Soundtrack Picks: “LOGAN” is the top soundtrack to own for March, 2017
Soundtrack Picks: “LOGAN” is the top soundtrack to own for March, 2017
Also worth picking up BEFORE I WAKE, BEVERLY HILLS COP, FRANKENSTEIN, THE LAST VALLEY, PLANETARIUM, PLANET EARTH II, SILENT RUNNING TINA GUO: GAME ON! and many more!
To Purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover
THE TOP PICKS
1) DUCK TALES / SKY HIGH
What is it?: Intrada has often mined musical treasure from the Disney vaults. But perhaps none are shinier than the treasure that results from composers with a taste for fantastical adventure, be it involving waterfowl or teen superheroes in training.
Why should you buy it: Not every funny animal star to grace Disney came from film or television, one case in point being Scrooge McDuck, a feathered spin on Ebenezer created by comic book artist Carl Barks in 1947. His money-making schemes providing no end of perilous trouble for nephew Donald Duck and his kids in a series of popular adventure stories, and later a syndicated TV show that provided the gist for 1990’s “Duck Tales: The Movie.” But when listening to Scrooge’s musical quest for the treasure of the lost lamp, you might assume you’re listening to the score for a long lost Indiana Jones picture, if given a somewhat lighter spin. Few composers gave that era’s kid-friendly comedy-adventures the kind of energetic rambunctiousness like David Newman. With lush orchestrations that shifted to new ideas at a moment’s notice, Newman’s scores for the likes of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Galaxy Quest” and “The Brave Little Toaster” came across like a fusion between his dad Alfred Newman and Warner Brother’s toon king Carl Stalling. “Duck Tales” is a prime cut of his seamless ability to jet between cheerful rhythm and cliffhanging peril, a silly symphony by way of the lost Ark as Newman inflects Arabic exoticism into a constantly thrilling sense of discovery. Newman embodies Scrooge and company as a hardy band of explorers boldly facing death-defying traps, as well as a few pratfalls. It’s exactly the kind of dynamic scoring that makes the listener take cartoons all the more seriously, especially given the composer’s dynamic use of strings and brass, given a constant sense of melodic excitement and wonder that plays one of the composer’s best “Tales” where the real treasure within is robustly cliffhanging music that plays Scrooge as anything but a McDuck.
Extra Special: Michael Giacchino was fresh off Disney’s “The Incredibles” when the studio’s “Sky High” flew his way in a welcome case of superhero typecasting. Where Giacchino had taken a stylized, hep John Barry 60’s approach for that animated movie’s spandex-clad family, the composer’s approach for “Sky High” was all about his love for John Williams. Giacchino confidently responded to his first live action movie leap with a stupendous theme whose trumpeting melody was practically emblazoned with a big red “S,” Giacchino’s score immediately nails the lofty nobility of this power pack, while also capturing the underdog emotion of a son trying to fill his crusader dad’s cape. Like David Newman, Giacchino’s use of his formidable orchestral resources was serious, if not exactly life or death stuff given the villain’s plan to reduce her foes to kindergarten size. With numerous genre franchises that the composer would conquer on the horizon, Giacchino’s affection for the material rings through the theme-rich score, from the dastardly bell-ringing brass of evil to swirling, save-the-day orchestrations, a symphonically grand approach whose climactically suspenseful string and choral power would only grow to Oscar winning heights, not to mention the brilliant John Williams’ emulation of “Rogue One.” Yet “Sky High” is certainly a match for Giacchino’s most enjoyable work to come, a comic book-colored score that again showed him as being to the superhero manor born.
What Is it?: Marco Beltrami has always been a composer to find a uniquely dark sound in nihilistic subject matter, whether it’s onboard the twisted samples of a train to a frozen apocalypse in “Snowpiercer,” or using a distorted metal to defuse ticking Iraqi bomb death in his Oscar nominated score with Buck Sanders for “Hurt Locker.” He’s also been to the twisted well once or twice for Marvel, teaming with Philip Glass for a cool modernistic take on the disastrous revamp of the “Fantastic Four,” and journeyed with director James Mangold for a Japanese take on everyone’s favorite berserker Canuck mutant with “Wolverine.” If you want to hear the inspiration for “Logan,” then go back to the old, twisted west for Beltrami’s first Oscar nomination in service of Mangold’s “3:10 To Yuma.” Or better yet, listen to the psychologically perverse score to “The Homesman,” and you’ll get the tantalizingly doomed basis for “Logan’s” ride into the sunset as Beltrami lays the saga to rest with his creative claws blazing.
Why Should You Buy It?: Right from the “Wolverine” recall of a western-style harmonica that signals a blade-slinger who doesn’t want to be pulled back in, and the lovely, lonely piano theme of his melancholy existence with the last tatters of his X-life, Beltrami (along with his composing team of Sanders, Marcus Trumpp and Brandon Roberts) embody a savage, wounded animal who’s nonetheless a warrior poet. A seething berserker rage, along with the villainy of the hapless cyber-enhanced reavers become gnarled, electric guitars that paint a bleak, hypnotic landscape replete with melancholy and sudden death. The crazed musical violence is balanced with a poignant, Zen calm that gives the score a nicely modulated impact, eerily enhanced by the crystalline sound of a glass armonica’s water bowls. Mostly defying the kind of big orchestra that could potentially recall a sunnier Marvel superhero film, Beltrami pays off those big moments nonetheless as he crafts perhaps Marvel’s most distinctive score yet.
Extra Special: While “Logan” makes no bones about being a bloody update of “Shane” (excepting that the kid attached at the hip to the gunslinger is no shrinking violet), the biggest musical surprise here is how Beltrami’s score is way more of a throwback to Gene Hackman than Alan Ladd, employing some of the nuttiest use of jazz rhythms to the hard-broiled action genre outside of Don Ellis and David Shire’s scores for “The French Connection” and “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.” Beltrami puts piano runs into the jagged adrenalin frenzy of “El-Limo Nator,” where the brass impalement fiesta of “Forest Fight” kicks it with a seeming improv drum solo that might have come from “Whiplash,” as kept pace with wildly rhythmic brass. Electric guitar also leaps into Beltrami’s mayhem, really given a chance to shine in an album that reveals the intricacy of the score. It’s the sound of pure, savage creativity that uses low key emotion to rips out fans’ hearts, laying bare a wounded soul and a hell of a post-apocalyptic western-jazz score at that.
3) THE RED BALLOON / PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES
What is it?: A label that’s often shown a love of foreign soundtrack, or delightful Hollywood froth that just happens to take place overseas, Kritzerland now puts out two Parisian soundtrack delights, one about the tender relationship between a boy and helium, and the other using, swinging jazzy hijinks to bring dialogue to a screenplay in the city of lights.
Why should you buy it?: A classic to schoolchildren of a certain age, Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 short film “The Red Balloon” featured the wordless interplay between a young boy and a puppy-like balloon, winning an Oscar for Best Screenplay in the process. Following him around the streets, into school and dancing out of the popping desires of bullies, the lovely little score by Maurice Leroux is a magical thing of wonder, shimmering bells conjuring the enchantment of a special friend, as sweet orchestrations become the blissful sound of youth, all while painting the balloon as a flesh and blood playmate. Thematically buoyant, Leoroux’s playfully suspenseful score seems like the music of a lost Disney animated feature from the 40’s, capturing a sense of natural wonder that might befit a “Bambi” sequel, a vintage quality enhanced by the archival sound. Lamorisse followed up “The Red Balloon” with “Le Voyage en Balloon” (aka “Stowaway in the Sky”), a far grander1960 feature that finds “Red’s” balloon-fascinated boy soaring over France with his grandfather. This time the score was by Jean Prodromides (who’d go on to score adult fare like “Spirits of the Dead” and “Danton”). Far more dance hall and a bit less “childish” in approach, Prodromides’ score is a delight, given a theme that dances from waltz to lullaby as it captures the sights below with sumptuous orchestral enchantment. While not “French” as such in approach, there’s no mistaking the Gallic countryside in the joie de vivre of its music, which floats on the magic of where the air takes you, as its soaringly melodic dance rhythms escalate with excitement, and finally a stirring chorus worthy of an epic. Both “Balloons” add up to a real charmer, showing how music and imagery remain aloft together to convey the magic of both flight and boyhood wonder.
Extra Special: Way more in jazzy key with a 1964 American bachelor pad, Nelson Riddle is in full, swinging bloom with “Paris When It Sizzles.” William Holden played another screenwriter on the make, though with Audrey Hepburn making for far more agreeable company than Gloria Swanson as the temp trying to break his mental block in gay Paree. As the idea girl segues his stream of consciousness from one nutty scenario to the next. Riddle was Frank Sinatra’s go-to arranger when not scoring TV and film assignments like no one’s swinging business. By the time he sizzled, Riddle already had such hep credits as “Ocean’s 11,” “Lolita” and “Come Blow Your Horn” to his credit. “Paris” particularly sings with the fun variety of premises offered here, from aping stormy Dracula music to cliffhanging cowboy and Indian action. Musical movie-movie stereotyping has rarely been this delicious as Heft’s talent for “serious” drama meets his jazz chops, given a quite lovely theme for the two eye-catching stars who’d previously proven their chemistry in “Sabrina.” Hefti also pays ode to “Paris” with a can-can inspired chase and the waltzing brass and accordion, while also globe hopping with an Argentinian tango and Italian mandolin. “Paris’” delights are only enhanced with a second CD, featuring copious alternates as well as the original soundtrack release from back in the day. But given an artist whose sweet cocktail touch remains as fun as ever, Riddle’s “Paris” is le jazz hot at its finest, as it delightfully, and purposefully run though any number of clichés, as given new vibrancy by Hefti’s boundless imagination.
4) SPLIT / FRANKENSTEIN
Price: $8.99 / $9.49
What is it?: From a psychopath with submerged multiple personalities to the violently misunderstood creation of Mary Shelly, two new, distinctive horror scores create music that’s’ as much about inner psychology as body terror scares.
Why should you buy it?: M. Night Shyamalan is the master of surprise twists, the latest of which is his almost shocking return to form with a super villain who has many of them, the most intoxicatingly evil of which is the new music identity of West Dylan Thordson. With Shyamalan having used the robust symphonic sound of James Newton Howard for his way higher budgeted films (with the music ultimately becoming the best thing about one disappointment after the other), the filmmaker’s retreat to indie world brought has now brought him the relatively unknown Thordson, no doubt having a light shown on his talent with his score for HBO’s documentary series “The Jinx,” which detailed the murderous guises of the money-hungry killer Robert Durst. Now given a multiple identity murderer with a bit more of a sympathetic background, Thordson creates a singularly unique horror score, beginning with a metallic, growling effect that seems to come from the bowels of hell, signaling a “Beast” gnawing to break free from a kidnapper’s jumbled personas. Yet there’s a melodic measure of sympathy for a man / woman / child who isn’t of his own making, even as the score’s more lyrical moments become inevitably distorted. For all of the identities at play, Thordson keeps the score at a subtle, spare pitch, gradually unnerving the listener with each new revelation of a captor, seizing the grown, unholy anticipation of the emergence of his inner Beast. It’s a mixture of sympathy and fear that encourages any number of interesting samples that seem to come from a steam pipe-filled jungle lair, nicely balancing melody with growing savagery in way that signals the emergence of a musical talent determined to take the percussive brutality of the genre in his own direction – a contrast of styles that makes the JNH reappearance of an old Shyamalan theme (as heard in the movie itself) all the more effective in this ear-catching, fear-inducing soundtrack that makes us eagerly await the next sound that will jump out of Thordson.
Extra Special: The cinematic body parts that comprise Frankenstein’s monster have been given innumerable mix-and-matches for well over a century, some dressing Mary Shelley’s classic tale in blood-splattered Victorian finery, while others have sought to garb him the baleful creature in futuristic clothing. But rarely has a hoodie given such new, impressive life to the undead as “Candyman” genre auteur Bernard Rose with this excellent, woefully unrecognized modern-day spin on the story as old as time – its hopelessly disfigured mother’s boy strikingly electrified from its score by Halli Cauthery. Composing additional music for the likes of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Hellboy II” and “King Kong: Skull Island,” Cauthery made a strong feature debut with the eco-guerillas of “The East.” For “Frankenstein,” he paints a portrait of weird, brutal science run amuck, as driven by a tender, doomed heart. A plaintive piano lets us know that the escaped, patchwork man “Adam” only wants to belong, even as harsh, industrial samples wreak unintentional havoc. It’s a experimental nightmarishness that’s genetically spliced with poignancy, the music trying to resolve into melody before being swept away by some bizarre, angry effect in Cauthery’s effective mesh of sound design and score. But there are also strong themes at his “Frankenstein’s” core, the most effective of which is a mournful, monk-like chorus, its string emulation marching him to inexorable tragedy. Like Rose’s astonishing, determinedly ragged take on the legend, Cauthery’s work is as raw as a barely stitched-together wound, raging against a Los Angeles to distinguish both film and score from its ancestors, who’ve perhaps never dared as much to break a familiar mold.
5) TWISTER / CLIFFHANGER
What Is it?: Action films began to get truly outrageous in the 90s as one testosterone-fueled picture tried to beat the other out in terms of the sheer, epic scale of logic-destroying insanity. The same might be said of their scores that reached new heights of awesome bombast, and manliness – two prime music cuts of that decade being Mark Mancina’s “Twister” and Trevor Jones’ “Cliffhanger,” a tornado of orchestral players now fully unleashed in the new millennia via La La Land’s ultimate editions.
Why Should You Buy It?: Probably the 90’s most seminal action score belonged to “Speed,” Jan De Bont’s ingenious, time-ticking elevator to bus to subway triathlon that truly introduced the percussive talents of Mark Mancina to Hollywood with this thrilling fusion of thematic tradition and then state-of-the-art sampling. For their next venture, De Bont and Mancina traded off mechanical carnage for nature’s fury with the barnstorming music of “Twister.” One might expect they’ve mistakenly put on the score for a bucking bronco western when hearing the rollicking Americana theme that opens the score, though the tip of the hat that we’re in modern times comes from the ripping guitar solos by no less than Eddie Van Halen, showing that the horse these heroes are riding is in fact a town-tossing string of hurricanes with a temper worse than any red-maddened bull. With the string-driven orchestra more pronounced this time, Mancina’s delightful hoedown conveys the fun of the death-defying, mind-boggling profession of storm chasing. It might be crazy, but it’s also heroic given Mancina’s bold approach that conveys the characters fearlessly barreling into the CGI weather events, their swirling majesty conveyed with towering brass and a foreboding chorus that might as well the voice of God giving warning. It’s big, unabashed fun that conveys director Jan De Bont’s way of throwing the kitchen sink, as well as a cow, at the screen, an unabashed enthusiasm for multiplex thrill rides that Mancina boisterously embodies with a category 5 score, driving hell-bent for rhythm into the kind of throttling, thematic percussion that distinguishes his action scoring for one of his most delightfully gonzo projects.
Extra Special: Bruce Willis’ skyscraper-mountaineering battle for survival against Eurotrash criminals inspired a wave of “’Die Hard’ in a….” movies of varied ambition and originality. But leave it to explosive “Die Hard 2” director Renny Harlin to try to summit the most breathtakingly outlandish of them all with Sylvester Stallone for 1993’s “Cliffhanger.” Michael Kamen’s score (also just re-issued on La La Land) had pretty much chiseled the orchestral path up for these pictures, but Trevor Jones took the approach to swaggering heights with his biggest blockbusters score. Certainly buffed up to take on villains in the great outdoors after his stint on “Last of the Mohicans” the year before, Jones composed a sweeping, horn driven theme that captured both the heroic majesty of nature, and Sly’s rescue ranger who finds himself in world of hurt, and heroism while taking on nasty John Lithgow’s gang of thieves, wiping them out one by one with a cunning that Jason would admire. Meshing his own distinctive sound with the kind of swirling action orchestrations that were the rage in the summiting days of James Horner and Alan Silvestri, “Cliffhanger” has a solid, multi-thematic base and rhythms to spare, but always with a keen sense of desperate, noble emotion of a man alone. The music lives up to its title with a thrilling, near-continuous sense of peril. Embodying the percussion of a ticking time bomb, dastardly brass for the bad guys and even calling back to the hymn from his breakthrough score to “Excalibur,” Jones truly opens up the lush vastness of the massive, near-Wagnerian orchestra at his disposal, while also applying his distinctive touch for eerie, voice-like electronics for the mountains’ icier recesses. And action cues don’t get more exciting than in the spectacular, helicopter-hanging finale, as Jones’ unleashes a punishingly exhilarating series of orchestral punches that work the listener to sweaty exhaustion. A composer who could pour on fun, balls-out rhythmic excitement like few others in scores like “Dark City” and “Desperate Measures” (and whose touch is dearly missed now in the multiplex), “Cliffhanger” trumpets its back into the CD market, peaking on this new presentation that features both the complete score, along with the original album presentation, whose remastered sound has never been more thrillingly majestic
ALSO FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
While his videogame music has aggressively let the blood flow for “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate” and “The Banner Saga,” Austin Wintory is in even more demand as a composer who stretches the ethereal, imaginative boundaries of the genre. It’s a talent for gorgeously drifting melodies that brought him worldwide acclaim with the Grammy-nominated music for “Journey,” its angular figure making his puzzle-solving way across the desert. Where those sands were full of exotica, Wintory has taken the plunge into the oceans of “ABZÛ” in a way that strongly swims to that ultimate example of wave-swept tone poems. Indeed, one can imagine Claude Debussy being enchanted by this latter-day, interactive “La Mer” as gossamer flutes and strings gently push the quest of a lone diver, the music floating, and playfully dancing among fish, whales and mysterious structures to be unlocked. His chorus wraps itself around the listener, the harmony venturing from playfulness to melancholy and enchantment with a flowing effect that is nothing less than hypnotic throughout, the symphony as lush as water itself. One not only comes away with the majesty of the ocean from listening to “ABZÛ,” but also with the transformative power of game scoring to truly submerge the listener in a magical world that gives them appreciation for the real wonders of the sea outside of their living room. After “ABZÛ,” one looks forward to the gaming elements that Wintory has yet to conquer.
. ASSASSIN’S CREED
At the least, filmmaker Justin Kurzel attempted to break the game-to-movie curse with this adaptation of Ubisoft’s long-killing franchise, even if the results were pretentiously muddled and visually muddy. Yet it certainly didn’t lack for ambition, especially when it came to the music of his partner, and brother in crime Jed Kurzel. Having given minimally unbearable tension to Justin’s serial killing “Snowtown Murders” and percussive grunge to an ultra realistic bloodbath of “Macbeth” (while also delivering memorably unique scores for “The Babadook” and “Slow West” outside of the family circle), the Kurzels entered the animus of intended multiplex blockbuster here. But those expecting the usual orchestral-synth fusion action stuff here definitely don’t know Kurzel’s resume, as the composer delivers a surprisingly thoughtful and interesting score that’s one of the few things that survives “Creed” untarnished. With an antihero who jumps between centuries with the air of a gene-travelling machine, Kurzel creates a haunting, dream-like ambience that flows well with the segues from past to present, creating an eerie sense of myth for the creed’s bloodline, if not a holy sense of purpose. But while “Assassin’s” has atmosphere to spare, fans check into something like this for the action. On that note, Kurzel also delivers with unique ferociousness, amping up his rhythm into a head-bashing mix of age-old ethnic instruments and a rocking adrenalin attitude. Sure “Creed” dies on the sword of its noble ambitions, but Kurzel’s consistently interesting, and sometimes thrilling music soars with much promise ahead from one of the more unique composers to arise from Down Under.
. BEFORE I WAKE
“Before I Wake” stands as one of the best studio-made movies you’ve never seen. That’s because the studio was Relativity, whose botched near-releases numbers Mike Flanagan’s superb fantasy thriller among them, a tale of a boy’s ability to materialize dreams that stands tall in a genre of youthful chillers that includes the likes of “The Lady in White” and “Paperhouse.” But just because you have to get an all-region player to see it (certainly worth the purchase), that doesn’t mean the exceptional co-score by The Newton Brothers and Danny Elfman can’t escape Relativity’s vault of horror, courtesy of a limited edition from Varese Sarabande Records. Taking a lo-fi approach to high concepts, Flanagan is certainly the most impressive genre filmmaker on the rise with “Oculus’” killer mirror, stalking a deaf woman in “Hush” and providing a creepy retro beginning for “Ouija: Origin of Evil” – all films distinctively scored by the non-sibling team of The Newton Brothers (aka Taylor Newton Stewart and Andy Grush). Given his most ambitious picture at the time with a youth’s somnambulant conjurations of boogeymen and butterflies (hence “Wake’s” original title of “Somnia”), one can see how Danny Elfman was brought on board to add his own distinctive approach to the score. But as opposed to three voices creating a stylistically clashing morass of fear, Elfman and the Newtons seamlessly play off of each other to create an atmosphere that’s both uncanny and empathetic. Given an ersatz mutant boy who’s an object of terror through no fault of his own, “Before I Wake” uses a poignant theme for piano and strings, leaving no doubt for still-grieving foster parents to take him in, even if the eerie melody tells us their decision is unwise to say the least. It’s in these sections where Elfman’s music shines, leaving no doubt as to who’s behind the aching violin and boy’s chorus that’s embodied so many misunderstood monsters, his music beautifully soaring as it appears the kid has the magic to heal his new parents’ hearts. But if “Wake” eerily lulls you into thinking it’s going to be a nicely understated feel-fest, The Newtons arrive with a jolt to bring the nightmarish, surreal terror to the table as caffeine becomes a way better idea than sleeping pills. With the Newtons conveying jump-scares and uncanny atmospheres, The Newtons create a powerful sound for night terrors, in turn making “Before I Wake” powerfully work on two levels between wanting to hug an innocent child, and running away from him. With moving, emotional poetry and seat-jumping shocks, “Before I Wake” paints a gripping, meeting of the musical minds that conjures equal measures of abstract fear and lyrical redemption. Now if only we could properly see this movie, which would truly be a dream come true.
. BEVERLY HILLS COP 1 and 2
Few composers embodied the hip synth action attitude of 80’s Hollywood like Harold Faltermeyer. Riding the wave of such dance floor-to-score pioneers as Giorgio Moroder (“Midnight Express”), Faltermeyer evolved the disco-pop groove into peppy musical bullets for smart-ass heroes from “Top Gun’s” Maverick to “Fletch” and “Kuffs.” But when it came to bouncy sass, no character that Faltermeyer played has the decade-defining hipness of “Beverly Hills Cop’s” Axel Foley. His iconically bouncy theme was a perfect match for Eddie Murphy’s career-defining role, that of an authority-flaunting prankster, yet a guy who’s also packing utterly confidant coolness as he delivers one-liners alongside banana and bullets. Like a great song hook, Axel F.’s melody never wore itself out through any number of iterations, which is mostly the case for the first “Beverly Hills Copy” soundtrack. Alex’s theme drives a lion’s share of the score, as joined by cool, Calypso-esque, finger-snapping suspense motifs as Murphy takes the smug out of the upscale hood. It’s pretty much all play and no danger, a nearly always-lightweight approach to action that made “Cop” all the more agreeably fun. Even though Faltermeyer could have easily coasted on the sequel score given an unmistakable theme and sound, “Beverly Hills Cop II,” took an essentially new direction back to the glitzy hood, showing off a darker complexity alongside the Murphy funk. For if director Tony Scott’s take on the franchise was way more violent, and far less successful than Martin Brest’s, the way more stylized testosterone of “II” nonetheless gave Faltermeyer far more playing ground to work with. Vocal effects now join the snappy percussion as new themes mix it up with the cop’s lightweight takedowns with cool, sleekly sinister heist grooves for keyboard and mean electric guitar. Low rhythm even means the possibility of Axel actually getting shot. Having released a complete set of “Lethal Weapon” scores, La La Land Records does a similarly fine job with these electro-icons of 80’s action grooviness, including numerous alternates, and just as importantly for fans, the songs as well from Glenn Frey’s “The Heat is On” to The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” and Bob Seger’s “Shakedown.” It’s great having Foley and Faltermeyer truly on the beat at last, music as inseparable as a fish out of water who schooled the snobs with rhythm.
. CEZANNE ET MOI
Cinematic portraits of raging European artists often involve tormented, impressionistic scores, a la Miklos Rozsa’s swirling orchestral colors for Vincent Van Gogh in “Lust for Life.” Yet even as Paul Cezanne swears a river at society (when not punching through canvases or defacing them with black paint), Eric Neveux takes an approach for the artist that’s positively soothing in the face of his anguish. A fine picture (opening Stateside on March 31) that details the tormented bromance between one of France’s great artist and Emile Zola, the country’s man of letters, “Cezanne et Moi” is awash in beautiful, poignant melody that takes a dramatically universal approach as opposed to one that’s Gallic. It’s all the better for two creative geniuses whose work has risen above nationality, even as a friendship begun in boyhood hits increasingly rocky, self-loathing paths through the decades that this movie traces. Neveux, a longtime composer whose work has ranged from the stark “Intimacy” to the gossamer magic of “Hideaways” comes up with a striking theme for lush strings and piano, love music for the often punishing bond between two geniuses that’s full of admiration and sadness In its often sweeping power, Neveux communicate the allure of the countryside that’s drawn artists since time immemorial, in this case one who paints it with a brilliantly eccentric eye. Also eschewing a period approach as Cezanne and Zola’s ties ebb and recede through the latter 1800’s and into the new century, Neveux’s traditional, yet contemporarily vibrant music gets across the kind of passion that drives the frenemies. Yet it also has the restraint that embodies one man who explodes with passion, while the other is emotionally constricted in spite of his explosive political writing. It’s gorgeous, haunting work that stands as one of the truly impressive musical etchings of the power of creativity, and the lyrically romantic bromance of a wayward bond between two geniuses whom you’d wish could just hug it out.
. THE FOUNDER
Carter Burwell has spent much of his career traveling the byways of America for a host of dreamers and losers in such eccentric scores as “Raising Arizona,” “Fargo” and “The Rookie” a highway of oddball rhythms and portentous strings and piano that’s sped down no more effectively than with his score for this Oscar movie that should have been, if not for the Weinstein Company switching its release dates around more confusingly than a garden salad on a McDonald’s menu. That fast food behemoth’s real birth by the avaricious idea man Ray Kroc is the subject of “The Founder,” a terrific American success story where greed is one tasty whopper. There’s a delicious homespun quality as this milk shake maker salesman ventures from one dead-end drive in to the next, a wistful flute and guitar creating a rustically woeful atmosphere with the potential of something big around the horizon. But there are ideas bubbling in the head of this entrepreneur upon encountering two hamburger makers happy to stay put where they are. Krock’s desire to think way out of the wrapper is heard with the ethnic rhythms of the Indonesian gamelan, joined by equally offbeat percussion, or sturdy, militaristic percussion that paint Kroc as the fast food General Patton, with a similar scorched earth attitude. Any number of fun montages take “The Founder” from one McDonald’s franchise to the next, with Burwell’s talent for wistful irony tipping us off to the sad, nearly ignominious string fate of two all-beef patty suckers at the rhythmic, winner-take-all hands of Kroc. There’s a wry, thrillingly bitter taste to “The Founder” from a composer who consistently defies the ordinary with a sound as distinctive as the taste of McDonald’s fries, though way more wonderfully tangy in his continued, oddball journey through the American dream. Further adding to “The Founder’s” fun is any number of diverse song pit stops from 60’s blues pop to kitsch, including stars Michael Keaton and Linda Cardellini doing a charming duet of “Pennies from Heaven,” as well as The Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s “Music for a Found Harmonium,” a signature, wacky instrumental tune that’s sure after Burwell’s own whimsical heart.
. THE LAST VALLEY
Both writer-director James Clavell and composer John Barry were students of epic, haunted history – one man a specialist in penning rugged, manly sagas like “King Rat,” “Shogun” and “Tai Pan,” and the other a musician who brought romantic sweep to such period scores as “Out of Africa” and “The Scarlet Letter.” Clavell and Barry fatefully met over the course of the Thirty Years War, cinematically speaking, with 1971’s “The Last Valley.” In this unsung, 17th-century spin on “Lost Horizon,” Michael Caine’s ruthless, German-accented merc clashes with Omar Shariff’s humanistic teacher, both having fled to a seemingly peaceful village in the midst of the mindless, religious warfare that’s burning the world around them. However, the seemingly quaint hamlet reveals itself as its own lethal hotbed of intolerance as soldiers and peasants uneasily mingle. Barry had fought with militaristic heroism with Caine in “Zulu,” then dealt with the affairs of ancient royalty in his Oscar-winning score for “The Lion in the Winter.” It’s to that soundtrack which “The Last Valley” owes its own heritage in the use imperious military timpani, voices that range from ghostly wordlessness to sing-song chants, and most importantly a bold, brass-driven orchestra conveying torrid emotion and life and death stakes. Blessed with a typically great Barry theme, the steel-swinging anger of the holy warriors is embodied in church gongs, male choral marches and Germanic and Latin song, music vaingloriously convinced of might making right, while bucolic lyricism for flute and strings is given to doomed romantic respite. There’s considerably more suspenseful action to “The Last Valley” than “Lion in the Winter,” with a rhythmic, time-ticking orchestra very much in the tradition of Barry’s Bond classics (he’d score “Diamonds Are Forever” the same year) that will make this equally exciting to 007 fans. Issued as a rare LP, then on CD as both a re-recording and original track presentation, “The Last Valley’s” latest emergence on Spain’s Quartet label is the last word on Barry’s powerhouse score given its spectacularly remastering from the original LP, bringing out all of the passion, and tragedy of this darkly poetic, and angry work on how no land can stay untarnished in the face of the intolerance waging war around it.
. A PALACE UPON THE RUINS
Certainly one of film’s most intellectually-minded composers, Howard Shore’s prolific work also includes any number of concert and opera pieces – much in the same way that previous musicians like Jerry Goldmsith and James Horner sought to write music utterly free of visual constrictions (let alone studio notes). Given that Shore has written no more rigorous scores than for David Cronenberg with the likes of “Naked Lunch” and “Dangerous Method,” those fans will likely appreciate the haunting expressions of “A Palace Upon the Ruins.” This compilation of Shore’s tonal works begins with the titular chamber piece, a meditation on loss, with Elizabeth Cotnoir’s lyrics of bereavement and healing given beautiful, German-sung expression by Jennifer Johnson Cano. The somber choir of St. Alban’s National Cathedral School make a poignant plea for “Peace,” their voices joined by a resounding organ- the group then given the elegiac melody of Shore’s interpretation of Robert Penn Warren’s poem “The Garden.” But the most Cronenbergian, and score-like of the selections within are Shore’s “6 Pieces,” with the darting, slicing pianos and strings conjure an uneasy, impressionistic tapestry, the movement’s sting power feeling like the onset of madness before Cotnoir’s lyrics once again try to sooth the unbalanced beast with pleading lyricism, and some sense of twisted peace. The album ends on the blissful piano notes of Lang Lang’s “Cantania,” a delicate melody written for a wedding of all things, “A Palace” gives much for the adventurous listener to ruminate on in terms of Shore’s “serious” music, a realm that can often be uninviting, but here made entrancing as the composer showing a powerfully stripped-down side to his expressionistic cycle outside of the rings one.
Rob (aka Robin Courdert) has mainly been heard in the states with unique works of mayhem, from the throwback Giallo electronica of “Maniac” to the full-blooded, if somehow tender demonic revenge of “Horns” (and one of these days as well for the perpetually unreleased, no doubt horrifying score of “Amityville: The Awakening”). Those film’s viewers entranced by Rob’s work will likely have the feeling there’s even more variety to him. Now thanks to a double CD from France’s Music Box label, American listeners can get an earful of a stunning, way more lushly melodic side of this ingenious composer than we’re used to, beginning with “Planetarium.” Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp are two sisters with seeming talents to contact the dead, an illusionary act that catches the eye of a Nazi-era Jewish filmmaker in a movie that has yet to orbit theaters here. But given Rob’s beautifully evocative score, one can imagine much of their sensual, ghostly duet in troubled times given his use of rich, eerily romantic string melody that would have Bernard Herrmann swooning, or Philip Glass’ ears tantalized by hypnotic, repeating rhythms. Eerie voices rise as well in a score that brings to mind the score for the soundtrack for “Perfume” in all of the right ways, along with exotic, Arabic music, Spanish guitar and tender violins also sensuously evoke a sisterly bond beyond the material world. It’s rapturous, evocative “Planetarium” that will likely have spellbound listeners asking what realm of existence Rob has come from. Far more familiar to fans of “Maniac” is the second disc’s start with “Belle Epine” (released here as “Dear Prudence”), an earlier film from “Planetarium” director Rebecca Zlotowski with latter Bond girl Lea Seydoux as a teenager throwing herself head first into the wild life. Given a Goblin-rific use of electric organ, voices and synth beats, “Belle” is even more hardcore Giallo than “Maniac” often playing like the soundtrack of a great Dario Argento movie that never was. Cool keyboard melodies evoke the kind of haunted, young female innocence that usually met at the end of a killer’s blunt instrument back in the 70’s / 80’s synth score heyday that Rob captures par excellence. His Ziotowski triptych is rounded out with 2013’s “Grand Central,” wherein Seydoux’s character falls for a fellow nuclear plant worker to tragic results. Given the protagonist’s Arabic ethnicity, Rob uses an ethnic approach to powerful, stripped down effect, conveying the bleak lives that lead to very bad decisions. With solemn flutes, percussion and the eerie whistle of the glass armonica and haunted female voice, Rob finds the poetry, and uneasy, toxic atmosphere of an ill wind blowing for their relationship. But whether the scores are orchestrally sweeping, prog-rock or ethnically intimate, the approaches of Rob’s work for Ziotowski make for a singularly gripping double-CD that reveals Coudert cresting in a new wave of unique French composers, whose soundtracks I’m glad to have land on our shores.
. PLANET EARTH II
Spanning the globe from “Frozen Planet” to “Wild Arabia,” and “Yellowstone, England-based Silva Screen Records is seemingly the migration point of all BBC documentary scoring. Few are as formidable in scope as their newest release “Planet Earth II,” a sequel to the 2006 nature series whose camera gets even more in the face of all creatures great and small. Shows of this sort allow music to run wild, becoming tone poems for viewers who tune in to see shadows of themselves in the “human” behavior of bears, birds and big cats. And who better to launch “Earth” than a majestic main theme from “The Lion King’s” Hans Zimmer (who’d play it on Stephen Colbert’s show no less). But the lion’s share of the scoring belongs to Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe for Bleeding Fingers Music. Fresh talent in the Zimmer music brain trust who’ve contributed to “The Dark Knight,” “Man of Steel” and “Inception,” the duo have their own, strong voice here in giving beasts the musical personalities of human beings. Komodo dragons rage with the percussive fury of Batman, ethereal voices accompany a singing indri and butcher birds and bee eaters a quirky rhythm that’s straight out of Italy. And in what might be the most nightmare-inducing segment ever on a nature documentary, the sight of swarms of razor snakes engulfing desperately running baby iguanas hammers with tribal drumming, hissing samples and terrifying, spine-chilling builds as lizards evade the coils of death, or not. Such is the size that Shea and Klebe give to the score that it could easily accompany a zebra evading a lion or Jason Bourne running through the streets of Tangier, as opposed to the Langurs of Jodhpur. Where other documentaries take a more traditional symphonic approach, Shea and Klebe’s blend of lush strings, ethnic instrumentation and often eerie atmospheres bring a contemporary vibrancy to this genre that propels the music from one continent to the next, impressively evoking a sense of wonder, excitement and emotional identification for beasts that could care a whit about the music transforming them into human beings
. REALITY CHECK
In an electrified universe where everything 80’s is new again, one of the most interesting composers to ride the retro wave previously surfed by Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter is Poland’s Wojciech Golczewski. Where he created distinctively chilling soundscapes with “Late Phases,” “We Are Still Here” and “Beyond the Gates,” his concept album “Reality Check” really takes off on his synth-ified sci-fi score to “400 Days.” But where his music for astronauts emerging from a mission into a terrifying new world had smooth, sampled edges, “Reality” adds a distinctively cool rudeness to that keyboard polish. Conceptual cues blend with prog-rock electric guitars, bell percussion on top of drum machine beats, while other pieces take on a more meditative progression. It’s a cool universe that cleverly warps about sounds that scream of old-school synth soundtracks into a dark, groovy salute that will no doubt please fans from the Tangerine Dream day, let alone viewers of “Stranger Things” seeking to expand their fannish listening horizons. “Reality Check” is an album that unleashes throwback imagination to a time when banks of computers were weird orchestras unto themselves.
. ROCK DOG
There’s been no prime mover at bringing world music kicking, screaming and laughing into mainstream comedy scoring like Englishman Rolfe Kent. Musically reinventing the genre with the wonderful likes of “Election’s” tango, “About Schmidt’s” mopey African rhythm and the catty tribal rage of “Mean Girls,” Kent’s soundtracks are a constant source of inventive delight, even as he’s continued to explore new dramatic sides of his inimitable sound with “Vampire Academy” and “Labor Day.” There’s no kind of movie to bring out a composer’s wild side like kid-friendly animation, especially one about a funny animal following the power of music. While it had the misfortune of following the similarly themed “Sing” at the box office, “Rock Dog” certainly didn’t lack for enthusiasm, especially in its underscore. Given that its bright-eyed and bushy-tailed hero hails from Tibet, Kent launches his wanna be a pop star’s journey in a Kung Fu Panda way with far East instrumentation and funky percussion, an Asian inflection that carries through the score with Kent’s trademarked use of such ancient wind instruments as the erhu and shakuhachi. As Bodi ventures to the big city and meets the pitfalls of music biz, Kent brings in a plethora of energetic styles from spy jazz to squelched chorus and Koto-esque drumming, all nicely held together by a richly melodic orchestra. Where “Sing’s” delightful score was all about pop, “Rock Dog” basically leaves that to the source cues, succeeding on its own sweetly dramatic journey. It’s full of peppy bits to be played by the Hammond organ and dulcimer, as nicely balanced by emotional moments for piano, strings and samples. Like its star, “Rock Dog” is continually engaging trip of musical discovery by a composer who just can’t wait to get one eccentric, ethnic instrument off of his wall and play the heck out of it. No musical mutt for sure, “Rock Dog” nicely joins the pack with Kent romping at the top of his delightfully oddball game.
. SILENT RUNNING
Sci-fi’s green revolution began with the lyrical strains of folk singer Joan Baez, and the impressive orchestral music of her sometime arranger Peter Schickele (better known under the name of his classical novelty act “P.D.Q. Bach”) with 1972’s “Silent Running.” “2001’s” effects whiz Douglas Trumbull also made his directorial debut as Bruce Dern’s eco warrior piloted away Earth’s last ecosystem from corporate destruction, abetted by the adorable droids Huey, Dewey and Louie. Given the all-consuming love of the environment, having Baez perform the theme song “Rejoice in the Sun,” and “Silent Running” gave major hippy street cred to this quite moving space opera, her lilting voice carrying potent, rhythmic imagery of children running through the grass, earth between their toes to reap a cosmic harvest, especially when these tunes’ potent moral message is given gossamer orchestrations for the guitar and piano. The bigger musical heavy lifting of “Running’s” gigantic crafts are well done by Schickele, who incorporates militarist pomp and circumstance with more unusual, rock-folk instrumentations for flute and percussion as Dern’s character is moved to violent revolution when his bosses order the gardens destroyed. But it’s a beautifully tender, meditative score for crotale cymbal, organ and electric guitar vibe, as graced with lush strings and Medieval rhythm, that’s “Silent’s” most effective thematic voice. Schickele’s music conveys a man truly alone in the universe, an unlikely messiah for the forests communing with holy nature in the company of cute robots. As graceful a sci-fi metaphor score as there ever was one, listening to the beauty of “Silent Running” makes it even more impactful knowing that this would be Schickele’s only true film score to date, one that remains as uniquely resonant as ever at turning the often dark sounds of space music into a vibrant tree-hugging message score worthy of Woodstock. Jeff Bond, himself an insane collector of model spacecraft (even winning an award for his own Valley Forge), does a very nice job of detailing this very 70’s soundtrack in his liner notes, which features down to earth quotes by Schickele about conjuring his folksy, sci-fi magic.
. A SUMMER STORY
Few composers wore emotion on their vest like Georges Delerue, but then again maybe that’s a French thing, especially given his country’s wealth of musical masters. His venture to the English countryside with 1988’s “A Summer Story” stands as one of his most heartbreakingly lovely works in a long line of tearjerkers that’s included the handkerchief-grabbing likes of “Steel Magnolias,” “Beaches” and “Jules and Jim.” The tragic events here are very much class conscious, as a handsome posh is attracted to the local farm girl, with results inevitable for any fan of “Far from the Madding Crowd” and “Howard’s End.” A sort of cousin to the Phillipe Sarde-scored “Tess” in its tale of a servant girl whose trust leads her terribly astray, “A Summer Story” gave Delerue lush fields of poignant romance to till. With its a lovely main theme, the composer rolls up his sleeves with boundless melody at his disposal. As this “Story” begins with the bliss of first love, Delerue starts off with similarly poignant optimism using the flute with utmost delicacy as his orchestrations that convey the ebb and flow of the verdant countryside. Yet there’s the danger of the social mores that will break the couple apart in the air, the score becoming ever more beautifully sad, if sometimes dangerous, with the violin heard at its most anguished. Few of Delerue’s scores sing with the weeping poetry of “A Summer Story,” whose new release from Music Box adds fifteen minutes to a gorgeous presentation that stands as an ode to the kind of classically inspired, gorgeous anguish that was Delerue’s stock in trade as he heard the universal musical laments of lovers torn asunder, a siren cry especially well examined in Gergely Hubai’s liner notes.
. THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD
Where Austrian émigré Max Steiner made an indelible, score-setting imprint with his fantastical adventure for 1933’s “King Kong,” it was Hungary’s Miklos Rozsa who’d set a gorgeously romantic tone for many lost cinematic worlds to follow – among them “The Jungle Book,” “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” and “Time After Time.” But the genie in the bottle for his rapturous sound was 1940’s “The Thief of Baghdad,” producer Alexander Korda’s remake of the Douglas Fairbanks 1924 Arabian adventure, complete with flying carpet. And if black and white had become glorious Technicolor, then silence turned into the exotically swirling orchestra under Rozsa’s command. Like Steiner, Rozsa was a classical wunderkind back in the old country, now having fled its darkness to establish the operatic language of Hollywood scoring. Given the tongue of a Middle Eastern Neverland, Rozsa wove Arabic rhythms into a sumptuously melodic orchestral score. But whether given the pounding film noir of “Double Indemnity” or the holy crusade of “El Cid,” Rozsa’s suspense and action stylings had a mad, whirling dervish quality to them, an escalating, swashbuckling fury that “Baghdad” really put on the map with cliffhanging joy. Conversely “Baghdad” has a simpler, innocent quality to it to orchestrations that would sometimes border on the frenetic. It’s a little thief’s wide-eyed view of an opulent, danger-filled kingdom that he’s thrust into along with a lovestruck prince that makes this score so effortlessly charming during its formidable length, a joy of discovering the next giant jewel, evading an enormous, skittering spider, the clockwork sounds of the bad guy’s villainous inventions, or rubbing a lamp that sweeps over “Baghdad.” Also bringing sparkle to his epic score is its fun song interludes, with a chorus joining with a heroic symphony. Where Rozsa would later have the honor of creating the first real soundtrack album for Korda’s “The Jungle Book,” the iconic “Thief of Baghdad” has begged for decades for a sonic lamp polishing. And leave it to album producer James Fitzpatrick and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus under conductor Nic Raine that really let “Baghdad” out of its sonic bottle. Having done yeoman work on such Rozsa re-performances as “Quo Vadis” and “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,” their beautifully performed “Baghdad” is a real jewel in the crown for these collaborators, given fine liner notes by Frank K. De Wald that help bring this classic score to new, radiantly fun life.
. TINA GUO: GAME ON!
One of the most alluringly fierce players to ever pick up a cello, Tina Guo has graced such film scores as “Inception,” “Iron Man 2” and “Sherlock Holmes.” Her distinctive sound as much of a character as the underscore itself, perhaps no more than in her bold signature that embodied Wonder Woman for “Batman Versus Superman” and her own upcoming film. Just as busy touring with the likes of Hans Zimmer as she is performing at scoring stages, Guo’s beyond passionate cello voice is spotlighted for her nifty concept album “Game On!” Those lucky enough to have seen Tommy Tallarico’s dearly missed Videogames Live! concerts in LA from a while back will get an idea of the thunderous collaboration between solo artist and a full orchestra and choir both exploding with colorful rapture as game footage flashes behind them. Guo’s evocatively explosive playing of themes from “The Legend of Zelda,” “World of Warcraft,” “Metal Gear Solid” and “Halo” make these hugely popular melodies her own. But as opposed to hitting everything at a thunderous, warrior woman peak she’s well capable of, Guo nicely balances her approaches for these cleverly arranged suites. “Final Fantasy VII” starts off with positively angelic stings, harp and sweeping cello, only to turn into a head banging electric guitar prog rock jam. “Skyrim” begins with Orc-like chanting as Guo gets quietly medieval, only to rise with battle-ready power. A native of China, Guo’s beautiful erhu playing gives powerful oriental emotion to Nate’s theme from “Uncharted,” while a suite from “Journey” is especially haunting. And if everything seems a bit serious, there’s a playful bit from Super Mario Brothers to show Guo is equally capable of mushroom-jumping levity. Showing just how well the cello has evolved from its classical origins to becoming the battle cry of the PS4 generation, Guo’s “Game On!” is a thoroughly fun listen, a fusion of rock concert and score tribute that lets her cello evocatively sing with passion in the midst of epic, controller-pressing accompaniment.
. TREASURE OF THE YANKEE ZEPHYR
Aussies seem to have a natural swagger that comes with hardy, very reluctant emigrants thrust into the wilds down under – no more so than when it comes to their boisterous, often brassy film music. The first composer from the continent to make a big splash was Brian May, with his dark, rip-roaring music for the first two adventures of Mad Max (as well as a series of genre scores for “The Day After Halloween,” “Patrick” and “Harlequin” that can be heard on Dragon’s Domain’s release of his “Fantasy Film Collection”) Yet just as big a chase the same year as May put orchestral pedal to “The Road Warrior’s metal was 1981’s way more light-hearted music for “Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr.” A hunt for gold directed by “Deep Red” English-actor-turned filmmaker David Hemmings, and not managing to star one Australian in a leading part (which is why the movie ended being shot in New Zealand), the delightful score is likely the closest thing that May got to doing a live-action cartoon (not that Max wasn’t). Given way over-the-top characters battling for bullion and booze, May unapologetically engages in Carl Stalling-esque pratfalls and villainous lurching about. Over-the-top, Teutonic militaristic villainy effortlessly segueing to madcap classic music rhythms. But then as Ernest Gold proved with “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” nothing brings out treasure hunting fever like blazing waltz rhythms, though May’s trumpeting, adrenalin-fueled orchestrations, every bit as intense (if a bit lighter) than Max Rocketansky’s. Just call it his Bugs Bunny score, as done with the exuberant energy that he used to propel an apocalyptic V8 interceptor to glory, here with a wonderfully berserk classic swing in the fuel line.
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