’s bachelor pad if Dino was in a particularly hep mood (though Goldsmith might be happy he never got assigned a “Matt Helm” movie). Intrada’s twin re-issue of the “Flint” LP scores sounds great, featuring Jeff Bond’s martini dry liner notes and delightfully mod packaging by Joe Sikoryak.
. JOHN WICK
Any Russian mobster who watched “The Matrix” would know better than to mess with Keanu Reeves. Fortunately as “The Equalizer” reboot recently proved, these enduring villains du jour don’t seem to watch a whole bunch of familiar former hit-man movies. And their latest f-up of killing a bad ass’ puppy gives “Devils Rejects’” Tyler Bates, “Beyond the Mat’s” Joel J. Richard and an assist by Dyland Eiland (i.e. the DJ known as Castle Vania) carte blanche to get some rocking payback. Starting off with some slow-burn ambience to get across “John Wicks” retired killer street cred, Bates, Richard and Eiland gleefully unleash electro-punishment upon the post-Commie malefactors. Reeves is an actor who brings particular grace to his annihilation, and the composers skillfully get that rhythm down with sleekly menacing strings, trip-hop beats, retro synths and grinding guitar, even allowing a cool theme to be derived amidst the mayhem. Better yet, there’s a mean, cimbalom-esque ethnicity to the score that gets across the bad guys as it repeatedly gets shocked, shot and stabbed by “John Wick’s” rave-ready dance moves. With neon propulsive songs by Ciscandra Nostaghia, M86 & Susie Q and even a jazzy “Evil Man Blues” number performed by The Candy Shop, this is one of those soundtracks that could just as easily be spun in a club as a movie soundtrack, which is right in hyper-beat step for style-conscious killer who moves with cool, yet enraged rhythmic elegance as he takes out the trash – given extra magnetism by musicians who definitely know their way around a dance floor where pulse (and the upcoming lack of many humans’) is the thing. In any case, “John Wick” is most definitely not for the mild score of heart, which for a glowstick-holding music fan is a cool thing indeed here.
OUIJA / JESSABELLE
Anton Sanko has certainly come a long way in scoring horror films since the days of “Strangeland,” employing the off-kilter vibe of such dramatic indie scores as “Scotland Pa.,” “Life in Flight” and “Rabbit Hole” to the far weirder likes of “Last Winter” and an episode a piece for “Fear Itself” and “Masters of Horror.” In the process, Sanko has impressed by evolving from cool, sampled quirk to fully commanding darkly emotional orchestral forces for “The Possession” and “The Devil’s Hand,” a talent that only becomes more uncannily formidable with the ghostly assaults of “Ouija” and “Jessabelle.” While the first spirit-talking board might now be property of Parker Brothers, Sanko uses its letters to channel the very accomodating ghost of Jerry Goldsmith with cunningly sinister string and piano-driven themes that could easily belong to the lethal seductress of “Basic Instinct” as opposed to an undead bad seed. While the requisite crash-bang fake-out shocks are present by horror score requiremet, Sanko mostly goes for a mood of mesmerizing restraint that helps give “Ouija” a maturity and intelligence uncommon for most good-looking teen multiplex fright flicks, using bubbling synths, clawing, metallic samples and eerie voices under an otherwise sleek and intimate orchestra to convey something very bad trying to rip its way out from the other side. It’s music that’s actually scary in its melodic deliberateness, the score’s intensity building nicely to the point where Sanko can let loose with throbbing percussion and a full, darkly angelic chorus for the movie’s decent pay-off, music that truly earns “Ouija’s” climactic, toy store available possesion its stripes.
No less melodically chilling, but far more terrifyingly in one’s face is the spiritual assault that befalls “Jessabelle” (available November 4th on La La Land Records), wherein a woman recovers from a disabling crash to find something far worse lying in wait for her visions in the bayou. Here it’s the hungry demon of “The Gift’s” Christopher Young that Sanko summons to stalks about a southern voodoo setting, as conveyed through through achingly drawn fiddle, strumming dulcimer percussion, bells and an ominously forelorn theme, with weirdly echoing atmospheres and reversed sound design creating a supernatural acid trip. As “Jessabelle’s” heroine literally goes off the deep end, Sanko only increases the black magic hysteria with sing-song voices that soon melt into tribal drumming, pulsating electroncs and shamanistic screaming of Sussan Deyhim, a vocalist who gives Diamanda Galas a run for gutteral insanity. It’s an inventive, paranoia-inducing assault on the senses that makes Rosemary Woodhouse’s devilish musical pregnancy a cake walk with when compared to the child-bereft “Jessabelle’s” submersion into black musical magic. It’s just a measure of how powerfully Sanko can convey the supernatural with elegance, or cruelty as he continues to weave some of the genre’s most creepily effective work from music that began in the underground.
In a particularly striking case of turning fate’s rotten apples into ironic oranges, quadriplegic actor Christopher Reeve went with his immobilizing accident to gain the opportunity of bring true realism to the part of the paralyzed, voyeuristic hero – whom unlike the broken-legged James Stewart of the Hitchcock original – isn’t going to be getting out of his wheelchairl. Beyond Reeve get an Emmy nomination for his performance here, the TV remake’s second Emmy recognition would deservedly go to composer David Shire. With such memorably tense scores to his credit as “The Conversation” and “All the President’s Men,” Shire approached this new, especially creepy view from this 1998 “Window” in a far more musically active manner than Franz Waxman applied to the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock original. In fact, if any of the master of suspense’s composers haunt this technology-filled apartment, then that spirit belongs to Bernard Herrmann, as Shire uses a cinematically lush orchestral sound to play a gripping cat-and-mouse game with the wife killer across the street – a villain captured with jarringly percussive hits right at the start to signal this take on “Rear Window” will be far more frightening. Setting up a warmly empathetic theme for Reeve’s immobilized architect, Shire’s twisting,hair-raising themes vary with the rhythms of snooping about, an interplay of traditional piano, string and brass menace crossed with sometimes funky, electronic rhythm and a subtle electric guitar for the high-tech equipment that fills this living space. Shire gives the score a gripping feeling of melodic tension, with every cue neatly designed to build to the ultimate moment when the murderer will show up in person. Movie Score Media can be thanked for peering into Shire’s formidable repertoire to bring this impressive score to light again in the symphonically sumptuous album that shows just how grippingly good a musical remake can be.
. SEE NO EVIL
Where Henry Mancini got to play blind woman’s bluff with Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark” with creeping restraint, composer Elmer Bernstein got to scare the already-gone sight out of Mia Farrow with way more symphonic lavishness in this 1971 thriller from “Boston Strangler” director Richard Fleischer, who opened up the basic girl-in-peril idea from a Manhattan apartment to an English home and its surrounding countryside – where nearly all of the occupants have gone lights out thanks to a cowboy-boot wearing killer. Where Bernstein was best known for intimate Hollywood dramas or period epics, the composer was equally adept at the horror genre when give the rare chance. While he kicks up the groovy jams for “See’s” source cues and gives sweeping string melody to its heroine, no more swaggeringly than during cues like “Home Ground” and “Idyll” that could have easily accompanied a horse galloping montage in “True Grit” (but somehow appropriate for a horse-riding heroine). “See No Evil” is equally notable for its eerie, yet emotional intimacy, sparkling pianos, tender bells and vulnerable strings playing as if the score for “To Kill A Mockingbird” was suddenly thrust into a psychopath’s company. Bernstein springs brass shock effects on its terrified heroine with the best of them. The score’s retro appeal is abetted with fuzz guitar suspense and racing bongos the terror truly reaching frenzied proportions in cues like “Discovery” where staccato piano runs grow with rampaging brass adrenalin, or in an swirling “Escape” that would work just as well for a flight from a German prison camp. Sure Mancini may have been skulking about the dark, but it’s the sheer, alarmed craziness of Bernstein’s approach in between its tip-toe’ing that makes “See No Evil” so much boisterous fun. Once can only imagine how Bernstein might have scored a “Friday the 13th” movie had he be given the chance.
. ST. VINCENT
“Marley and Me” composer Theodore Shapiro has always had a thing for the comedic underdog in such scores as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “One Chance,” all while creating clearly distinct musical characters for these seeming losers, whether it be wacky percussion, dream-like melody or operatic triumph. But he’s likely never gotten a true, cantankerous schlub like Bill Murray’s boozing Vietnam vet who seems to be anything but “St. Vincent.” Yet like all of his previous life-losers, Shapiro finds a heart of gold underneath them with his catchy, rhythmic approach. The trick here is grabbing onto the music that Murray’s curmudgeon likely listened to during his glory days, then crossing it with whatever tune might have been playing in the bar he frequents. The result is a boozy, bluesy score that stays after last call on its way to a “Bad Santa”-esque redemption that only a nice latchkey kid can provide. Coming up with easygoing melodies that play off Murray’s undeniable charm, Shapiro gradually opens the score’s emotion up from a crabapple player piano, not-so-cool Hammond organ and alternately shuffling and stumbling percussion. He takes the score through its emotional beats in a way that’s nicely subtle instead of forced, from sweet hand-clap montage music to the eerie synths of more dramatic moments, with a poignant violin and tender guitar that enters the scene to signal some sort of bonding breakthrough. Eschewing the “cool” factor of other retro rock scores, Shapiro can be blessed for a funny and personable rough-around-the-edges score that plays up a ratty neighborhood and the fact that the guy next door isn’t such an a-hole after all. Like this thoroughly satisfying movie, that’s graced with Murray’s best work yet, Shapiro’s “St. Vincent” has an emotionally winning attitude with a capital A.
. 22 & 21 JUMP STREET
Far from signaling film scoring Devo-lution, ex-cult rocker Mark Mothersbaugh has consistently proven himself as one of Hollywood’s most wackily animated composers, loading his work with hip retro samples, wacky rhythms and knowingly bombastic strings. It’s a child-like glee that’s often having fun with his assignments while satirizing them at the same time, an ironic, adrenalin sense of fun that most recently hit it awesomely big for filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller with “The Lego Movie,” a road of unabashed energy that began in “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs.” But Mothersbaugh’s most hilariously satiric work for the duo is definitely their two shots at “21 Jump Street” and its delightfully unnecessary sequel “22 Jump Street,” both of which have been collected by La La Land Records. If a common musical (not to mention cinematic) problem with all of these TV-to-movie reboots is having older composers trying to show how “with it” they are for audiences who weren’t even embryos when these shows were on, then Mothersbaugh nails the hopelessly goofy quality of their scores at trying to be hip-hop modern. Wacky, out-of-shape synths, way-too manic electric guitars and thunderous strings rock out like an over the hill band. But that’s exactly the joke of these movies. You can feel the sweat flying off Mothersbaugh’s keyboards as he rags on every Bruckheimer-blockbuster score before him, yet with simultaneous affection that offers surprisingly good themes for action and romance amidst the patriotically trumpeting hijinks. His absurdist sound reaches even bigger heights of cop score portentousness in the even better sequel score for “22.” Sure he might be playing a golf cart chase. But the charm in these “Jump Street” scores is that he might as well be thrashing on top of an army tank as it’s racing to save the world. It’s a musical joke that pays off with an energetically wacky wink where every cop score cliché he indulges in is awesome.
. WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD
From “The Doom Generation” to “Splendor” and “Kaboom!” Greg Araki’s films are Technicolor, sexed-up acid trips, full of bad behavior that can range from the hilarious to the disturbing – but never without empathy for his misfit characters. Two composers to particularly to get that vibe are Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd, who first teamed to give a beautiful, translucent synth-rock vibe to the surreal UFO imagery that hid two young men’s awful truth behind Araki’s “Mysterious Skin.” Now the filmmaker sends another teen on a hallucinatory vision question to find the “White Bird In A Blizzard,” a caged bird that happens to be a daughter’s dissatisfied, and now disappeared suburban mother. Where Guthrie and Budd nailed a kind of retro sci-fi purple haze for “Mysterious Skin,” “White Bird’s” setting of the 80s allows them to spiritually get the guitar-synth doom groove of the decade, a proto-Goth music period that Cocteau Twins’ former guitarist Guthrie likely knows well. The result is long puffs of haunted, hallucinatory melodies that are things of ethereal beauty. As opposed to a more overtly traditional approach any other filmmaker or composer might have taken, Araki and his musicians play a smooth dream world of teen angst, with guitar-topped melodies capturing a feminine yearning that captures the weird transition between girl and woman, while a tender piano helps give lost humanity to an otherwise unsympathetic foreign hausfrau trapped in a suburb she never made. “White Bird in a Blizzard” is alt. rock scoring at its most dreamily transcendent, a finally uplifting tone poem for coming of age that abets this film’s unique, unquantifiable vibe in a way that’s more like fantasy silk than pelting snow.
CLICK on the album covers to make your hardcopy or download purchase, and find the soundtracks at these. com’s: Amazon, Intrada, iTunes, Movie Score Media, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande
WaterTower Music today proudly announces the [da.2014-11-18]November 18 release of [a.13923]Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, with music by renowned composer [c.237]Hans Zimmer, whose career has earned him Grammy, Golden Globe, Classical Brit, Academy, Tony, and American Music Awards. The soundtrack will be available in three configurations: a [a.13891]Star Wheel Constellation Chart Digipak, a [a.13923]deluxe digital-only version, and an [a.13924]Illuminated Star Projection Edition with bonus content (coming later this year).
Interstellar, from Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures, pairs the creative forces of [c.237]Hans Zimmer and esteemed director Christopher Nolan, who collaborated previously on [m.]The Dark Knight film trilogy and...
The winners of the World Soundtrack Awards were announced Saturday night at the 41st Ghent Film Festival. Some of the winners and nominees were as follows:
Film Composer of the Year
WINNER: [c.752]Alexandre Desplat [m.35957]The Grand Budapest Hotel, [m.35275]Godzilla, [m.35958]The Monuments Men, [m.37818]Venus in Fur, [m.37817]Philomena, [m.37819]Zulu, [m.41620]Marius
[c.14]Marco Beltrami [m.32179]A Good Day to Die Hard, [m.33946]Carrie, [m.39472]The Homesman, [m.34084]Snowpiercer, [m.32331]Warm Bodies, [m.33298]The Wolverine, [m.32675]World War Z
[c.1974]Steven Price [m.32671]Gravity, [m.34826]The World's End
[c.234]Gabriel Yared [m.38466]A Promise, [m.39497]In Secret, [m.40553]Kahlil Gibran's The...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.91]Mark Isham ([m.36960]Fallen), [c.423]David Hirschfelder ([m.42268]The Dressmaker), [c.752]Alexandre Desplat ([m.42270]Suffragette), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 32 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-10-20]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.41738]23 Blast ([c.1488]John Carta), [m.41561]John Wick ([c.648]Tyler Bates & [c.4501]Joel J. Richard), and [m.31315]Ouija ([c.743]Anton Sanko). [m.39035]St. Vincent ([c.452]Theodore Shapiro) is expanding nationwide for its limited release earlier this...
Creature Features, a 2,000 square foot gallery devoted to film & TV memorabilia, books, and music in Burbank, California, is hosting the Superhero Soundtrack Signing with La-La Land Records. Composers attending will include [c.1169]Lolita Ritmanis, [c.531]Michael McCuistion, [c.708]Carlos Rodriguez, [c.13520]Stuart Balcomb, and [c.1540]Frederik Wiedmann amongst others.
Details of the event are as follows:
October 25, 2014, 1:00 - 3:00 PM
2904 W. Magnolia
For further details on the event, [url.http://www.lalalandrecords.com/Site/Events.html]click...
The Golden State Pops Orchestra is hosting a fundraiser event at Sonic Fuel Studios in El Segundo, California tonight. The event, "Anatomy of a Horror Score," features a behind the scenes look into the world of horror film music composition. In attendance will be composers [c.14]Marco Beltrami, [c.777]Charles Bernstein, [c.114]Joseph LoDuca, [c.810]Nathan Barr, and director Don Mancini.
The $200 ticket to the event will also include a backstage pass to a concert of one's choice during the 2014-2015 Season. [url.https://goldenstate-popsorchestra.squarespace.com/seasons/2014/9/14/halloween-fundraiser-event]Further details can be found...
Announced this week were new composer assignments for [c.1231]Nathan Larson ([m.42218]The Wannabe), [c.3507]Laurent Eyquem ([t.42219]The Red Tent), [c.1058]John Swihart ([m.42224]A Light Beneath their Feet), among many others. For the full list of composer and music supervisor assignments from this week, [url./composers/]click here.
There were 43 new soundtrack albums released this week. [da.2014-10-13]Click here for the full schedule.
Opening nationwide this week are (with music by): [m.39210]The Best of Me ([c.1015]Aaron Zigman), [m.36256]The Book of Life ([c.1132]Gustavo Santaolalla), and [m.37595]Fury ([m.1974]Steven Price). [m.41821]Men, Women & Children ([c.13685]Bibio) is expanding nationwide for its limited release...
Alexander Publishing, working with the North Family, has begun releasing the Alex North Film Scoring Series featuring newly engraved scores in concert key of actual film cues of Academy Award winning A-list composer Alex North. The first cue is Bones/Main Title running 1:34 and is 100% downloadable and printable in an oversized 11 x 17 format. With the newly engraved cue is also orchestrator Henry Brant’s original handwritten orchestration for study comparison. Henry Brant is the author of Textures and Timbres: An Orchestrator’s Handbook and scoring techniques covered in his book are heard in the orchestrations.
Separate video instruction on selected cues focusing on orchestration and composition releases the week of October 13, 2014.
To promote the series, a newly designed movie poster alluding to the scene for which Bones was written has been created by Caroline J. Alexander and can be downloaded for free at the Alexander site.
Alex North’s instrumentation for Bones/Main Title is a true Hollywood balls-to-the-wall epic orchestral sound for full string section, 4 flutes, 4 clarinets, 4 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 contrabassoons, 4 French horns, 6 trumpets, 4 tenor trombones, 2 Euphoniums, 2 Tubas, 2 Timpanists (2 sets of timpani), crash cymbals, 2 different Organs, and 2 Harps.
The first of two video lectures on Bones/Main Title focuses on orchestration, composition, vertical registration and dynamic equivalents. “Though Bones/Main Title is short at a 1:34, what you come away with is titanic,” said Peter Alexander, General Editor of the Alex North Film Scoring Series and teacher on the Alex North video lectures.
The second video in the series, releasing in November, focuses entirely on harmony. “Those with a jazz harmony background will get lots out of the upcoming harmony video on Bones,” Alexander said.
For those not familiar with the 2001 score, the North family has permitted the original mono recording of Bones/Main Title, conducted by Henry Brant, to be posted at the Alexander Publishing web site.
All of the originally recorded cues for 2001 can be heard at Alex North 2001 at no charge to the listener. A concert of Alex North cues can be heard at the new Alex North Film Scoring YouTube channel.
A more recent recording can be found on iTunes conducted by Jerry Goldsmith on the Varese Sarabande label, where each re-recorded 2001 cue can be downloaded individually.