September Soundtrack Picks
Soundtrack Picks: ‘THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA‘ is the top soundtrack to own for September, 2015
Also worth picking up THE ARISTOCATS, BLACK MASS, COOTIES, EVEREST, JEROME LEMONNIER: PIANO WORKS #1, MARIA DI NAZARET, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: THE TELEVISION SCORES, THE SECRET NIMH and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD Cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) THE ARISTOCATS / POCAHONTAS – THE LEGACY COLLECTION
What is it?: Walt Disney continues their beautifully packaged series of collector’s editions from their animated classics, this time venturing into their musical vault for two image-changing releases, one that truly brought their animal-friendly pictures a hepcat vibe, while the other dared to sing for a real-life human princess without a happy ending.
Why should you buy it?: Disney mated “101 Dalmatians” with “Lady and the Tramp” to produce 1970’s “The Aristocats,” which had a pampered French feline and her three kittens thrust into the cold, cruel world by an inheritance-hungry butler, only to have a cat from the wrong side of the tracks come to their rescue. “The Aristocats” was a winning Disney wrap for The Sherman Brothers, who’d brought the studio any number of classic songs from “Mary Poppins” to “The Jungle Book.” But it was “The Aristocats” where the Shermans brought in a whole new level of le jazz hot, beginning with the inimitable Tony the Tiger voice of Thurl Ravenscroft strutting here as “Thomas O’Malley Cat,” the brassy definition of being footloose and fancy free. The dazzling six-minute tune “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” is a delightful jam session where New Orleans-styled band and piano have Ravenscroft elucidate on the feline beat along with the inimitable, gravelly sophistication of Scatman Crothers. Far more sedately darling is a kitten singing its “Scales and Arpeggios,” while another big joy on this release is getting the full underscore by longtime studio composer George Bruns, who’d provide instrumentals for both live action Disney pictures like “Island of the Lost” and “The Love Bug” along with the animated “Jungle Book” and “Robin Hood.” Bruns fills “The Aristocats” with the musical approximation of being a cat, using purring, lush rhythms and crazily darting action, along with not-too menacing peril. But it’s the hipper elements that really make “The Aristocats” a howl, from the with-it, Mancini-styled brass comedy to a romantic abundance of French accordions. This might be kid’s stuff, but there’s a welcome, adult sultriness and bounce to “The Aristocrats’” flair that’d be right at home at a way more adult performance at the Moulin Rouge.
Extra Special: Disney was as unbeatable a force at taking home scoring and song Oscars as English adventurers were at seizing land from Native Americans when 1995’s “Pocahontas” netted again both awards, with composers Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz winning for their enduring tune “Colors of the Wind.” But while princess lib accounted for the studio’s animated rebirth for the Menken / Howard Ashman winning “Little Mermaid” that started their musical Oscar parade in 1989, what made “Pocahontas” different was that she had an eco-political message that asked both natives and settlers to just get along – with ultimately sad results. It’s a kind of message that Walt likely never could have imagined. And while the results were certainly well intentioned if ultimately mixed as a film, there’s much to savor in the twisted “Virginia Company” and “Mine, Mine, Mine” songs that are claiming God’s assistance and worshipping wealth. A particularly fun riff on the Jets vs. Sharks clashing duet for “Tonight” is “Savages,” where it’s the Indians and settlers claiming both sides as barbarians (with our sympathies justifiably on the Algonquin’s side). Like Menken, Stephen Schwartz was a Broadway veteran with such classic shows behind him as “Godspell” and “Pippin,” and the tunesmith teaming that was destined to result in such instantly memorable and soaring tunes as the Judy Kuhn-performed “Just Around the Riverbend” and the gorgeously heartbreaking “If I Never Knew You” (co-sung so well by Mel Gibson that you’ll actually wonder why he never attempted singing career after this). The determination of “Pocahontas” to do right by Native Americans (even if the movie was bound to have cute animal friends) shines through Menken’s lush work, which integrates it song themes expertly into its underscore, as flavored with tribal rhythms and percussion that reflects the Indian’s far nobler connection to mother natures, as earth spirit sung by Linda Hunt. When warriors from both sides come to inevitable conflict, Menken is suspensefully impassioned, essentially turning the hoary “evil injun” music of so many reprehensible westerns upside down. Even if the settlers seized the land in the end, hearing “Pocahontas” in its full glory shows its Oscar trophies are well deserved. Like “The Aristrocats,” this Legacy collection offers a second disc full of demos that are just as interesting for the tunes that didn’t make it (in “Pocahontas’ case the enjoyably goofy “”Different Drummer” and “In the Middle of the River”), as accompanied by art filled booklets that make these especially wonderful collectors editions for both Disney diehards and film music fans,
2) BLACK MASS / SICARIO
Price: $17.98 / $12.99
What Is it?: Movies might enforce their morality lessons that show us why good is always better than evil. Yet from the days of “Public Enemy” to such modern-day classics as “The Godfather” and “Scarface,” Hollywood has made criminal empires undeniably romantic, and even noble, especially given the dulcet orchestral tones of Nino Rota or the pulsating disco synths of Giorgio Moroder. But now two powerful “mob” films as such do their damnedest to gut our pleasure in evildoing, especially give the nerve-jangling tonalities of Johann Johannsson’s “Sicario” and Tom Holkenborg’s despairing “Black Mass,” two scores that make us hear that crime does not pay, with music while making our musical submersion into its hellish worlds on both sides of the border especially mesmerizing.
Why Should You Buy It?: Whitey Bulger is most definitely a person the average law-abiding citizen wouldn’t want to get to know, let alone get near. But even if the vampire-looking character kept an inhuman emotional distance from even his closest compatriots in the Winter Hill Gang, it doesn’t mean that this mass murdered wasn’t a human being – even if calling him a tragic figure might be a compassion stretch. Yet it’s exactly that flawed, vulnerable side that Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) dares to try and find empathy for. Having scored the way nicer Mad Max at a suitably apocalyptic level, Holkenborg is equally as effective at scaling his music sorrowfully back for Bulger. Elegiac orchestrations for strings and anguished cellos do their best to rip apart the mobster’s rock-hard exterior, working perfectly in synch with Johnny Depp’s chilling performance to reveal emotion that Bulger dare not show for revealing any sign of softness to the underworld. For Whitey, it’s all about the unnerving, metal percussion that signals his next brutal murder. But without being religious or Irish as such, Holkenborg’s score is wracked with Catholic guilt, consumed by darkness that knows there’s going to be a piper to be paid, and certainly an organ to be played on. Given that director Scott Cooper is making anything by a fun, “Goodfellas”-esque romp here, Holkenborg’s ultra-serious music pounds in the wages of sin that resounds with the violent waste of it all, given a theme that stabs its black hearts with a dagger, while also knowing when to haul ass as its conspiratorial threads come together that make Bulger and the FBI bedmates in murder. It’s heavy musical stuff that sucks the listener right in, or as dare close to Bulger’s sinister, yet poignant approximation as they’d like to get.
Extra Special: Hailing from a couple of leagues to the depressingly perma-frosted North of the Netherland-born Holkenborg, Iceland’s Johan Johannsson is making quite an impressive career for himself as the Franz Kafka of composers, capturing the sound of nightmarish hopelessness, first with the mania of a vengeful dad in Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” before joining with another futilely driven vigilante in “MCanick.” If anything, it seems that Johannsson’s Oscar-nominated “Theory of Everything” was just a brief, inadvertent moment where he was thawed out with feelings of peace and serenity, as “Sicario” plunges the composer right back into his sinister playing ground with far more gut-wrenching effectiveness then the overwrought obviousness that filled Villeneuve’s previous feel-bad movie. Here both collaborators are far more accessible while being darker than ever as they show how the Mexican drug war have made both cartels and their pursuers morally indistinguishable from the other. With its unrelenting tension, “Sicario” is the “Seven” of drug trafficking films, as one can hear echoes of that Howard Shore serial killer score in how Johannson uses pounding strings and brass to throw an already conflicted cop into a world of pure evil. Foghorn-like effects, smashing metal and the score’s slow, ghastly pace are the stuff of pure, unbearable paranoia and absolutely riveting suspense, With a tribal beat and near-dissonance accompanying the pursuit of near-invisible enemies, “Sicario” is far more of a horror score than something resembling your usual, rhythm-heavy cops and drug runners soundtrack, creating the feeling of entering enemy territory in the unforgiving desert. There’s an equal, unbearable sadness to match “Sicario’s” menace in the anguished strings and minimal atmospheres that convey the drug war’s tragedy for the hapless civilians caught in an unstoppable cycle of corruption, music that eerie gets across a shear sense of soul-crushing futility. But while “Sicario” is as far from a happy listen as we are to the moon, Johannson makes the trip as utterly gripping as Villeneuve’s direction, matching the final plot twists by introducing a humming accompaniment to his sorrowful theme, an impossibly high, wailing child’s voices crying out for the victims. “Sicario” is magnificent in its utter bleakness, with Johannsson’s manic-depressive’ suspense score also caring distressing subsonic wavelengths that could be harnessed into a CIA tunnel-expunging sound weapon.
3) THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA
What is it?: As the likes of “Ed Wood” have taught us, it’s easy to laugh at appallingly bad directors whose ambition at being the next Orson Welles fall short. It’s even easier to welcome grandly incompetent filmmakers into hipster theaters to “celebrate” them in the same way that Chris Hargensen welcomed Carrie White to the school prom. In that movie bullying fashion, what makes Peter Schuermann’s “The Creep Behind the Camera” so powerfully twisted is that it simultaneously encourages us to guffaw at the pathetic auteur behind a people-eating carpet from outer space, while pulling back the rug to reveal a truly terrifying wife beater and child molester who’s anything but funny business. It’s two sides of the curtain that Schuermann’s brother John must play as well in his inspired score that succeeds as retro kitsch its swinging goofiness capturing a real-life monster in “Creep’s” inspired hybrid of documentary and alternately hilarious and disturbing recreations.
Why should you buy it?: Not only taking a cue from Howard Shore’s Theremin-whipped strum-und-creature score for “Ed Wood,” Scheurmann throws in the kitchen sink of cult-ready grooviness into his wildly entertaining score. 70’s crime jazz? 60’s spy grooves? 50’s Elvis rockabilly? Les Baxter-meets-Henry Mancini Shagadelia? Latin mambo? Classic Universal horror chills? “The Creep Behind the Camera’s” got ‘em all, along veritable mad monster party of horror music clichés to spare. But rather then let his creatures run amuck, Schuermann is an especially clever Dr. Frankenstein with how well these crazed styles are thematically stitched together into one thematic creature. When his beat isn’t luring another potential starlet to an awful fate under the spell of “Creeping Terror” auteur Art Nelson, it’s outright raging with delusions of grandeur. But where we know to chuckle at the Art-as-Wolfman stuff, the more dissonant passages bring real terror to scenes of him threatening his victimized wife and child with fists clenched and belt swinging. Seeing this terrific, unsettling film (easily found on VOD) brings a whole other level to the term “guilty pleasure” when hearing the score’s grand design, especially the oh-so-happy funeral march that truly sends Art into the gutter, with a cowboy-styled “Whatever Happened To What’s His Name” hilariously riffing on a guy who definitely wasn’t Randolph Scott.
Extra Special: Even if John Scheurmann likely had less money to score the accomplished “Creep Behind the Camera” than the composer-wannabe high school music teacher was given for the scoring budget of “The Creeping Unknown,” this most definitely talented artist has the real deal goods. Sure the orchestra might be sampled, but the music’s so good you hear the imagined orchestra playing it. Soundtrack fans definitely will be laughing with this score instead of at it, though seeing the great movie itself will definitely put a whole other horrifying spin on Schuermann’s terrific entry into the kitsch-a-rific bad movie as art genre.
4) MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: THE TELEVISION SCORES
What is it?: Bond-mania inspired a host of classic television imitators, among them “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Secret Agent,” “The Avengers,” and even “The Wild Wild West,” all of whos agents have gone on to big screen incarnations for better and worse. But no small screen 007 spawn can match the pop impact of “Mission Impossible,” as fueled and immediately identified by Lalo Schifrin’s, fuse-burning theme, arguably the most popular TV melody of all time. The spy-groove match struck by the Argentinian jazzman-turned-composer virtually made for the approach of Joe Kraemer’s score for “Mission” best movie spin-off yet with “Rogue Nation,” which shows just how eternal that style has remained in our pop consciousness. But there’s way more to “Mission” then The Theme, as can be appreciated on La La Land Record’s incredible six-disc box set that covers the show’s best musical forays over seven seasons from 1966 to 1973, years in which numerous, notable composers ran with Schifrin’s hip, militaristic take for the Impossible Missions Force.
Why should you buy it?: The thrill of just every “Mission Impossible” episode was seeing the beyond-clever machinations by which its specifically talented operatives could take down Commies, foreign warlords and plain old American gangsters. Schifrin devised a jaunty approach the incorporated suspenseful timpani, sneaky pizzicatos, quivering strings and muscular brass that undermined their targets, given hep bongo beats and sax flair, all with a surfeit of ethnic music (usually from the Iron Curtain, Arabia and Latin America) for the predominant international takedowns. So popularly identifiable was Schifrin’s approach that it essentially set the show’s motivic template for the years to follow. But that didn’t mean that every musical “Mission” was the same old theme, as the several, riveting hours on this set prove. A pre-“French Connection” Don Ellis provides a bizarrely trippy “Cube of Sugar” (in fact, I doubt you’ll find anything more strangely dissonant in all of 60’s TV scoring), where the flutes and exotic percussion of Gerald Fried’s “Trek” might easily be mistaken for a Vulcan-set episode of another popular series he scored. Jerry Fielding, another veteran of Roddenberry’s Enterprise, is here riff on Schifrin’s theme for “The Council,” where “The Execution’s” doom-beating drums hint at the way bolder march Fielding took to send “The Wild Bunch” off to their ultra-violent blaze of glory. Even jazz great Benny Golson was on hand to provide an impressionistic score for a sightless Phelps in “Blind Jim.” With all props to Barbara Bain’s Emmy-winning work on the show, her turn doing Marlene Dietrich-styled songs with “Buy My Glass of Wine” and “Ten Tiny Toes” was outsung by Madeline Kahn in “Blazing Saddles.” But above all, “Mission Impossible” is Schifrin’s reel-to-reel tape, with the composer never missing a chance to get his jazz swing on whenever possible, particularly with the Bossa Nova and piano blues-filled episode “The Contender.” Yet his most impressive episode just might be his two-part “The Killer,” whose music could easily fill the musical shoes of a crazed Andrew Robinson as opposed to the stone killer assassin Robert Conrad, with Schifrin cooling drawing a sinister jazz target in the same way as his seminal “Dirty Harry” score (perhaps it’s no irony that the most pulse-pounding cue in that episode is labeled “Scorpio”).
Extra Special: Major props for this “Mission Impossible” collection can be given to Jon Burlingame, television music journalism’s answer to Ethan Hunt, whose knowledge of the medium easily bests being able hang from an airplane at take off. Given dozens of hours of already powerful “Mission Impossible” scoring to pull from, Burlingame has done an exceptional job of cherry picking what are truly the best tracks, while also paying attention to such unheralded show composers as Richard Hazard, Jack Urbont and Robert Drasnin. The result is always invigorating, and never tiring, showing just how much complexity could be given to variations on a Schifrin theme. Burlingame definitely reveals the show’s history through three booklets, a yeoman job of album producing and writing that he most definitely accepted with spy TV love to spare. La La Land follows up on their box complete classic Trek tunes with another terrific assembly of classic television scoring at its best (with a finally found “Lost in Space” set to arrive on Earth very shortly). Mission accepted with gratitude.
5) THE SECRET OF NIMH
What is it?: Given the astounding amount of genres that Jerry Goldsmith had scored by 1982, the fact that he had never did an animated film seems almost as impossible as the idea of super-intelligent rats scurrying below us. And while Goldsmith’s soundtrack for “The Secret of Nimh” somehow remained the only one he’d ever work on, it remains one the genre’s best animated features and scores by virtue of treating itself with all the emotion of live action.
Why should you buy it?: Sure Disney films up to the needle point of “Nimh” had their bits of upsetting violence and a smattering of social relevance. But it would be that studio’s expatriate Don Bluth who gave his film a real bite that was then unimaginable to The Mouse House as it tackled animal experimentation and Machiavellian backstabbing among the rat intelligentsia, yet given the warm, eventually cosmic glow of a widowed mother mouse trying to save her family from The National Institute of Mental Health. This was grad stuff worthy of any “real” film, which is exactly how Jerry Goldsmith treated it. The composer was certainly at the height of his genre power at the time with such epic soundtracks as “Star Trek – The Motion Picture,” “Outland” and “Poltergeist” recently behind him. Where most scores to featuring talking critters and their comic relief (here represented by Dom DeLuise’s mate-hungry crow) always featured some sort of musical cartoonishness, Goldsmith eschewed that pizzicato-happy approach as he played “Nimh” for real, – all still not ignoring the fact that Bluth was essentially aiming towards the Disney audience after all. Goldsmith’s main theme comes from “Flying Dreams,” arguably the loveliest song that he composed for a feature. It’s performed by the immediately recognizable, and gentle voice of the tune’s co-writer Paul Williams, along with Sally Stevens for the tune’s lullaby version. That melody is the embodiment of hearth and home for Mrs. Brisby (renamed from the book’s too toy-like “Mrs. Frisby”), a movingly sentimental theme that’s quickly swept into a world of soaring choruses, menacing strings and dark brass far beyond the mouse’s comprehension. But within the root-filled world of its mutant rats lies a god-like sense of majesty, almost a continuation of Goldsmith’s music for Jesus triumphant appearance at the end of “The Final Conflict.” Cues like “The Story of Nimh” are masterworks of musical storytelling as Goldsmith effortlessly segues from John Carradine’e foreboding wise old owl to thematic sentiment, Vejur-like majesty and into the terrifying, rhythmic build that turns tormented lab animals into Einsteins. It’s incredibly moving scoring that captures an uncommon sense of awe, and tremendous, Stravinsky dance-like excitement for a swordfight turning to the crushing, horrifying desperation of a mother watching her kids getting buried alive. Goldsmith’s “Nimh” has real weight to it, groaning to uphold a massive cinder block or unleashing Brisby’s inner magic with biblical deliverance, all given a magnificent thematic sense of uncompromising feeling worthy of any flesh and blood character that Goldsmith ever scored.
Extra Special: A longtime animated favorite precisely for its daring, “The Secret of Nimh’s” soundtrack has made flight from That’s Entertainment LP to a sold out Varese Sarabande CD. But this classic score has never sounded as sumptuously beautiful as it does on Intrada’s terrifically remastered cd that truly brings out the nuance of Goldsmith’s dazzlingly complex score (which has always been striking for its echoed recording). Better yet, Intrada had dug up one long-buried score cue “At Your Service” while also adding multiple demos for “Flying Dreams.” The label’s designer Joe Sikoryak has crafted an especially striking booklet that really brings out the color’s of Bluth’s artwork, as accompanied by Jeff Bond’s understandably awe-struck liner notes.
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
. CIVILIZATION: BEYOND EARTH – RISING TIDE
Sid Meir’s strategy game that began on earth has now taken to space, going from playing with history to maneuvering about in sci-fi realms, which now plunge into an aquatic dimension of colony building for “Civilization’s” expansion “Rising Tide.” Where it’s certainly easier to score the videogame genre of first person shooters with their automatically cinematic action, creating a musical world out of metaphoric moving blocks presents a whole other level of difficulty. But composers Geoff Knorr (“Civilization V”), Grant Kirkhope (“Kingdoms of Alamur: Reckoning”) and Griffen Cohen (“Beyond Earth”) have truly opened up this tide into symphonically cosmic waters. Lush, epic washes of strings and chorus build with a sense of wonder and hope with each cue. It’s near-continuously escalating music that’s the equivalent of the idea of exploring brave new worlds for all of their optimistic possibilities, at least as our better choral angels would have us think. This sort of soaring melodic wanderlust has filled no small amount of James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith scores, and is played here with terrific sonic presence by the FILMharmonic orchestra, which makes full use of over a hundred combined players and vocalists, Think of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” being employed for a strategy game, and you’ll get a sense of the impressive, legend-making sweep that “Tide” is full of. As one wave of orchestra and chorus crashes after the next, “Tide” makes the mind look up at the heavens as opposed to a computer screen, which I imagine was Meier’s goal when he first set foot with gamers on this planet.
Politically incorrect to the hilariously satiric extreme, and doubtfully way more funny now that we’ve had a few years since a maniac opened fire on a class of kindergarteners, “Cooties” has evil mischief on its pubescent, crazed mind as a pack of killer kids make mincemeat out of their elementary school’s pupils and staff – all encouraged by the musical mayhem of Kreng (aka Belgian actor / composer Pepijn Caudron). Much like its fellow Milan Records classmate “It Follows,” “Cooties” takes its inspiration from 70’s prog-rock slasher horror strains, But as opposed to Disasterpiece’s effectively monolithic, single-minded march of death, “Cooties” mixed strain of gory zombie action and “Gremlins’”-esque hijinks yields a wild assault of styles from Kreng’s cleverly energetic soundtrack. Of course given a taunting children’s’ chorus and toy-bell glitter in its title, Caudron unleashes a plethora of screaming, electro shout outs to John Carpenter’s pattering suspense, Fabio Frizzi’s gurgling undead synths and Giallo metal guitars. Just about everything’s game in this crazed musical recess as such usually joyful kiddie music staples as fairy tale melodies and comedic bounciness lose their minds at the taste of tainted Chicken nuggets. You even get a demented take on the zombie mall Muzak from “Dawn of the Dead,” or a warped carnival organ, as Kreng lets his devilish imagination run wild – but not at the expense of actually managing to give his musical horror teeth with a mass of orchestral instruments and the kind of top-notch sampling that marks Caudron’s electronica career. “Cooties” is a demented, quite great sugar rush of a monster kid composer, a brain-ripping assault of kitsch, homage and thrashing rhythm that takes sleazy-retro horror scoring and makes it part of the Daft Punk age.
. END OF THE TOUR
In the midst of the understandable Tim Burton mania that accompanies Danny Elfman’s most popular work, it’s easy to overlook the composer’s ability at making drama sound as eccentrically original as his excursions into Goth-worshipped genre films. With such idiosyncratic excursions as “Good Will Hunting,” “Milk” and “Reckless,” one can hear as much affection for kindred outsider subjects like a math whiz delinquent, a loud and proud gay man and a suicide obsessed kid. Elfman’s new partnership with author David Foster Wallace again captures an original thinker with equally inventive music, in this case a real-life, soft-spoken satiric writer not destined to survive his own demons Elfman’s tour has a percussive, witty gentleness for this cap-wearing recluse, soft strings reflecting his icy rural environment, as well as the ghosts of past mental illness. With chiming bells and echoing, glass-like sound, Elfman’s created a latter day counterpart to Jack Nietzsche’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” but in this case for a brilliant man roaming about his own asylum. It’s a hallucinatory, sometimes groovy approach that tries to break out its shell for the hanger-on interviewer-poseur who’d like nothing better than to enter Wallace’s cursed cage of book tour celebrity. As wholly fresh as anything that Elfman’s done for original thinkers, “End of the Tour’s” poignant, surreal magic comes from hearing the composer trying to get inside of Wallace’s head, and in the end being pretty much as stymied as everyone else – but not without absorbing the melancholy, incisive ghost of the man with this bittersweet, beautiful little score. Lakeshore adds progressive tunes by R.E.M., Brian Eno and Tindersticks that likewise capture Wallace’s appeal to intelligent, disaffected readers. But if anything, it’s the sad, quirky warmth of Elfman’s score that makes us want to know his cut-short brilliance better.
“Eat, Pray, Love” composer Dario Marianelli takes a far more adventurous, and unintentionally lethal quest for musical self-fulfillment atop the world’s most famous peak, where disaster will strike a group of climbers in a horrifying chain of well-intentioned errors. It’s a powerful score that’s the embodiment of the queried mountaineer’s refrain of “Because it’s there,” a symphonically bold, but also ethereally spiritual journey full of percussive excitement and a soaring, strong theme as our climbers zero in on the top of the world. “Everest” is full of thematic strength and awe, capturing the thrill of being in time-lost land, while using haunting female voice to acknowledgement of the loved ones back home, an emotional device that will pay off later with devastating, emotional results. Marianelli’s skilled blend of modern rhythms with age-old Asian instruments, and even a bit of throat singing, gives “Everest” a real sense of scale, climbing from piano to bold strings to give the characters a humanistic sense of heroism. You can feel the strain of the ascent in Marianelli’s ever-determined builds as “Everest” enters its “death zone,” conjuring the monolithic, impossible odds of surviving a monstrous snowstorm, with eerie samples becoming the howling winds themselves. His theme takes on an elegiac realization of one’s own fate, his sadly, beautiful descending strings for life’s last light capturing a delicate sadness worthy of Arvo Part for a climber’s heartbreaking call back to his expectant wife. Yet the melody can gather up all of its strength to defy the odds right afterwards, with even the Nepalese army given their percussively inclusive moment in the heroic, helicopter sun. Where it would be easy to play these real-life events in an obvious, hammy way, Marianelli brings a real intelligence to this sort of disaster-survival scoring, with a heart-rending electric violin epilogue that makes “Everest” an intelligent, immersive score to summit.
. HITMAN: AGENT 47
Marco Beltrami continues to prove a great target for assassins this year, following up Sean Penn’s remorse-filled “Gunman” with the steely, all business as usual “Agent 47.” Though it’s the second videogame movie to feature the eponymously bald “Hitman,” this underrated feature is an infinitely better entry for the console-to-screen genre, if not actually its first legitimately good movie at that. Given a body-dropping parade of exceptionally well-executed action sequences and intense anti-heroes, Beltrami drops the beat big time. Fitting very well into the rhythmic-orchestral technique of action scoring forever blazed into Hollywood by John Powell’s “Bourne Identity,” Beltrami skillfully blends strings into merciless electro-rock pads, his trademarked way with raging brass, varying his thematic peaks to create a near-constant sense of thrill kill exhilaration. Beltrami captures the robotic finesse in Agent 47’s super violent ability, though given just a bit of contemplative, subtly melodic soul to reflect on. The real emotion is given to his very reluctant female comrade he targets for self-realization, whose meeting with her father yields truly moving emotion that almost seemingly comes out of nowhere. Through all of its well-executed mayhem, Beltrami never settling into the press-play dullness that can come from this musical style’s familiarity, especially when he brings in the big orchestral guns for a helicopter-smashing finale. From thrilling start to finish, “Agent 47” hits the floor as if he was attending a rave where people were filled with bullets as opposed to sucking on binkies.
. I’ll FOLLOW YOU DOWN
Where many time travel films involve lavish special effects and rollicking orchestral scores, 2013’s “I’ll Follow You Down” went back to the future with an impressive sense of intimacy on all chronometer readings, the emotional energy of its decidedly inauspicious time machine fueled by the lyrical score by Andrew Lockington. “A.I.” star Haley Joel Osment marked his second, terrific sci-fi film here, now playing a grown son left years ago for highly unusual reasons by his scientist dad. Lockington movingly places himself into the mindspace of a young man obsessed with unlocking the keys to his father’s disappearance, no matter the heartbreak it will cause him. Best known for his blockbuster accompaniment of The Rock on the epic scores for “San Andreas” and “Journey 2 the Mysterious Island,” Lockington shows that he’s just as effective when toning the epic multiplex energy down for a far more vulnerable film. Next to the calculations of its whiz kid, one can find the notes of such Thomas Newman’s scores as “The Shawshank Redemption” as Lockington makes similar, beautiful use of that musician’s way with haunting washes of strings and ethereal sound. It’s a balance of lush symphonic melody (superbly recoded at London’s Air studio under the guidance of ace “Stargate” orchestrator Nicholas Dodd), often accompanied with tender solo piano, making the cosmic forces at work resonate from a boy’s wounded, if hopeful soul. Guiding by Lockington’s ever-present, and quite remarkable themes, “I’ll Follow You Down’s” music borders the time-space continuum between the poetic and the profound. Yet there’s always a sense of propulsion to the trip, even in its most atmospheric passages as the score fills with both desperation and the wonder of proving the impossible. Hearing the soul beyond the hard science, Lockington’s beautifully haunting score is more than worth tracking to the Einsteinian era, proving its thesis with melancholy heart.
. THE INTERN
If Nancy Meyers is indeed the far less intellectually posteuring female answer to Woody Allen’s brand of upscale comedy, then she thankfully has far more of an appreciation for how underscore can help the travails of those who can really afford the NYC rent. For “The Intern,” it’s a gentlemanly retired businessman with a swank apartment that helps arrange an overworked fashion start-up exec’s life to the quite pleasing rhythms of Theodore Shapiro. The “Marley & Me” composer certainly has his own winning brand of melodic, modern rhythms for strings, percussion and sympathetic guitar that he applied to Anne Hathaway’s other fashionista vehicle “The Devil Wears Prada.’ The interesting spin here is that “The Intern” is not a Meyers rom-com as such, but a movie where the relationship is strictly kept on the level of friendship – that most interesting platonic state of affairs which is a rarity for a Hollywood comedy. Shapiro builds this ersatz father-daughter bond with a charmingly effervescent and winsome feel for lush melody, an acoustical-orchestral groove that also hips things up a little bit with electronic beats for an old-school guy thrown into a new, internet-obsessed world. It’s smooth, nicely smart scoring about nice people done by a fairly young composer who’s now an old had at making opposites attract, if not in that way for “The Intern.” Meyers’ astute song picks also gets the job done well, proving to be most Allen-esque thing about this soundtrack with jazz-pop standards by Ray Charles, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday and George Gershwin reflecting De Niro’s now positively prehistoric generation and its way better taste in listening. Besides, would any light comedy soundtrack be without “The Girl From Ipanema?”
. JEROME LEMONNIER: PIANO WORKS #1
Soundtrack fans accustomed to robust orchestral scores, especially the unabashedly melodic ones that come from France, understandably want to hear the full symphonic power of the soundtrack, as opposed to the piano that most often gave the music birth. Where many solo keyboard albums have felt just a bit impoverished as a result of our expectations, Jerome Lemonnier’s “Piano Works” is a pleasant surprise that makes for a fully entertaining release that shows how a good’s score’s range can be communicated in its deceptively simplest form, in this case a collection of his since fleshed-out scores for director Denis Dercourt. Their fruitful collaboration began with 2006’s “The Page Turner,” which perhaps not-so ironically detailed the revenge of a budding pianist on the woman who ruined her career aspirations. If one think’s that the determined “Theme D’Anna” which opens the album will make for a classical listen, then the second, rapid-fire “Etude D’Ariane” immediately conjures a Bernard Herrmann-worthy chase. The cunning, chamber piece of “Au Chateau” gives way to the gentle “Paul A Bicyclette,” while “Prelude De Melanie” has a pleasant, Baroque energy. And so it goes as Lemmonier varies between Bach, impassioned suspense and delicate beauty. It’s a sound that’s most definitely cinematic, and classical as well, making for an album that’s nicely accessible to fans of both musical genres. But whatever the variation, Lemmonier’s unplugged collection from such Dercourt scores as “Tomorrow at Dawn,” “A Pact” and “En Equilibre” shows a composer who can conjure one interesting, catchy and sometimes darkly transfixing melody after the next, more than enough to make us want to hear the instrumentally complete versions as such, even if their emotion is most definitely heard on his strokes of the keyboard.
. MARIA Di NAZARET
Mel Gibson certainly made Jesus the next big thing for film and television the world over with composer John Debney expanding on Peter Gabriel’s trend-setting “Passion” soundtrack by treating God’s son with authentic percussion and ancient Middle Eastern instruments, as given a wash of the old time scoring religion of the western symphony. Finding a different musical direction for Jesus certainly presented a challenge for future composers who’d have to play The Word. When given an Italian-German TV miniseries that saw Jesus’ rise from the perspective of his mother Mary and the not-so-pure Mary Magdalene, English musician Guy Farley took a lushly symphonic, and quite reverent depiction of The Savior for “Maria Di Nazaret.” Having impressed with the way more sinful scores of “Cashback’s” ethereal ogling of nude models, “The Flock’s” psychologically twisted pursuit of child molesters and “Hot Potato’s” retro spy games, Farley achieves a gorgeous sense of worship, paying due tribute at the altar of John Barry and Ennio Morricone in the first composer’s strongly thematic, writing and the latter’s blending of melody and dissonance. Most impressive is that Farley’s score for “Mary” (divided between “The Early Years” and “The Passion”) doesn’t overtly go for those ethnic biblical chestnuts that have become a bit cliché after “Passion,” subtly using tribal drums, diduks, flutes and voices that result in his own distinctive approach to Jesus. While there is a mostly muted sense of a higher power, there’s not much that’s especially “religious” about Farley’s work here, making it even more accessible to the soundtrack fan that might not necessarily want to get sermonized to. Instead, “Mary” plays like a bucolic romance, given moments of dark suspense, or the intimacy of a solo piano. The inevitable tragedy of “Maria’s” second part nevertheless has the hope of resurrection in the lovely voice of Tanja Tzarovska (whose vocals also gave witness to John Debney’s work) with Farley only going for the real sweeping, Alfred Newman-esque “Greatest Story Ever Told” approach at the right moments. In capturing a higher power, Farley’s score is nicely down to earth for the savior of mankind as it mostly plays a mother’s undying love for the Son of God. Caldera Records pairs Farley’s score with the earthier Italian production “L’Uomo Che Sognava Con Le Aquile,” which offers another gorgeously melodic, and sometimes sweetly whimsical score. Its backdrop of farming and cheese selling in the Italian countryside recalls the bucolic energy of Thomas Newman, as well as more playful, tuba-topped Neapolitan rhythms for the film’s not-so chaste romance. Throughout both impressive works (including a cue that’s likely the most beautifully elegiac music you’ll hear from a Jean Claude Van Damme movie), Farley shows a mastery of the orchestra and piano that might make some listeners think he’s been touched by a higher power.
From Gaijin to Gweilo, it’s understandable why white warrior invaders were not particularly welcome in pre-modernized Asia. However, these barbarian interlopers certainly provided welcome opportunity for white composers, whether Maurice Jarre was scoring a shipwrecked sailor in “Shogun” or Hans Zimmer accompanied a Civil War soldier daring to become “The Last Samurai.” Now Frenchman Guillaume Roussel goes back further than any interlopers before to capture a Crusader “Outcast” finding new battles to fight in China. This centuries old sword-swinging, arrow-shooting meeting of East and West certainly opens up fertile territory for Roussel, a contributor to such Hollywood soundtracks as “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” who’s simultaneously making a name for himself with such French-set action scores as “3 Days to Kill” and “The Connection.” There’s much Catholic guilt to be head with heroes who’ve grown sick of religious bloodshed, as Roussel powerfully uses Latin hymns during choice battle sequences, while bringing out the anguished emotion from Nicolas Cage’s berserker knight (of course called “The White Ghost”), a powerful sense of somberness that brings seriousness to a standout among Cage’s reams of VOD movies. Better yet, Roussel judiciously balances the far more backward instruments of Medieval Europe with poetic use of Chinese strings and winds, making this the most potent score in its genre since “The Last Samurai.” Like that soundtrack, there’s a powerful sense of thematic honor that adorns its crusaders, with a dynamic orchestra and distinctly modern, rock-guitar-powered percussion making “Outcast” very much part of the 22nd century camp of action writing. It’s a welcome score indeed in cross-culture warrior soundtracks, with all of the epic nobility that implies.
The world’s most notorious chess master has at last been found by Hollywood. And it’s not in the interesting, almost surreal way that James Horner chose to play a chess-struck kid in the cloyingly sentimentalized “Search For Bobby Fischer” (even if that movie was admittedly about a little kid who didn’t know better about his idol). Instead, “Pawn Sacrifice” hears the real, raging deal, as personified for a likely Oscar nomination by Tobey Maguire. It’s the next great performance of a psychotic that’s been gifted to composer James Newton Howard after Jake Gyllenhaal’s glory-lusting cameraman in “Nightcrawler” – both actors creating buttoned up anxiety that explodes into frightening fury. But where scoring car crashes provides news-at-11 excitement for the eye to gawk at, playing the life-or-death moves on a chessboard with the same level of gripping energy is definitely a more difficult task – one that Howard excels at brilliantly here for his third teaming with director Ed Zwick after the less successful films “Defiance” and “Love & Other Drugs.” Here Howard envisions Fischer as a little boy lost to parental neglect and his own growing mental illness, with chess as his only must-win purpose in life. Like Zwick, the real challenge beyond the chess moves is giving pathos to a truly unlikable person. Using warm instrumental colors in muted fashion to give Fischer a sad measure of humanity, while subtly introducing Russian rhythms that illustrate both Fischer’s expatriate mom and his somewhat sympathetic adversary in Boris Spassky. Having explored interesting electronic elements early on with such scores as “Grand Canyon” and “The Trigger Effect,” Howard uses cold, steel-like samples to get inside of the opponent’s always calculating minds, getting across the idea of computers riffling through thousands of potential moves in their brain banks. There’s no excitement as such in trying to get across the idea of chess as some raging battle. Rather, Howard goes for two snipers constantly trying to get a lethal bead on each other’s killshot intentions, both given a sadness in being pawns of greater Cold War forces. Even when Bobby gets the big win, Howard keeps his most conventionally symphonic music in a state of moving melancholy. It’s easily one of his most beautifully tragic pieces of music, saying that in the end there’s no win for a genius who’s been hopelessly beaten by insanity, even if the red white and blue is being hoisted high. It’s the checkmate musical move for a compelling, excellent film and score that has no end of inventive, unexpected moves of its own to match Fischer’s tormented soul.
. THIBAUD OU LES CROISADES
History, especially its cross-bearing era, was particularly good to Georges Delerue as his career reached international acclaim during the latter 1960s with the medieval likes of “A Man for All Seasons” and “Anne of the Thousand Days.” But if those scores were mostly concerned with highborn nobles, a white crusader on his home television turf gave the composer a bit more excitement to play with for “Thibaut the Crusader.” Running from 1968 to 1969, this French series featured a dashing, white-garbed avenger fighting for the good name of Christianity in The Middle East, who never managed to get a speck of heathen blood on his always-sparkling white outfit, It was a field day for Delerue to show off his romantic panache, from a glorious march theme to his gorgeous way with lyrical, flute and string melody, evoking knightly honor in both spirit and music from the period, Delerue’s approach might not exactly be swashbuckling, but it’s certainly music that would befit King Arthur if his knights were searching for the grail in sand-swept lands, with beautiful winds conjuring Arabic exotica. There’s also a nice, frisky playfulness to Delerue’s score, making “Thibaud” a quite lovely thematic marriage between big heraldic adventure, sprightly period music and the kind of lush, lyrical poignancy that made Delerue a king of romantic sentiment. Music Box Record’s release pairs “Thibaud” with Delerue’s work for the 1969 French series “Fortune,” which chronicled the real-life American exploits of Swiss entrepreneur John Sutter, whose famous California mill led to the gold rush. Just as effective as his approach for Thibaud a few hundred years before, Delerue’s harmonica and guitar embodies the America west, with waves of glittering harps the wanderlust that led to Sutter’s impoverished ending. There’s certainly no fool’s gold in Delerue’s music that poignantly captures the tragedy of a man driven to ruin by the quest for riches, while also giving the Frenchman the opportunity to show that he would have made a mean American saloon pianist back in the day.
. WOLF TOTEM
From chronicling caveman seeking fire on a blighted pre-earth to a roaming bear and two tiger siblings, few directors have really touched the spirit of the wild like Jean-Jacques Annaud. But his talent for realism goes way too brutally far in “Wolf Totem,” which sadly represents the next-to-last score that we’ll ever hear from James Horner (the final being his Chilean miner rescue soundtrack for “33”). Maybe it’s eerie foresight that Horner’s quite marvelous score basically sums up the qualities that made him into one of Hollywood’s finest composers – among them an untamed, epic sense for the orchestra, an understanding of music as myth and a world traveler’s talent for employing ancient ethnic instruments as old as the wolf’s presence alongside man. All of these qualities are put to sweeping use in Annaud’s tale of emissaries of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in service of making nomadic Mongolians part of the bigger Little Red Book picture. Having first teamed with Annaud for the eerie, electronic score that put a distinctive touch to the Dark Age murder mystery “The Name of the Rose” before reteaming for the sniper suspense of “Enemy at the Gates” and the sweeping Arabic family feud of “Day of the Falcon,” Horner’s unfortunately final work for Annaud beautifully matches the director’s always reliable sweeping vistas of untouched nature and its human inhabitants with Tibetan throat singing, flutes and Oriental percussion, all giving a distinct feeling of an untamed land. But it’s the essence of the wolf that symphonically rules the score with thundering action for the bestial joy of the hunt, a magnificent feeling of god-like nobility and above all a sweepingly thematic feeling of tragedy for the end of a time when man and beast were respectful adversaries towards their place in nature. If anything, the awesomeness of “Wolf Totem” is Horner’s follow up to “Legends of the Fall,” brassily raging to the heavens with a magnificent sadness and defiance for the inevitable. It’s Horner’s music that adds even more gut-wrenching tragedy to Annaud’s over-the-top cavalcade of wolf slaughter in all of its horrible forms, so awful by the end that the only character you’ll be sympathetic to is the last wolf standing. Definitely the fat better way to appreciate “Wolf Totem” is to solely stick to its music without Horner’s work being tainted in the mind by the movie’s brutality. For everything that was great about Horner is contained within this mighty totem, all the sublimely emotional, and howling thematic strength present for a distinct voice that could only be silenced by fate itself.
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