CD Review: February Soundtrack Picks

By • February 22, 2010

‘The Hurt Locker’ one of the top soundtracks to own for February, 2010

Also worth picking up: Bioshock 2, 44 Inch Chest, From Paris With Love, High Road To China, Legion, Oldboy, Shutter Island And Uncharted 2

To purchase the soundtracks from this list, click on the CD cover

1) BIOSHOCK 2


Price: $99.99

What is it?: You can’t keep a good Big Daddy down, especially when he’s got the powerful musical drill bit of Gary Schyman, who makes it a busy videogame month with DANTE’S INFERNO and this even more awaited return to the composer’s undersea digs in Rapture.

Why should you buy it?: BIOSHOCK 2 manages to be a pretty spectacular sequel in every sense, no more so than in Schyman’s follow-up to his award-winning score, which this time puts even more weight into its spectacularly dissonant fights to reflect the fact that you’ve now assumed the role of a hulking mutant diver. Yet what really sets Schyman’s work apart from the well-done commotion is how well he hits Rapture’s creepily nostalgic quality, with a gnarled saxophone playing it as a 40’s-era sin city that’s gone to horrific seed. Even more haunting is Schyman’s use of a solo violin to conjure the little sisters, giving BIOSHOCK 2 an unusual feeling of tragedy, and empathy for the adorable tykes who just want to drain your ADAM-ized blood.

Extra Special: BIOSHOCK 2’s score only exists now in vinyl, and CD versions as part of the game’s special edition. But since you get the game as well, it’s a great deal for fans of one of the cooler RPG games to down the damp corridor.

2) 44 INCH CHEST


Price: $16.99

What is it?: Angelo Badalamenti’s certainly spent some movie time hanging about deranged lads with the likes of such Lynchian scores as BLUE VELVET, FIRE WALK WITH ME and WILD AT HEART. Now he gets to muse on the will-they or won-they of said men deciding whether or not to finish off a tied-up, and understandably nervous wanker who’s cheated with the wife of their best mate.

Why should you buy it?: Badalamenti has always shown an ability to get at the haunted emotional core behind hard cases’ unfortunate choices. And talent is particularly eerie, and atmospheric here as Badalamenti’s darkly intoxicating music cuts through CHEST’s mind games like a smoky knife, his music at once disturbing and mesmerizing with the near-sensual power it gains from the characters’ mutual victimization. It’s music that fans of Badalamenti’s work for David Lynch will feel right at freaky home with here, even in 44’s London digs.

Extra Special
: Badalamenti’s music is in good, jazzily twisted company with additional cues by the experimental Australian group 100 Suns.

3) THE HURT LOCKER


Price: $18.98

What is it?: If there’s a dark horse Oscar candidate this year, then it’s for Marco Beltrami and Buck Sander’s near-sound design score for this acclaimed Iraq war film, a Best original Score nomination that marks Beltrami’s second time at the golden plate after 3:10 TO YUMA.

Why should you buy it?: Forget about the kind of symphonically biblical scores that Beltrami’s best known for with the likes of KNOWING and SCREAM, let alone the furious action for his last collaboration with Sanders on MAX PAYNE. Because you don’t exactly hear an orchestra when trying to defuse a bomb, let alone a charming theme. Instead, it’s the metallic drone that cuts across your brain, the subtly harsh licks of an electric guitar, or the small, forlorn melody of you recounting what might be your last seconds on earth. It’s precisely this atmospheric, textural approach that ratchets the tension up to unbearable levels for HURT LOCKER, showing how effective, and explosive a score can be while barely being noticeable in the conventional sense. While it might seem surprising that Oscar voters heard the muted bang of this LOCKER, it’s a nomination that’s certainly welcome for any composer who wants to take an unorthodox approach for a died in the wool scoring subject like The War Film.

Extra Special: While HURT LOCKER’s music may not have exactly been a gentle listen, Beltrami and Sanders have done an exceptional job of crafting the best shards of its music for this Lakeshore CD, assembling their experimental work into an impressionistic, and emotionally affecting musical journey where you can practically hear the beads of sweat dropping from its danger junkie hero’s head.

4) SHUTTER ISLAND


Price: $14.98

What is it?: While it’s nice when director Martin Scorsese chooses to use an original score, few directors are better at cobbling together songs and instrumental ephemera to tell a story. Put him together with former Band-member turned-music supervisor Robbie Robertson, and you’ve got some of the best vintage pop / rock-driven soundtracks of all time with the likes of THE KING OF COMEDY, CASINO and GANGS OF NEW YORK. But what they’ve collected now is anything but toe tapping as the duo finds their record collection locked into SHUTTER’s insane asylum of the damned.

Why should you buy it?: While THE SHINING’s soundtrack might not be on CD yet, this is certainly the next best thing at musically conveying a deteriorating mental state, even if a bunch of these impressionistic tunes barely constitute melody. Beginning with the ghostly horns of John Adams’ “Fog Tropes,” ISLAND’s selection range from the mesmerizingly nightmarish likes of “Lotano” and “Prelude – The Bay” to the Guantanamo Bay-ready torture tunes of “Hommage A John Cage” and “Root of an Unfocus.” Yet whether the music is hypnotic or unlistenable, Robertson and Scorsese’s choices convey a truly nightmarish, and cohesive mood that’s of a truly unsettling piece (and more than a bit overblown in the movie), making SHUTTER ISLAND the most unnerving album of its kind since Jack Torrance went mad at the Overlook Hotel. Yet SHUTTER isn’t completely devoid of Scorsese’s favored period songs, as Johnnie Ray’s “Cry” and “Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” are used to hauntingly ironic effect.

Extra Special: Just when you thought one CD of SHUTTER ISLAND might inspire a breakdown, a generous second platter (and reasonable price) are guaranteed to send you over the edge. Just be prepared for the strange looks of your friends and family as they wander into your room and wander what the hell you’re playing. But then again, SHUTTER’s bizarre musical modernism is probably best heard inside a padded cell.

5) UNCHARTED 2: AMONG THIEVES


Price: $13.99

What is it?: Greg Edmonson (FIREFLY) returns to UNCHARTED’s exotic musical territory, blasting out the big action guns as he takes
Nathan Drake on the road to Shambhala. It’s a majestic musical treasure hunt that no doubt helped AMONGST THIEVES honestly capture its 2009 Game of the Year award.

Why should you buy it?: Whether he’s dangling from a Tibetan train, sneaking up from the bowels of a Turkish museum or tossing grenades in South America, Edmondson’s striking blend of percussive ethnic stylings and symphonic Hollywood heroism makes UNCHARTED 2 into videogame scoring’s answer to RAIDERS- creating an epically thematic sound that’s all about making THIEVES play like a blockbuster film you just happen to button mash. And with this sequel’s huge popularity, Edmondson’s yeoman work confirms the combo of musical travelogue and hard-hitting orchestra as any format’s sound when it comes to scoring high-leaping men of action like Nathan Drake.

Extra Special: Where it seems that nearly all game soundtracks are going to MP3, the quality of UNCHARTED 2’s music has ensured that Edmonson’s snagged the real treasure of a hardcopy release for THIEVES, which features three unreleased tracks for the occasion.

Also for Your Consideration

ELEANOR’S SECRET

An imaginative kid finds book characters coming to life in this French film that seems to hearken to its American animated cousins THE PAGEMASTER, not to mention the alternate universe of CORALINE. And while he may not scale the insanely unique musical heights that Bruno Coulais did for that film, there’s a similar, inventive charm to Christophe Heral’s score to ELEANOR’S SECRET. Cimbaloms, children’s voices and a guitar work dark, acoustic wonders for its young character’s fantasy scapes. Adding to Heral’s clever jamboree are crashing pianos, flutes and tinkertoy-topped orchestra, all possessed with a sweetly effective theme that shows there are still interesting musical realms to be plumbed from the often generic sound of animated movie soundtracks, especially when it’s a Frenchman poking about a land where any tune can happen.

FROM PARIS WITH LOVE

After driving Nathaniel Merchaly on a hyper-action mission through the streets of not-so Gay Paree for TAKEN, director Pierre Morel puts David Buckley behind the composing wheel for an even more insane bang-up through a non-stop Gallic obstacle course of shootings, explosions and bad language. That Buckley smoothly handles PARIS’ body count road with similar rhythmic aplomb says much about the talents of this rising composer, whose previous credits include the Kung Fu epic FORBIDDEN KINGDOM and Joel Schumacher’s uniquely terrifying vampire film BLOOD CREEK. Here it’s all about the beat and attitude, as Buckley’s action stylings veer from rampaging rock guitars to ethnic terrorist voices and lush orchestral suspense. That PARIS’ enjoyable chaos stays on tuneful course says much about a composer who knows how to go beyond today’s de rigueur style for scoring action films, his atmospheric grooves finishing PARIS’ race with adrenalin, and melody intact.

HELLFIGHTERS (2,000 edition)

For all of the boldly unconventional scores that Leonard Rosenman did on the classic likes of EAST OF EDEN and FANTASTIC VOYAGE, it’s likely that his rousing action music for STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME is the one that Duke fans are probably most familiar with, yet alone the one they’d find conventionally “listenable” apart from the movie. Now Intrada’s vibrant release of 1968’s HELLFIGHTERS reveals what might be Rosenman’s most accessibly rousing score. Though the composer’s only effort for John Wayne might find the star battling out of control oil fires instead of Injuns, Rosenman’s galloping music would lead you to think that Wayne was thundering across the range (excepting some swinging detours into 60’s jazz). But make no mistake that just because Rosenman is going for something a bit more conventional means his music is any less identifiable, intelligent or frequently impressionistic in its approach at conveying Wayne’s brand of heroic swagger. It’s an electric score that both admirers of classic Trek’s most popular movie voyage, and The Duke will get an equal charge from.

HIGH ROAD TO CHINA

It was the high time for RAIDERS-inspired adventures when John Barry took to the air for this soaring score that mixes brassy action reminiscent of his BLACK HOLE score with the kind of lush, soaring romance that would net the composer an Oscar two years later for the far more popular flyover romance OUT OF AFRICA. But CHINA is every bit as swooning as that score (not to mention a lot more exciting), with one of the composer’s most memorable themes infinitely played out on his beautifully trademarked wall of strings. Though this new Buysoundtrax release marks CHINA’s third time out on CD, the album’s newly improved sound, an added score suite and oodles of period jazz makes this ultimate edition of ROAD a sonic trip worth taking for Barry fans, whose achingly melodic sound is missed more than ever.

LEGION

John Frizzell knows a thing or two about heaven and hell, and the denizens who reside there, after scoring the likes of THE REAPING, EVIL ANGEL and THIRTEEN GHOSTS. But things might not get as musically apocalyptic as they do for the composer on LEGION, a soundtrack where Frizzell pulls out all the rampaging orchestral stops and dark hallelujah choruses to make what’s essentially a desert café showdown into musical Armageddon. And there’s far more sharply melodic darkness than good as the archangel Michael lets loose for this smackdown against his misguided boss. But if this isn’t exactly beatific stuff, Frizzell’s work is certainly exciting at crossing an action score aesthetic with that of a holy horror film’s, giving listeners a percussively growling sense of deliverance.

OLDBOY

OLDBOY showed that Korean scoring was every bit as powerful as what was being done for American thrillers when it hit like a hammer in 2003, though fans had to look mighty hard to find its import CD. Now true musical vengeance finally belongs to composer Hyun-jung Shim, whose broodingly powerful score for Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece finally gets a domestic iTunes release via Milan Records. Thankfully it only took seven years to really get Shim out, as opposed to the fifteen years that its anti-hero Dae-su Oh spent in stir. His stylistically diverse score that blends electronic rhythms, fatalistic film noir brass and elegant, classically attuned themes remains as impressive as ever. Shim solves the mystery of Oh’s imprisonment with surprising beauty, perhaps most brilliantly by using a violin tango and lyrical waltz to show how all roads lead Oh to tragedy and existential redemption. It’s a score, and film that remain the best entry in Park’s “vengeance trilogy,” one that’s now significantly easier to hear in all of poetic payback.

THE ROAD

The post-apocalypse has never sounded so beautifully sinister than through the deceptively folksy tones of composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Having graduated from the Aussie punk scene to become the gifted musician behind, and in front of the screen for WINGS OF DESIRE, Cave has since joined Ellis to create a rural, unhinged sound for such scores as THE PROPOSITION and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES. Their weirdly intimate lullaby accompanies a father and son’s ROAD trip through the wasteland. And where the often-gentle score had a way of making the film’s upsetting images more palatable than they should have been, the ROAD’s album proves to be a wholly mesmerizing listen, with a soulful piano and violin coming across as an end of days answer to the modern classical stylings of Arvo Part. But there’s plenty of unhinged savagery to be had, as what sounds like crazed bagpipes and nails-on-chalkboard strings make us very aware that our heroes might be the next unhappy meal for the stragglers they encounter. While the movie’s an acquired taste, THE ROAD’s CD is definitely worth hitting for another interesting journey by these two tremendously interesting composers, who seem intent on bringing a weird, rural spirit to the demanding pictures they score.

CLICK on the album covers to make your purchase, or find these soundtracks at these .com’s: Amazon, Buysoundtrax, Intrada, iTunes. Moviemusic, Screen Archives and Varese Sarabande

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